Tough times need good music

I’ve just been thinking about how some of my friends have been going through particularly rough times lately – and it reminded me of one of my favourite Holly Cole songs. This goes out to them.

Thanks to crooner2007 for posting on YouTube:


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:

Missed the CD launch? No worries, you can purchase How Sweet It Is online at:

And here are the duo’s respective websites: Shannon is at and Ross can be found at

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:

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:

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.

Friday night love-in

Back to “real life” after the fun and frolicks of a long weekend.

Friday night was especially enjoyable – and definitely the busiest part of the weekend. It could be summed up thusly: love in the dark with strangers. Twice.

No, I was not hanging out at Wicked. Right after work, I went down to the AMC at Yonge/Dundas to see Crazy, Stupid Love. It was crazy, stupid awesome. Stellar cast headed up by Julianne Moore,  Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, with Marissa Tomei and Kevin Bacon, and fine young actors Jonah Bobo and Analeigh Tipton. Hilariously funny and sweetly touching look at variations on the love story: marriage on the rocks, new relationship and teenage crush. This is not a chick flick – so those of you who can’t do those have nothing to worry about. Go see this movie already. You won’t be sorry.

Right after that, and a quick trip to the bank machine, I headed up to the Toronto Arts Centre to meet Kat Leonard and her pal (and now mine) Lizzie for the Best of Fringe 2011 to see Love, Virtually (by Chloe Whitehorn, directed by David Owen). So now you can see where this is going – have I not mentioned that I’m a sucker for romance? A modern look at relationships that makes me wonder if online dating is now the way most people meet. But beyond that, the play looks at loss and the struggle to let go – all with a live, original soundtrack composed and performed by the lovely and talented Cat Ratusny. A nice, easy coffee house atmosphere, and a lovely ensemble cast: Bunmi Adeoye, Krista Barzso, Michael Donnelly, Alan Norman, Nick Stojanovic, Joshua Wiles and Eve Wylden. Another great combo of funny and poignant. You have one more chance to see this if you haven’t already: tonight at 7 p.m. Check out the Love, Virtually website for more details and info:

Friday night finished with a visit to Wise Guys on the Danforth to see Kat’s friend Ann-Marie B. Zammit, the front gal for The Stone Poets. And Kat wasn’t kidding – Ann-Marie’s vocals are very Janis Joplin. Great rockin’ blues tunes. Check out the band’s website for info and upcoming dates:

I also saw Cowboys and Aliens on the weekend. I can’t believe this mash-up hasn’t been made before. Big extraterrestrial fun and action in the old west – and you gotta love a cast that features Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and Olivia Wilde.

One last thing before I sign off: I learned this weekend that, in addition to the Alumnae pals I previously mentioned in the Lysistrata – the sex strike cast, is Carolyn Hall (who appeared in Alum’s production of Pride and Prejudice). That continues its run this week Wed – Sat at Philosopher’s Walk, weather permitting:

What’s up with the ice cream truck music?

Okay, so call me old-fashioned, old school, a dinosaur even. But what the heck is up with the music you hear coming from the ice cream trucks lately?

When I was a kid – and this is going back a while – the ice cream truck in my neighbourhood in Burlington had a bell. And I know I wasn’t the only kid on my street to mix that bell up with that of the knife sharpener’s bell – scrambling out onto the road in search of ice cream only to find an old Italian guy with a hand truck filled with the tools of his trade.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve lived in Toronto – in Parkdale and more recently Little Portugal – and the ice cream truck had that somewhat eerie, carnival-like music box tune going on.

But this summer, the truck in my ‘hood is playing something vaguely pop, but I couldn’t tell you what it is. And in the neighbourhood near my office downtown, I heard a truck playing Für Elise the other day (my nemesis from that stray BlackBerry in the office – see an earlier post: