Saturday, March 26, 2011

Arts events this weekend to keep you busy in Niagara

As usual, we have another busy weekend in Niagara for those interested in the arts; two events I will write about this weekend that might interest you, and the best part is, you can do both if you want to!

First, we have what are billed as the 45th annual Big Time World Theatre Awards scheduled for this evening at the Robertson Hall, behind the Folk Arts Centre on Church Street in downtown St. Catharines. This is the fifth annual fundraiser for Suitcase in Point Theatre of St. Catharines, with lots planned for those attending this evening.

This is a decidedly tongue-in-cheek send-up of awards shows, and each year they pick a year to highlight, with fashions and more reflecting that year. This year, the highlighted year is 1957, and all proceeds raised from the evening go towards their newest show, apparently dealing with the daredevils of Niagara Falls.

The evening gets underway at 7 with the Red Carpet, Silent Auction Reception, followed by the actual ceremony at 8 and an after-party Sock Hop sponsored by the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, at 9:30. Food and drink are being generously provided by The Merchant Ale House, Great Lakes Brewery, Creekside Wines, The Office Tap & Grill, City Lights, Rise Above Bakery, and others.

What's all this revelry cost you? Only $ 20.00 at the door if you have not already purchased your tickets, or $ 15.00 for students and artists, starving or otherwise. If you need more information call 289-477-1025, or just show up at the door tonight in your best 50s garb and have a great time. It's for a great cause, and why not support the arts in a fun and creative way?

Meantime, at the other end of the arts spectrum, we have the annual spring concerts for Choralis Camerata this weekend, taking place this evening in Port Colborne and tomorrow afternoon in St. Catharines. Artistic Director and conductor Laura Thomas has titled the concert "A Love Triangle", focusing on the relationship between Robert and Clara Schumann and that other giant of the Romantic era, Johannes Brahms. Specifically, the concert will concentrate on the period after Brahms moved into the Schumann family home in 1853.

There is no evidence to suggest, of course, Brahms and Clara had an affair after Robert was admitted to an asylum; their letters to each other hinted at the fact, though. We do know, however, Brahms took over the family home to help Clara with her family following Robert's departure, so the prospects of something more there will always be open to speculation.

The story is told through music, of course, with the bulk of the concert featuring the two sets of Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op. 52 and Op. 65 by Brahms. The choir is joined by four hands piano accompaniment, with the pianists Lynne Honsberger and Edward Moroney. The music is essentially a collection of love songs, waltzes written for four voices and piano duet, inspired by Viennese traditional music. These classics of the Romantic repertoire run the whole gamut of love, and are truly a joy to listen to.

This evening, the choir performs at 7:30 at Central United Church at 39 Delhi Street in Port Colborne, and tomorrow afternoon at Grantham United Church at 415 Linwell Road in north St. Catharines. For tickets, call 905-646-9225 or 905-354-4348, or just pick them up at the door.

By the way, I will be at both concerts this weekend, Port Colborne and St. Catharines, with lots of great music to purchase through my website, A Web of Fine Music. If you can't make it to the concerts but there is something you're looking for, send me an email at or through the website, at, and I will do my best to get what it is you're looking for.

Enjoy the weekend!

March 26th, 2011.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects scores another winner!

I promised I would do a mid-week entry on the latest Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects production of John Buchan's The 39 Steps, which opened March 12th at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. I was unable to attend the opening, so we went this past Saturday evening, March 19th, and joined an almost capacity-crowd audience for the show.

If you love farce, or even just a great, rollicking comedy, this production will be right up your alley. Oh sure, it bears only a passing resemblance to the Alfred Hitchcock film, also based on Buchan's novel of many years ago in terms of structure, but the story remains relatively intact and this stage adaptation by Patrick Barlow is a heck of a lot more fun to watch. The two-time Tony award-winning play sees four performers spinning through over 150 characters in about two hours of fast-paced comedy that director Kelly Daniels calls a "theatrical fest of sight and sound."

The story, such as it is, revolves around Richard Hannay, trying to bust out of a bit of a funk by going to a live theatre show featuring a magical man with an amazing memory for facts. From there, Hannay is joined by a mysterious woman on the run who asks to stay at his apartment for a bit. She doesn't last long, of course, taking the secret she holds with her. It's up to Hannay to solve the mystery while being pursued by seedy types as well as the authorities regarding the death of a woman in his London flat. I can't give away any more than that, but suffice it to say the numerous twists and turns in the story make for much discussion at intermission, and laughter during the course of the show.

The four performers are all first rate, beginning with Jason Cadieux, no stranger to the Lyndesfarne stage, as Richard Hannay, who sports dashing good looks and very precise comic timing. The ladies he finds himself associated with at various times in the play, all portrayed by the Shaw Festival's Jenny L. Wright, are just over-the-top enough to add that extra comic dimension to the mix. But it is the second half of the cast, known in the programme simply as "Clown 1" and "Clown 2", who really make the play take flight. Playing about 100 or so characters between them, Jon Osbaldeston and Lorne Kennedy from the Shaw Festival both execute their myriad of character and costume changes with razor-thin precision. How they manage to keep it all together for the entire show is almost too much to fathom, but they do, and it makes for wonderful comic moments throughout the show.

The 39 Steps manages to break lots of social and theatrical rules with wild abandon, beginning with Lorne and Jon appearing in some scenes with black tie and tails, which anyone who watches old Fred Astaire movies knows is a definite no-no. White tie with tails, of course, but these two provincial dolts portrayed by Jon and Lorne obviously don't know any better. But they know how to get a laugh.

Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' production of The 39 Steps continues through to this weekend at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre, and good seats should still be available. For tickets, call the box office at 905-938-1222, or go to to book online.

After the show, incidentally, we walked down James Street to St. Paul and stopped in to the newly-opened Dani's Bistro, where the old Cask 22 wine bar used to be, for an after-theatre meal, and were very impressed. The food is very well-priced, well presented, and the service and decor are both first-rate. I would recommend Dani's Bistro either before or after the show this weekend!

March 23rd, 2011.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Arts update in Niagara for March

There's been quite a bit of news the last few weeks relating to the arts in Niagara, so I thought I would group them all together in today's entry to update you on a number of fronts. If you have any doubts the arts are a force to be reckoned with in Niagara, read on...

As you have no doubt noticed if you have been through downtown St. Catharines lately, work has begun on clearing land on St. Paul Street for the much-anticipated performing arts centre and Brock's School of Performing Arts, which will incorporate the old Canada Hair Cloth building. It is almost eery seeing all that empty space after all these years; even with the hoarding to protect people from mishaps on the site, you can easily see the scope of this project and how it will fundamentally change the cityscape in downtown St. Catharines. Now, the new complex will not be built for a little while yet, but just the fact the old buildings are coming down to make way for the new project to begin shows you this dream will indeed become a reality someday soon. I can hardly wait!

Tied in with that was the news earlier this week a new plan will be launched to boost the local arts industry in Niagara, with the joint initiative led by Carousel Players, the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, and the City of St. Catharines. The plan is receiving a significant financial contribution from the Department of Canadian Heritage's Canada Cultural Investment Fund. At a news conference at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines earlier this week, MP Rick Dykstra announced the government is providing up to $ 102,212.00 through the Strategic Initiatives Component of the Canada Cultural Heritage Fund.

What all this means is the new initiative, Marketing the Arts of St. Catharines-Niagara will, over the lifespan of the plan's 18 months, develop three innovative projects that are designed to strengthen management practices, encourage financial growth, provide professional development, share best practices and raise the profile of arts and cultural organizations in the region. In a nutshell, the three projects are: 1.), led by the City of St. Catharines; 2.) Developing our Marketing Expertise, led by the Centre for the Arts, Brock University; and 3.) Inspire! Niagara Arts in Niagara Schools, led by Carousel Players.

The reason for the 18-month lifespan of the initiative is to ensure support for a successful launch of the new performing arts centre in St. Catharines and ultimately benefit arts organizations in Niagara. Essentially the arts organizations will be able to hit the ground running as of April 1st of this year and put the framework in place for the new centre before shovels are in the ground. This is significant, as we have to be prepared for the new centre when it opens, and it is especially important the arts groups who will benefit the most from the centre are all on the same page and ready to go with their strategic initiatives to make the entire project a success.

The new performing arts centre will not only be a bricks and mortar operation, but also a living, breathing part of a vibrant arts community in the heart of Niagara, and we have to develop the game plan now in order to make this whole idea a success and ensure it is successful after the opening. I think this new initiative will go a long way towards achieving that goal. It's in all our best interests this vision for the downtown continues to grow and achieve success.

Two other notes about people in the arts in Niagara are also worth noting this week. Last month, the St. Catharines & Area Arts Council announced the appointment of their new Executive Director, Michelle Sigouin, who comes to the area from Prince Edward Island, where she was Executive Director of the Guild on the island. Beginning her new role in St. Catharines on February 21st, Ms. Sigouin says she is "honoured to belong to a membership that is focused on promoting the value of the arts and culture in Niagara." I have not met the new Executive Director yet, but I am sure that will come soon as the annual general meeting of the Arts Council should be coming up this spring sometime.

As well, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake announced this week their Artistic Director, Jackie Maxwell, has renewed her contract for another four years. This is especially good news, given the fact the Shaw Festival is embarking this year on its 50th season, which promises to be a rather memorable one if early indications hold true. During the season, Maxwell will direct the Canadian premiere of Lennox Robinson's Drama at Inish - A Comedy and the world premiere of the Jay Turvey/Paul Sportelli musical aria Severa. Oddly, Ms. Maxwell will not be directing anything by the Festival's namesake this year.

Anyway, that gets you up-to-date on the arts news for this week; I will be reporting early in the week on the current Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects' latest production, 39 Steps, which I have heard good things about. A good laugh is always a good thing!

March 19th, 2011.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Theatre in Niagara worth catching this month

This week I'll move away from music for a look at some of the local theatre we can catch this month, including a surprise offering at a place I bet you have not thought of going to for awhile, but you really should.

First, a quick preview of the new production opening tonight at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects opens their new show, John Buchan's The 39 Steps, which runs through to March 27th. I can't attend the opening tonight due to a prior commitment, but I will be there next Saturday evening to review on the full production. Last week, however, I attended a media preview that included a couple of short scenes and a chance to meet the actors, and from that short experience I think I'm pretty safe in saying this should be a pretty funny show on a winter's night.

Artistic Director Kelly Daniels directs the show, which stars Jason Cadieux of Essential Collective Theatre; Jon Osbaldeston who does a lot of work locally with several groups and has performed in London's West End; and two Shaw Festival members, Lorne Kennedy and Jenny L. Wright. Between them there are about 100 characters portrayed over the course of the play, so count on several lightening fast costume changes between scenes.

I will write more about the show after attending next Saturday's performance, but if you can't wait and want to go sooner, by all means call the Lyndesfarne box office at 905-938-1222 or go online at

Now, last evening, we attended the World Premiere musical On The Radio at the Oh Canada Eh? dinner theatre on Lundy's Lane in Niagara Falls. The show opened February 17th and runs right through to April 2nd., so given the fact the run is half-way through already, the well-attended show last evening suggests word is getting around this is one fun musical to catch this winter.

Written and directed by Lee Siegel, who is now preparing for roles in a couple of Stratford Festival musicals this season, the show is a two-hour long, fast-paced review of popular music from the 40s right through to the current day. I must say, though, older people in the audience such as myself identified with the first half music more than the second half, generally speaking, and the younger people in the audience must be wondering what we were doing in the 70s and 80s with some of the outfits worn during the show!

Almost all the music is readily identifiable, from Glenn Miller's In the Mood to Bobby Vinton's Blue Velvet; from Whitney Houston's I Wanna Dance with Somebody to My Heart Will Go On from the film "Titanic". There are some I might question including in the show that might be lost on some audience members, but overall, the music is solid and fun to listen to again. Some, even painful, in a nice reflective way!

The cast of six young singers is amazing. I could never remember the lyrics to 100 songs as well as dance steps and song introductions; these six young performers make it look easy. The six cast members, all of whom have performed at Oh Canada, Eh! on numerous occasions, know their stuff and avoided making the music sound too bland; they all get their solo spots and make the most of them. The six, Melissa Penner, Meaghan Chapin, Kelly Holiff, Craig Maguire, Jean-Francois Grenier and Patrick Whalen, have fun with the music and that fun transfers beyond the stage to the audience as well.

A word about the food before I finish. I have been to dinner shows before and even some restaurants that can't serve up a dinner as quickly and efficiently as this group did at Oh Canada, Eh. From the moment we sat down at our table and introduced ourselves to our fellow table guests shortly after 6 pm, the different courses were presented quickly but never in a rushed fashion. In fact, dinner was completed in plenty of time to chat with your neighbours for a good 20 minutes or more before the show started. Our particular server, Meaghan, had to excuse herself early to get ready for the show; now that is a busy evening, serving tables and then appearing in the show!

The food, by the way, was exceptional given the size of the crowd and the time constraints they have to work under. All the food was beautifully presented, served piping hot and delicious. Even my far better half Sophie, who is now vegetarian, was impressed with the accomodations made for her menu selections.

Great job all round, and well worth your time before the show closes on April 2nd. For tickets, call 905-374-1995 or go online to

March 12th, 2011.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Lots to do this weekend in Niagara!

Even though the weather doesn't hold out much promise other than the fact we'll likely lose most or all of our remaining snow over the weekend, we have lots of entertainment to take in as we celebrate the great indoors in Niagara!

First off, tomorrow morning (Saturday), Primavera Concerts celebrates the International Women's Day Centenary at St. Barnabas Church in St. Catharines, with three short concerts celebrating the achievements of women in the arts: music, painting, sculpture and cuisine. Concerts are by Musathena, featuring baroque and renaissance music and a specially-commissioned setting by Elizabeth Raum of a poem celebrating Queen Elizabeth I; the Oriana Women's Choir will be heard in a programme of works by contemporary Canadian composers such as Ruth Watson Henderson and Eleanor Daley; and finally, soprano Agnes Zsigovics, accompanied by flute and piano, will perform music by Hildegard von Bingen, Handel and Vivaldi.

Lunch will be available, along with a brief talk about women and music by professor Karin de Bella of Brock University's music department. The event kicks off at 10:30 in the morning and runs to 3 in the afternoon. Tickets should still be available at the door at St. Barnabas prior to the start of the first concert in the morning.

Speaking of Womens' Day Concerts, Broadband's 19th annual celebration of women in music takes place Sunday afternoon at 4 at the Ukrainian Black Sea Hall at 455 Welland Avenue in St. Catharines, with Laura Thomas and friends entertaining for the afternoon. Proceeds go to Hospice Niagara and tickets are on a pay-what-you can basis, with the suggested price being $ 20 a ticket. Tickets should be available at the door, or in advance at Ryson's Music downtown and The Peanut Mill on Welland Avenue.

Saturday evening, the next concert by Chorus Niagara takes place at the Cathedral of St. Catherine of Alexandria at Church and Lyman Streets downtown. Titled "Sounds of Light", the concert, featuring the chorus along with members of the Niagara Symphony conducted by Artistic Director Robert Cooper, will feature visual projections selected by film and culture historian Joan Nicks, and inspired by the textures and themes of light expressed in the music to be performed at the concert.

Speaking of music, the concert features choral works from Canada, the United States, Latvia, New Zealand and Russia, with the centerpiece being the lovely Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen. Also featured will be music by the American composer Eric Whitacre, whose music is featured on the newest Naxos release by the Elora Festival Singers, conducted by Noel Edison. The disc, nominated this year for a Grammy award, is available through my website,, and is well worth having in your collection if you love great contemporary choral music.

Tickets should be available at the door, or in advance through the Brock box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.

Finally, although the opening is still a week away, I wanted to get the interest going early for the latest production by Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects, who peform at the Sullivan Mahoney Courthouse Theatre in downtown St. Catharines. I was down there this morning for a media preview of the new play, John Buchan's The 39 Steps, and from what little I saw rehearsed today, we're in for a fun evening's entertainment starting next Saturday evening. Basically it is Monty Python meets Alfred Hitchcock, so that should give you an idea how far-ranging the play is. The cast of four, featuring jason Cadieux from Essential Collective Theatre, Jon Osbaldeston, and Lorne Kennedy and Jenny L. Wright from the Shaw Festival, runs through to March 27th.

I'll write more about this show once I attend a performance later this month, but if you are already interested and want tickets, call the Lyndesfarne box office at 905-938-1222.

So you see, lots to see and do in Niagara to kick off the month of March!

March 4th, 2011.