Sunday, 19 May 2019

Segal Centre celebrates diversity, inspiration and storytelling as it unveils its 2019-2020 season line-up

On the heels of recently capping off its 2018-2019 season on a triumphant note with the brilliant documentary-style musical production of “Indecent” – which chronicles the evolution of Sholem Asch’s controversial play “God of Vengeance” from Poland to Broadway – the Segal Centre for Performing Arts officially unveiled its complete line-up for their 2019-2020 season.

Segal Centre Artistic and Executive Director Lisa Rubin (pictured below) unveiled the impressive line-up of upcoming shows at a special gathering of media, subscribers and local theatergoers, that will at the very least, cater to the eclectic in you.

For their flagship series of six plays, the season begins with “The Pianist of Willesden Lane” (September 8-29), a musical memoir that tells the true story of Jewish musical prodigy Lisa Jura, who manages to escape Nazi-occupied Vienna for the safe haven of London, as its endures the worst of the Blitz. The story is told through the point-of-view – and musical performances – of Jura’s daughter Mona Golabek, who is herself a Grammy-nominated piano virtuoso. “Mythic” (October 27-November 17) gives a modern twist to a part of ancient Greek mythology – the story of the goddess Persephone – with the rest of those mythic gods appearing in the form of popular rock music stars, power-hungry politicians and professional socialites.

The 2020 portion of the season starts with “Small Mouth Sounds” (February 9 – March 11) at the centre’s Studio Theatre. It literally deals with the sounds of silence, as six unlikely characters flee the city for a silent retreat, and find out the hard way how really difficult it is to keep their mouths shut. Louise Pitre (who is remembered for her show-stopping performance as Edith Piaf in the Segal Centre’s presentation of “The Angel and the Sparrow”) teams up with W. Joseph Matheson to bring you “The Times They Are A Changin’” (March 1 – 22), a lively musical salute to the Jewish musicians and singers – such as Bob Dylan, Mama Cass, Simon and Garfunkel, Leonard Cohen and Carole King -- whose legendary songs provided the soundtrack for the 1960s. “Oslo” (April 19 – May 10) is the Tony-winning dark dramedy that recalls all the back-channel negotiations, unlikely friendships and quiet heroics that eventually led to the historic 1993 Oslo Accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The season concludes with the world premiere of Paul Van Dyck’s “Siberian Summer” (May 31 – June 21), a road trip comedy that involves three women “of a certain age” and one of their sons as they go on a lengthy road trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway from St. Petersburg to Beijing, which quickly becomes a journey of self-discovery.

As well, the Segal Centre will be offering its many fans and supporters throughout the new season a variety of productions that will be presented on its stages by such guest theatre companies as the Teesri Dunya Theatre, the Tableau D’Hote Theatre, Porte Parole and the Black Theatre Workshop, which will be conducting the final presentations of its Artist Mentorship Program.

The mainstay Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre troupe will present a trio of productions this season: a production of “The Sages of Chelm”, a live play reading of the Yiddish-language version of Neil Simon’s hit comedy “The Sunshine Boys” and their annual “Lyrics and Latkes” Chanukah sing-along show.

Add to that the return of Sunday @ The Segal pre-show lectures, the Monday Night Talkbacks, the Broadway Café live karaoke nights, and the Big Broadway Sing-Along with Nick Burgess, then 2019-2020 will be a season to remember and enjoy at the Segal Centre.

For more information, or to purchase individual tickets starting July 29, call 514-739-7944, or go to

Monday, 25 February 2019

“Boom X” a time travelling blockbuster

Three years ago, Montreal theatregoers were dazzled by “Boom”, Rick Miller’s breathless, multimedia journey into the people, events and pop culture that made up the post-World War II Baby Boomer generation.

And how did Miller follow up this exciting episode of time travelling? By putting together a sequel that is just as breathtaking, just as spectacular and just as fun as the original. “Boom X”, which is playing at the Segal Centre until March 10, explores the 25-year period between 1970 and 1995 in the same way as “Boom”, only this time he focusses on the era that nurtured Generation X.

This show is like a newsreel that’s ratcheted up several notches, as Miller takes the reins as your guide to this rather turbulent, change-filled era in modern history. He starts off with a sort-of prelude in 1969 by acting out Jimi Hendrix’s famous electric guitar interpretation of the Star Spangled Banner, as he shows the best (Woodstock) and the worst (Altamont, the Manson murders) of what the final year of the 1960s offered.

From there, Miller gives a more personal touch to “Boom X” as he relates his own growing up in NDG during that period, as well as conducting interviews with four people he knew, and how the events of that period shaped and influenced their thinking and career paths as they became Gen Xers in their own right. Through his boundless energy, comic ability and his strong talent for mimicry, Miller takes the audience on a nonstop, whirling dervish of a historical panorama of 25 years that shaped modern history and the people and events that shaped it, such as Pierre Trudeau, Ronald Reagan, Rene Levesque, Mikhail Gorbachev, disco music, video games, grunge music, the Montreal Expos, Star Wars and so much more.

As well, I credit Miller for his uncanny ability of not only relating to his audience on an intimate level, but holding their attention for this two-hour plus spectacular. This was marvellously exemplified with one little performance piece he did just prior to the intermission, in which he performed with his guitar the top 20 hit songs of 1984 in two minutes, and encouraged the audience members to shout out the song title(s) in question if they knew it (it made for some great exercise for the brain).

“Boom X” is a wonderful blockbuster of time travelling (which leaves Mr. Peabody and Sherman’s Wayback Machine miles behind in the dust), which makes me eager to find out what is up Rick Miller’s sleeve with the upcoming third and final installment of his Boom trilogy. If we want to get a vivid, enjoyable understanding of our modern world was and is all about – and the culture that went with it – let Rick Miller tell that story through his “Boom” shows; it’s living history at its entertaining best.

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In other Segal Centre news, the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) will present an all new sing-along show to celebrate Purim called “Harmonies & Homentashn” on March 24 for two performances at its Segal Centre Studio venue; show times are at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Join in with a number of the Yiddish Theatre’s singers and performers – as well as KlezKanada – for a selection of festive holiday songs that will be sung in English, Hebrew and of course, Yiddish. Tickets are $25, with special rates available for students, seniors, subscribers and groups.

Also, following its sold out run at last year’s Montreal Fringe Festival, the critically-acclaimed production “Don’t Read the Comments” will be remounted for a limited engagement at the Segal Centre. It will run for five performances on March 6, 7, 9 and 10. Written by and starring Sarah Segal-Lazar, “Don’t Read the Comments” is set in a TV talk show, the play deals with such subject matters of sexual encounters and consent, and is told via storytelling and the dark arts of clown and bouffon.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Old Stock and Urban Tales give new twists to traditional tales

The latest production of the Segal Centre’s 2018-2019 season gives a fresh, interesting perspective to the story of the immigrant/refugee experience to Canada at the turn of the 20th century, and it’s done in the form of “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story”, which is playing an extended run at the Segal Centre until December 19.

Part gypsy caravan, part travelling show and part old-time vaudeville show, “Old Stock” was originally produced by the Halifax based 2b Theatre Company, and has played to great success at the Halifax and Edinburgh Fringe Festivals, as well as across Canada and the U.K. Housed in a sturdy metal shipping container, it acts as a tableau to this representative story of what it was like for Jews to flee the anti-Semitism, oppression and violence of their Eastern European homeland during the early 1900s. It focuses on two Jewish refugees: Chaim (Dani Oore) and Chaya (Mary Fay Coady), who first meet as fellow immigrants when they land at Pier 21 in Halifax, and then make their way to Montreal to make a new life for themselves, and the hardships that they have to endure in their new home, whether it be assimilation, prejudice, the struggle to make a living, and raising a family at a time when infant mortality rates were quite high.

This historical narrative is strongly complemented with a live four-piece band (which includes the two actors who portray Chaim and Chaya) that vividly recalls the folk and traditional music of that era. And it is all held together with so much force by Ben Caplan, who portrays The Wanderer, who is its narrator, anchor and in a sense, its conscience. With manic energy, a raging talent as a musician, singer and dancer, and an amazing ability as a storyteller, Caplan is almost like Tevye on steroids, as he guides the audience through the story of Chaim and Chaya with so much flair that he knows how to wear the comedy mask (especially when he rattles off so many offbeat expressions and synonyms for the phrase “sexual intercourse”) and the tragedy mask (when he graphically describes what a pogrom in a Jewish Eastern European village was all about) to such great effect, that The Wanderer plays an integral part in this narrative of this historical tableau.

So whether you’re a first or fifth generation to immigrants to this country, “Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story” is a theatrical experience that you will not only be highly entertained by, but will strongly identify with.

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For the 12th time, the Centaur Theatre offers the perfect antithesis to all that upbeat Christmas holiday season cheer with “Urban Tales”, which continues until December 15.

“Urban Tales” is a theatrical anthology of six stories about Christmas time (but in a dark, twisted manner) that are told by a solo performer (and accompanied by the guitar strumming courtesy of the multi-talented Harry Standjofski, who is also the creative force behind “Urban Tales”). This year’s theme is “Feathers”, and each tale has that avian material prevalent in each story, whether they play a major or minor role in the development of each narrative.

Standjofski begins the night – and sets the theme and the tone quite well – with the spiritually urban story “Exterminating Angel”; Danette MacKay’s story “The Woman’s Christmas” starts off with an exhibitionist neighbour and ends as a rather empowering story; “Motherless Milk” has Alarey Alsip relate the story of an aspiring ballerina and a rather deadly eggnog concoction; and Laurent Pitre proves that he is a rising star on the Montreal Theatre scene, as he performs two stories: “A Christmas Caroler”, a terrific piece of dark comedy about a high strung young man and a persistent, homeless man-turned-Christmas caroler, and “Douai”, a Canadian Armed Forces veteran’s Christmas story told after he is killed in Kandahar. And “Urban Tales” is wonderfully capped off with Standjofski’s manic story of a man and his dysfunctional family called “seven last words’.

And finally, a note about Standjofski’s talent as a guitar player, and his ability to create such layered musical pieces with his stringed instrument and his network of pedals that so effectively creates the tone for each story. One day, he should consider just doing a solo, non-theatrical show that would showcase his ability with the guitar and what wonders he can do with it.

So if you like to celebrate the holiday season with a dark twist to it, make “Urban Tales” part of your Christmas list … and it doesn’t matter at all of you’re naughty or nice!

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To purchase tickets for “Old Stock”, go to To purchase tickets for “Urban Tales”, go to

Monday, 3 December 2018

A Doll’s House, Part 2 works as a theatrical sequel

There are not many sequels of classic dramatic plays that surface nearly 140 years after the original’s stage debut, especially after its original author is long deceased before they can even commit a sequel to paper.

Lucas Hnath somehow had the audacity to walk in the shoes of 19th century Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, and wrote a follow up to his iconic 1879 drama “A Doll’s House” called, appropriately enough “A Doll’s House, Part 2”, which is now playing at the Segal Centre until December 9.

The play takes place in the year 1894, exactly 15 years after its ahead-of-its-time protagonist, the unhappy, suppressed housewife Nora Helmer (Sarah Constible), slams the door and leaves her husband Torvald (Oliver Becker), and the stifling marriage that went along with it. During that time, she has done well for herself, building a successful career as a writer of books that are geared towards women, and that promote ideas about marriage that are seen as radical.

What prompts Nora’s return to the home of her former husband is to clear a certain issue regarding their divorce, or she faces certain public exposure by the judge that can be ruinous – and criminal – to Nora. As she tries to air out the tensions between her and Torvald, her mother-in-law Anne Marie (Victoria Barkoff) and their grown up daughter Emmy (Ellie Moon), Nora discovers that this legal impasse was due to a simple reason: Torvald failed to officially file for the divorce in court, which makes their separation illegal. This puts a wrench in what Nora hoped would be a cathartic visit to the place where she went through a rather loveless marriage.

Although it feels like a play that is literally 140 years in the making, “A Doll’s House, Part 2” is not awash in 19th century thinking, as it deals with domestic issues that still resonate today. As well, the dialogue is not of the stiff, stuffy nature that was common with drawing room dramas of that period; it is written with a clearer, comprehensive slant to it that contemporary audiences will better understand the situations and dilemmas of Nora and Torvald (and complete with some modern colorful language, too). However, to fully appreciate this play, it’s best to familiarize one’s self with Ibsen’s original work so that you don’t have to go into this production rather blindly (and thanks to the Segal Centre, they provide a concise summary of it in the programme book).

And kudos to set designer Pierre-Etienne Locas for his simple, understated set, which combines late 19th century parlour décor with a minimal, neo-expressionist air to it.

“A Doll’s House, Part 2” is a compelling play of how a strong, female character who strikes a blow for women’s rights at a time when they really didn’t have any to speak of, tries to find a sense of personal closure and still has to smash through more glass ceilings before she reaches that closure. It achieves that rare accomplishment in theatre of a sequel to a classic piece of drama that actually works, so that a difficult situation can go full circle and reach its hopefully logical conclusion.

Monday, 22 October 2018

“Once” the ultimate date play

I am aware that when it comes to dating, there are such things as a “date night” or a “date movie”, but a “date play” is quite a rare thing, practically something that is unheard of.

That is, until I saw “Once”, the Tony-winning musical that kicked off the Segal Centre’s 2018-2019 season, and runs until October 28.

This is a charming, heartfelt production that is a wonderful testament to the power of music and the role it plays in the lives of ordinary people. It takes place in Dublin, Ireland, and follows the building of a strong relationship between an Irish musician (Greg Halpin) and a Czech immigrant (Eva Foote), whose common bond is their love of music.

The Czech girl somehow manages to bring out the musician’s hidden musical talent (he spends his spare time busking on the streets of Dublin, when he is not working as a vacuum cleaner repairman at his father’s appliance shop) to the point where she takes him to a studio and have these songs recorded for posterity. However, throughout this growing relationship built on music, things get complicated when they reveal they have their own set of personal baggage; the girl has a young daughter and a husband who has left them, yet she is hopeful he will return; and the guy hopes to move to New York City to further his career, where he has a girlfriend waiting for him.

“Once” is a musical that is ideal for taking your spouse or significant other to, as the ultimate “date play”. The plot is honest without having to resort to a mawkish, schmaltzy ending that one would see in old Hollywood romance movies of the 30s and 40s. And the two lead performances are excellent, especially Eva Foote as the Czech girl, who is quite captivating and delightful and brings a mix of humour, enthusiasm and boundless spirit to the role; in fact, she practically wins you over the moment after she utters her first line of dialogue.

And a word about the music. The 10-piece band does a splendid job in the show, as it plays a rollicking repertoire of Irish and Czech folk music that plays an integral part in the show’s plot, pace and as a bridge between scenes.

For more information, or to purchase tickets to “Once”, call 514-739-7944, or go to

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And speaking of the Segal Centre, its Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre began its 60th anniversary season with a production that it has been presenting at the Segal Centre (and under its original name the Saidye Bronfman Centre), as well as touring around the world, for 22 times since 1972 … “A Bintel Brief”, which had a brief, week-long run from October 14 to 21.

The play is a selection of vignettes that are based on a column of the same name that appeared in the New York-based Yiddish newspaper The Forward. In it, readers aired their concerns, problems and dilemmas, and hopefully could be supplied the answers they were seeking courtesy of the paper’s editor.

“A Bintel Brief” is a fascinating snapshot of the Jewish immigrant experience in America during the turn of the 20th century, and portrays a number of scenarios both humorous and dramatic, from a bigamist with two large families, a Yiddish/English vaudeville show, an evening English class, a young immigrant girl being roped into a marriage she doesn’t want, and the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in March of 1911, which killed 146 young immigrant workers.

Add to that a topnotch veteran cast, authentic costumes, and a verve to bring back the days of how our ancestors lived between the old country and the new world, “A Bintel Brief” was a fitting, entertaining way for the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre to starts its seventh decade.

Friday, 9 February 2018

"Les Miserables" a thundering triumph

Earlier this week, I saw the musical version of Victor Hugo's epic 1862 novel "Les Miserables" for the very first time, as the national touring company is making a brief run at Place des Arts in Montreal until February 11.

From the first pounding notes of the musical score that signals the moment the curtain goes up on a group of prisoners rowing in the underbelly of a French naval vessel in the early 19th century, to the highly-charged emotional finale, I can readily see why "Les Miz" has been nothing short of a thundering triumph on Broadway and London's West End for over 30 years, and has played around the world to the same enthusiastic reactions.

The production, which is a breath taking tale of the triumph of the human spirit and personal redemption in the face of adversity and tragedy -- and is all embodied in the main character of Jean Valjean -- is also a vivid portrayal of the harsh life among the wretched of post-Napoleonic France, as it  is about to erupt in a populist uprising against the French establishment and its military. And what I liked about it is how this story is told in a very operatic manner, complete with powerful music, authentic costumes, and striking scenery that not only immerses you into this turbulent period of French history, but also makes you think you are experiencing it within the majestic confines of New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

As well, the cast of "Les Miz" is first rate all around, including Nick Cartell who anchors the show so admirably as Jean Valjean; Melissa Mitchell as the tragic figure Fantine; Monte J. Howell and Sarah Cetrulo, who excellently provides the comic relief as the innkeeper and his wife; Danielle J. Summons as the passionate rebel Eponine; and of course, Josh Davis, who plays the policeman Javert -- who is Jean Valjean's nemesis -- to such menacing perfection.

And of course, you can't forget the show stopping songs such as "I Dreamed A Dream", "On My Own", "Master of the House"and "Stars", which were greeted with thunderous ovations from the audience.

"Les Miserables" is a thundering triumph, not to mention a vivid example of how a musical production is not only an epic visually and musically, but also how it can tell a sweeping, life-affirming story in the process. It is -- and will always be -- a definite stage must-see.

To get your tickets for the remaining performances of the show's Montreal run, go to

Friday, 14 April 2017

"Clybourne Park" is social dramedy at its best

Change can be a good thing, but when it involves a family of another race moving into a bedroom community in a Chicago neighbourhood nearly 60 years ago, that change can be a source of resistance. And that sense of resistance can go into reverse in that same house, in that same bedroom community exactly 50 years after the fact.

That’s the overall theme of Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Clybourne Park”, which is now playing at the Centaur Theatre until April 30.

The play is divided into two parts. The first part takes place in 1959, as Russ and Bev, a middle-aged married couple living in Clybourne Park are about to move out of their house. Throughout this hot Saturday as Russ and Bev are packing the last of their boxes before the big move the following Monday, they receive a number of visitors: Jim, the local parish priest; their friends Karl and his hearing impaired wife Betsy; and Albert, who is picking up his wife Francine, who works as a maid for the couple. Although the fast-paced conversations deal with a variety of rather trivial subjects (from how Neapolitan ice cream got its to name to geography), it eventually dissolves into a whole mess of anger and pain when Karl raises the topic that Russ sold his house to an African American couple (who are about to live in an all-White neighborhood), and when Jim brings up the painful memories about Russ and Bev’s deceased son, and what lead to his premature tragic death.

The second part takes place 50 years later, in 2009, when a neighborhood association meets in the same house in the same neighborhood – which is now predominantly a black neighborhood – as they discuss the prospect of a white couple purchasing the house in question, and how they plan to tear it down and build a new house on the site. The conversations between the characters, like in the first half, start off being of a trivial nature (like what really is the capital of Morocco). But as it becomes more relevant and politically incorrect, it dissolves into another mess of anger and pain; but this time, the ghosts of the house’s previous owners resurface, thanks to the discovery of an old army footlocker that was buried in the backyard.

“Clybourne Park” is dramedy at its best, with a great deal of humour, talk, frustration and hurt mixed into a winning formula on how people not only deal with subtle, yet radical change, but also how they deal with their personal demons and prejudices. My favorite part is the 1959 segment, which fondly reminded me of the sitcoms and live dramas that were part of TV’s golden age (in fact, I was wondering where the three 1950s TV cameras with the large CBS eye logos on the side were going to emerge from the audience). It started like an episode of “I Love Lucy” and ended up being a production of “Playhouse 90”. And the ensemble cast – which had the challenge of performing two (and sometimes three) different roles – successfully met their acting challenges with flying colours. In particular, special kudos go out to Lisa Bronwyn Moore, whose performance as Bev in the 1959 segment as a typical 50s housewife (complete with makeup, perfectly coiffed hair, house dress and high heel shoes) was a wonderful combination of June Cleaver and Edith Bunker; and Harry Standjofski as Russ, who in his loud, bombastic way, somehow strikes a blow for civil rights as he defends his choice of whom he sold his house to, although much to the consternation of his good friend (and closet bigot) Karl.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, call the Centaur box office at 514-288-3161, or go to