Wonder Women returns – this time @ The Central!

Hey all – Wanted to give you a heads-up on an upcoming music event: Wonder Women, featuring Kat Leonard and Arlene Paculan at The Central this Sunday, November 20. The Central is located at 603 Markham Street, Toronto (around the corner from Honest Ed’s) – doors open at 6 p.m.

Check out Kat’s site: http://depperlove.com/home.cfm

And here’s Arlene’s 411: http://radio3.cbc.ca/#/bands/Arlene-Paculan

In the meantime, I’ll be schlepping to the Papermill Theatre (Todmorden Mills) to help with the last of the painting on the Willow Quartet set tonight. Willow Quartet opens this Friday, November 18 and runs until December 3 – call 647-342-7454 for tix or go online at www.secureaseat.com

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Powerful pipes @ Atelier S recital

Last night’s Atelier S recital, ‘Allerseelen’ was disturbing. In the best sense of the word.

The recital’s theme ‘Allerseelen’ (German) – translated into All Souls’ Day – made for a program that showcased songs of longing, desperate and despised love, and mourning, with Fate as a darkly comic force (Fate as the ultimate buzzkill). The powerhouse voices of Martha Spence (mezzo-soprano), Patrick Huang (tenor) and Stuart Graham (baritone) were supported nicely by special guests Michael Rose (piano) and Christopher Jääskeläinen (violin). A bit of a comic opening to the evening’s festivities when Stuart came out to tell the audience that they’d be starting a bit late, as Christopher had forgotten his shirt. I couldn’t see why he couldn’t have gone skins, but that was just me I guess.

Program stand-outs for me were Stuart’s performance of “Sudyba” (Rachmaninoff) – Fate comes knocking and spoils everyone’s good time; Martha’s Charlotte in the letter scene from Werther (Massenet); and Patrick’s performance of “Fuor del mar” from Idomeneo (Mozart). Powerful performances and impressive vocal prowess.

If you ever have  a chance to see an Atelier S recital or workshop, I highly recommend getting out to see them. Check them out at: http://atelier-s.org/

Atelier S presents ‘Allerseelen’

Hey, kids – if you love to hear amazing voices singing excerpts from the classical repetoire, then this is for you. My pal, mezzo-soprano Martha Spence, will be singing in Atelier S’s upcoming recital ‘Allerseelen’ at College Street United Church tomorrow night.

Here are the details/reservation info I got from Martha:

Tuesday, November 8th at 7:30 pm, I will be taking part in Atelier S’s latest recital ‘Allerseelen’ at College Street United Church (NW corner of College and Bathurst). I will be joining tenor Patrick Huang and baritone Stuart Graham in an evening featuring the works of Richard Strauss’ Opus 10, assorted songs of Sergeï Rachmaninoff, Ravel’s “Deux Mélodies Hébraïques” along with assorted works of Fauré, Duruflé, Massenet, Gounod, Mozart and Olonso. We are honoured to have as our collaborators, pianist Michael Rose and violinist Christopher Jääskeläinen. An added component to the evening will be the works of visual artist Adib Azadeh (www.adibart.com) on display. Adib will be present to discuss his work during the intermission. This promises to be a rich evening for the senses! 

For full event details and advance online ticket purchase, please visit www.atelier-s.org or e-mail atelier.s@sympatico.ca  or call 416-927-9105. Advance tickets: $20 (adult) or $35 (two adults “bring-a-date”), $17.50 (student/senior) or $30 (two student/senior “bring-a-date”). N.B. You can save up to $15 when purchasing advance ‘Bring-a-date’ tickets.

Thanks, Martha! I’ll be there.

Coming up: more on painting Willow Quartet (hopefully with pix, courtesy of playwright Joan Burrows). We, along with actor John Healy, were at Mike’s yesterday helping Ed and Mike with the set, and I’ll be at PAL tonight with some of the production gang and cast to cut the leaves for the willow tree.

How sweet this jazz/pop fusion duo CD is…

The weather is decidedly glum, but I’m feeling good today. Inspired. And I blame Shannon Butcher and Ross MacIntyre – and their fabulous new CD How Sweet It Is.

Shannon and Ross have known each other since they were in high school at Cawthra Park School for the Arts, and were inspired (and encouraged by producer Marc Rogers) to do a vocal/bass duo project while working on Shannon’s first CD Words We Both Could Say. How Sweet It Is, showcasing some of the duo’s favourite tunes, was launched at the Heliconian Club last night in the club’s hall (the building used to be a church), a space that has “slammin'” acoustics (as Shannon remarked), complete with a cash bar and Halloween treats. There was also an awesome cake to celebrate the event, including a stack of actual-sized How Sweet It Is CD covers (the cover design features a tandem bike) made from icing!

Shannon’s voice was crystal-clear beautiful, and Ross’s hands boogied masterfully over those strings – and when he switched to the five-string electric, it sounded like he was playing both guitar and bass. An incredibly soulful, and playful, performance (and who knew that Shannon could do such a great Christopher Walken impersonation!). They played for about an hour and a half solid, mostly tunes from the new CD, tracks that included some of my favourite songs – and bands – from the 80s: Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurhythmics), Message in a Bottle (The Police) and a song that was made into one of the best music videos of all time, Take On Me (A-Ha). Remember this…?

Shannon also did a lovely rendition of I Think It’s Gonna Rain Today (also on the CD), which I remember Bette Midler singing in the movie Beaches, but I had no idea it was by Randy Newman. (I’ve been holding a bit of a grudge against Newman since Short People.) They did some tunes not included on the current recording as well – it was great fun when Shannon pulled out her ukulele (named Shelly) to join Ross (I can’t for the life of me recall on what song – I’ll see if Kira recalls and come back with an update). And hearing her sing Cloudburst totally gave me a flashback to Lynda Carter’s concert TV special (here’s that clip – the vid quality isn’t great, but she has an awesome set of pipes):

Yep, that’s Lynda Carter, who was Wonder Woman on T.V. in the mid- to late 70s. I know! And, yes, I seem to have an endless supply of pop triva bouncing around in my noggin.

In addition to the amazing performance, the audience was packed and included some familiar faces: my pal Kira Callahan (who joined me for the event), theatre pals Whitney Barris (who was working at the box office and, like Shannon, also a recent-ish mommy) and Blake Thorne, and jazz pianist Mark Kieswetter (who I’ve heard play with Shannon and Kira). A great evening of music and positive energy; it was all I could do to not sing along – and it was a relief when Shannon invited the audience to join in on the final refrain of Here Comes the Sun.

Big fun times with Shannon and Ross, and in a great concert space. For info on the Heliconian Club, visit their website:  http://www.heliconianclub.org/

Missed the CD launch? No worries, you can purchase How Sweet It Is online at: http://www.shannonbutcher.com/howsweet.html

And here are the duo’s respective websites: Shannon is at http://www.shannonbutcher.com/ and Ross can be found at http://www.rossmacintyre.com/

I don’t know about you, but hearing such sounds makes me want to make music too.

Shannon Butcher launches How Sweet It Is CD

Hey there. So before I take off into the night/weekend for more arts and culture adventures, I wanted to mention a fabulous upcoming music event, featuring the fabulous jazz songstress Shannon Butcher (who became the proud mommy of baby Charlotte in July).

Shannon, partnered with Ross MacIntyre for this project, will be launching her new CD How Sweet It Is at a concert at the Heliconian Hall on Tuesday, October 25. Check out Shannon’s website for details and info on tix: http://www.shannonbutcher.com/howsweet.html

In the meantime, I’m heading to the Fairview Library Theatre tonight with pal Victoria Shepherd and her daughter Vivian to see Amicus Productions’ All My Sons, where Viv is making her community theatre debut onstage. 

Have a good one, all!

Oh, yeah – before I forget – the International Festival of Authors is also on right now (Oct 19 – 30) at Harbourfront Centre. I’ll be out there next week. Check out their schedule/participants here: http://www.readings.org/?q=ifoa

50/50, Kat’s Graffiti’s gig & Another Africa

I’ve been one busy little artsy fartsy this week, chickens – an exercise made most convenient by the fact that I’m off this week.

One of the things I love about living in Toronto is having the ability to go to matinees on a weekday; I took advantage of that on Monday and again today, with a movie and a trip to the theatre.

Monday I saw 50/50 at the Rainbow Market Square. The movie stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, all grown up from his early days on the sitcom Third Rock from the Sun; joining him are Seth Rogen (as his best friend), Bryce Dallas Howard (his girlfriend), Anna Kendrick (his shrink) and Angelica Huston (his mom). 50/50 is about a young man’s journey with a rare cancer, a tumor on his lower spine, and his relationships with the people in his life as he deals with his treatment. In the end, no one is as they seem – and, also just like life, his story is told with poignancy and humour.

Tuesday night was double good times: I had an early dinner at 7 West Cafe with co-worker/pal Elisabeth, where I introduced her to the restaurant’s tasty and hearty all-day breakfast (and where a nice Cab-Sauv is a good pairing); then it was on to Graffiti’s in Kensington Market, where I was joining my pals Kat Leonard and Lizzie Violet for an evening of music, featuring Kat and a few other singer/songwriters. Ms. Leonard was all kinds of awesome, treating the small but hugely appreciative audience to tunes from her one-woman musical A Depper Kind of Love, the highlight of which was her starting her performance of Asshole in the women’s washroom (a trend that continued for the next act, Lara and Sean, with Lara doing the same with one of her tunes). Kat’s muscial premiered at the Toronto Fringe this past July and will be getting a remount at Red Sandcastle Theatre in November – I’ll give all y’all a heads up when that comes up. An awesome night out with some awesome gal pals.

That brings us to this afternoon, when I headed out to the St. Lawrence Centre Bluma Appel space to see Another Africa, which caught my eye for the cast as much as the subject matter. The CanStage production presents two plays from Volcano Theatre’s Luminato-commissioned project: Shine Your Eye (by Binyavanga Wainaina, dir. by Ross Manson) and Peggy Pickit Sees the Face of God (by Roland Schimmelpfennig, dir. by Liesl Tommy); the two one-act plays are introduced, featuring actors from both plays, by The Stranger (prologue) by Deborah Asiimwe and directed by Weyni Mengesha.

These are two markedly different plays linked by the common theme of modern-day Africa: Shine Your Eye (a Nigerian pidgin term meaning be aware, be sharp) presents an African perspective, directed toward Western culture, while Peggy Pickit is a Western perspective of Africa, making the paired plays a dialogue of sorts between Africa and the West.

Both plays feature outstanding casts. Shine Your Eye showcases the talents of Awaovieyi Agie, Milton Barnes, Lucky Onyekachi Ejim, Araya Mengesha, Muoi Nene, Ordena Stephens-Thompson and Dienye Waboso. Beka (Waboso) the young, highly educated daughter of a murdered political activist father must make choices about her life and ultimately her identity: will she remain working for an Internet scam organization, where the boss wants to trade in her name for financial gain, or will she flee to Toronto, to a life with her online/Skype friend Doreen?

Peggy Pickit features Tom Barnett, Maev Beaty, Tony Nappo and Kristen Thomson – these characters are all white Westerners who worked as medical practitioners in Africa, with one couple staying for six years while the other returned to a life back home, with the house, the garage and a kid. Complex relationships come to light during their dinner party together.

The production makes interesting and effective use of technology, showing back-screen projections of the Skype conversations between Beka and her Toronto friend Doreen (Stephens-Thompson) in Shine Your Eye. And a nanny cam of sorts (inside a wooden doll that Beaty and Barnett’s characters bring to their hosts’ home on the evening of their homecoming dinner) – brought into play by the director – provides images shown on a picture frame upstage centre in Peggy Pickit.

During the talkback that followed (where actors Muoi Nene and Kristen Thomson came out to chat), some audience members said they were challenged by two such different plays, utilizing multi-media technology – both of these comments were supplied by seniors, prompting others to wonder if this was a generational issue. There were some younger folks – possibly senior high school or college kids – in the audience, but they didn’t stick around. It would have been interesting to hear what a younger viewer thought,  though it was mentioned that previous young audience members appreciated the use of technology.

A question came up regarding the staging, along with the technology, and what kind of challenge this presented for the actors. Thomson said that the play (Peggy Pickit) was so beautifully written that the power of the text – and its specificity – supported the actors in maintaining the emotion through scene freezes, where it wasn’t just a matter of holding positions  – but living in the moment and digging in further. For Shine Your Eye, the technology incorporated into the script was more complex and posed a bigger challenge to incorporate on a practical level – but the result was amazingly effective on both a visual level and the political/philosophical questions it poses. In this story, technology is used for mass communication (in a sense, creating a level playing field in the global reach it provides) and for criminal intentions (on a political level, sticking it to the man and taking back what’s theirs – in a Robin Hood-like rationalization).

So, I’d highly recommend 50/50 (see movie listings) and Another Africa (which runs at the Bluma Appel until October 22). And if you haven’t seen Kat Leonard’s show A Depper Kind of Love, you’ll have another chance in November – I’ll keep you posted on that.