Saturday, November 24, 2012

Lyndesfarne scores a hit and other Niagara notes

Last week I touched briefly on the new Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects holiday show, a radio play adaptation of the Frank Capra film classic, It's A Wonderful Life, based on the 1946 Lux Radio version.  I had attended a media preview last week where one scene was being rehearsed to whet my appetite for what was to come.  Last night's opening of It's A Wonderful Life proved to be a pretty special evening.

Having worked at CKTB Radio for 31 years now (yes, I know, it is a long time!) I was very pleased to see a big CKTB banner across the stage, and old-style microphones with the CKTB flash attached to them.  The station is the sponsor for the run of the show and it proves to be a great fit, as they have tailored the script to reflect the area and the station, giving the play some added local flavour.  More on that local flavour a bit later on.

Director Barbara Worthy knows her way around old-time radio; so much so she along with Jon Osbaldeston have adapted the play so as to recreate a 40s or 50s era radio drama, complete with the requisite sound effects man at the side of the stage, as is the case to this day on Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion.  Both Worthy and Osbaldeston have taught a course at Brock University on the very subject of recreating old radio dramas, so they know what they want.

The cast is drawn largely from the Shaw Festival with Lydesfarne Theatre Project's Artistic Director Kelly Daniels' husband Ric Reid leading a cast that includes Jeff Meadows, Patty Jamieson, Jenny L. Wright and Aidan Daniels, Kelly and Ric's son among others.  Together they all have a lot of fun with the script and hamming it up with the audience just the right amount.  Meadows especially is very good with an expressive face and manner that recalls Dick van Dyke during his heyday.  Jenny L. Wright manages to pull off sounding like the 18-year-old Mary she portrays early in the radio play.

One addition to the cast on opening night was Niagara Falls Mayor Jim Diodati, never one to shy away from the spotlight, who played the Mayor of Bedford Falls in the final scene, having some fun selling Niagara Falls to the newly revitalized George of Jeff Meadows.  He only appears opening night, I'm told, so he won't have much use for that wide-stripe 40s-era suit they borrowed from the Shaw Festival wardrobe department for him.  But he does look good in a fedora...

Overall, you have to like what they have done with It's A Wonderful Life.  It makes you feel good and helps to launch us into the Christmas season, which for me this year for some reason is rather late happening.  Some of the music by John Hogg is a little syrupy, but that just adds to the old-time sound and feel of the show.  The Niagara Star Singers, who perform off the top as radio in-studio musical guests, although not note-perfect, certainly reflected what would have been common entertainment on the radio during that era when all acts were live in the studio.

The CKTB studios have been totally renovated several times over since the days when two concert grand pianos graced the main-floor studio, which is long before my time there, I might add.  But wouldn't it be nice to see this radio play recreated live in the studios at 12 Yates Street some time?  Well, the next best thing is to hear this stage version on the radio, which you will be able to do on Christmas Day, as one of the performances during the run will be taped for rebroadcast, which should be a treat to hear again.

Lyndesfarne is taking a gamble moving their theatre operations to the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls, but let's hope people come out and support the show from now until December 16th.  Performances are Wednesday to Saturday evenings at 7:30 and matinees Fridays at 11:30 am and Sundays at 2 pm.  For tickets call the box office at 905-374-SHOW or online at

Now, other things happening this weekend in Niagara include Brock University Choirs directed by Harris Loewen this evening at Knox Presbyterian Church at 7:30; the concert is titled Cantemus and tickets will be available at the door.

The Niagara Symphony performs their second Masterworks concert tomorrow afternoon at 2:30 at the Sean O'Sullivan Theatre at the Centre for the Arts, Brock University, with Music Director Bradley Thachuk conducting a programme that includes a Niagara Symphony Premiere, Ronald Royer's Travels with Mozart, as well as the Suite No. 4 in G major by Tchaikovsky, known as Mozartiana.  Mozart's music will also be featured with the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro as well as the Variations on a Theme by Haydn by Brahms.  In addition to the music, the nso annual Silent Auction will be taking place in the lobby; this is an annual fundraiser for the orchestra and always very popular.

Because of the silent auction I won't be set up as usual in the lobby as space will be at a premium, but I will be there nonetheless and I hope to see you there as well.  Tickets are still available by calling the Centre for the Arts box office at 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or purchasing them at the box office prior to the concert.

Enjoy the weekend!

November 24th, 2012.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Concerts, CD release events and more coming up in Niagara

I was heading to the market in downtown St. Catharines this morning and ran into an old friend of mine who was rather displeased with the fact two concerts are scheduled tomorrow at the same time, and he can only be at one.  It is a common problem, especially at this time of year with so much going on.  But I am sure the conflict is not intentional; probably just an oversight as scheduling was worked out for a particular concert.  Still, as this person said today, they are all chasing the same audience, so why compete directly with each other?

Well, I can't do much about that, but I can bring you news of a few events coming up this week and next that might catch your attention as you plan your late November outings.  One of the concerts my friend was lamenting not being able to attend tomorrow afternoon is with the fine musical group Mercredi Musique, who will perform at Knox Presbyterian Church in downtown St. Catharines at 3 pm.  The local string ensemble will perform music by Bach (Orchestral Suite No. 1 and Concerto for 2 Violins) and two pieces by Mozart, the adagio from the Clarinet Concerto and his celebrated Symphony No. 40.  Tickets are available at the door or if you need information in advance, email them at

We have a couple of CD release events coming up this week as well.  The first is tonight, as the Avanti Chamber Singers under the direction of Harris Loewen present a concert titled Magnificat, featuring quite literally Magnificat settings by the likes of Vivaldi, Schutz and Tremain as well as works for St. Cecelia's Day by Purcell and Gero.  So a nice musical mix with two local composers represented in Ronald Tremain and Eric Gero.  The concert is at the acoustically perfect St. Barnabas Anglican Church on Queenston Street this evening at 7:30, and will feature the release of their debut CD as well. Once again, tickets are available at the door, and the CD presumably will be as well.

The second CD release event comes up on Thursday of this week, November 22nd, at Stella's Dining Lounge from 7:30 to 10:30 pm, and features the talents of local double-bass virtuoso Duncan Hopkins. He will be joined by Perry White on tenor sax and Reg Schwager on guitar, as they play music from Duncan's new release, Bleak Midwinter.  Admission is only $ 5 at the door, by the way, and you should be able to get the CD there as well, or by going to  I am going to see if I can get a supply to sell on my website as well, at  If you are interested drop me a line at and I will reserve a copy for you.

Next weekend we have a trio of holiday-themed performances as the season fast approaches.  Lyndesfarne Theatre Projects opens their holiday show It's a Wonderful Life, a stage version of the classic movie, at the Seneca Queen Theatre in downtown Niagara Falls.   I attended a media preview at the theatre Friday morning and it looks like a sure-fire winner.  Local director Barbara Worthy handles directorial duties here, and music is provided by John Hogg.  The cast includes many Shaw Festival regulars, including Jeff Meadows, Patty Jamieson, Ric Reid, Jenny L. Wright as well as Jon Osbaldeston in a live stage adaptation of Frank Capra's much-loved Christmas classic.  I hope to write more about the show in the coming week or so after I have a chance to see the whole show, but if you want tickets in the meantime, go to or call 905-374-SHOW for tickets and information.

Also next weekend, both sides of the border have productions of Menotti's classic children's opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors scheduled.  On this side of the border, Primavera Concerts of St. Catharines will present a version with the acclaimed Elora Festival Singers conducted by Noel Edison on Friday night, November 23rd at Mountainview Christian Reformed Church in Grimsby, and on Saturday night at the lovely Ridley College Chapel here in St. Catharines.  For tickets, go to or call 905-736-2150.

Across the border, Nickel City Opera returns with their version of the Menotti classic with full sets, chorus and dancers accompanied by the 'Mighty Wurlitzer' played by Ivan Docenko at The Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda, New York, Friday, Saturday and Sunday of next weekend.  The complete opera only runs about an hour, so you can easily catch dinner before the show and still be home with plenty of time to curl up on the couch and watch a good movie!  For tickets, go to or, or call 1-716-692-2413.

I remember picking up an original RCA LP of the original television production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, which first aired in 1950.  Yes, in those early days of television you could actually see a live opera premiere on television.  Not taped, mind you, performed live!  That LP made it to CD years ago but last time I checked it was no longer available, unfortunately.  Amahl is a simple and enchanting holiday classic, which I saw performed live by the Canadian Opera Company Ensemble years ago in Toronto.

So there you go - lots to see and do in the coming week, and none are going to break the bank before Christmas arrives.  Enjoy!

November 17th, 2012.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

News and notes in the arts this weekend

I've collected a few notes on the arts locally and beyond the last couple of weeks, none of them big enough for a full column, so I gathered them all together for this week's column to update you on a few items of interest.

First of all, it was nice to see the release this week from the Shaw Festival indicating Artistic Director Jackie Maxwell will be receiving on honorary doctor of laws degree from Kingston's Queen's University for her landmark achievements in Canadian theatre, theatre arts and her promotion of new visions of Canada on the world stage.  The degree will be conferred during the fall convocation ceremonies November 20th in Grant Hall, one of the oldest buildings on the Queen's University campus.  In addition to leading several on-campus workshops, Ms. Maxwell will also give the convocation address after receiving her honorary degree.

Maxwell will be in good company at the convocation, as honorary degrees will also be bestowed on the author of the popular Doonesbury comic strip, Garretson Trudeau, and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn.  Should be a nice way to cap a very successful Shaw season for Jackie Maxwell!

Meantime over at the Stratford Festival, Antoni Cimolino took over as Artistic Director November 1st, succeeding Des McAnuff.  One of the first things Cimolino did was unveil a new logo for the festival, a very stylish rendering of Stratford Festival, and the return of simply referring to the Festival as the Stratford Festival rather than the rather cumbersome Stratford Shakespeare Festival, which had been in place for a few years now.

This I think is a good move, for as Cimolino noted when he announced the change, "'Stratford Festival' is the name we have used for most of our 60 years.  It is simple and direct, it resonates with people and it carries our legacy of quality and success.  The name connects powerfully with audiences and allows us to best convey the breadth and depth of the seasons we are planning to present."  It makes me wonder, though, how popular the Stratford Shakespeare Festival moniker had been internally since it was adopted, as they readily changed it back again the moment McAnuff was gone. wonders.

Anyway, Cimolino plans to focus his tenure on establishing the Festival as a place to become immersed in the theatre experience, for in addition to the plays themselves, he will introduce The Forum, a wide-ranging series of events allowing audience members to experience a deeper theatrical experience on several levels.  This will help to further his desire to place the Festival more at the centre of society.  This could be a tall order, but we'll see what transpires.  I have a lot of confidence in the new Artistic Director having seen the quality of his work over the years, so let's see what he comes up with during his tenure.

A further note from the Stratford Festival indicated tickets will go on sale to members only online starting tomorrow (Sunday) and general public access to tickets begins January 5th.  In addition, a new Facebook app will allow people to purchase tickets through their personal Facebook page.  The free app can be downloaded at  Facebook fans will also be able to buy their tickets a full day earlier than the general public.

There is more and more social media all around us, and not all of it good.  I will be writing about this next week, in fact, as I have some thoughts on the matter, but I think it was only a matter of time before arts organizations capitalized on the popularity of social media in all its forms.  It is here to stay, folks, so we had better get used to it.  Some may call it a necessary evil, but I will leave it up to you to decide.

Anyway, that is it for this weekend; if you have not already done so, you can check out the calendar page on my website at for a very complete listing of events coming up in the area and beyond, newly updated for the fall and winter season.  And I am currently working on updating the Mike's Picks page, which soon will be featuring some (gasp!) Christmas titles new this year!  The season is upon us once again...

November 10th, 2012.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Busy weekend in the arts in Niagara!

Some weekends are busier than others around here in Niagara, and this is a particularly busy one for those of us who follow the arts in Niagara.  So today, let's take a quick look at what is going on.

One of the most-anticipated events of the year is the annual STRUTT Wearable Art Weekend, which got underway last evening and continues through tonight with the big grand finale, the STRUTT Runway Show at the WS Tyler warehouse in St. Catharines.  Doors open at 8 pm and the runway show begins at 9.  Given the popularity of the show, mind you, I would suggest getting there earlier than 8 if you possibly can.

The STRUTT Runway Show showcases over 40 unique wearable artworks by artists from Windsor, Toronto, here in Niagara of course, and as far away as Sault Ste. Marie.  I have heard rave reviews about this event, as it celebrates the most absurd creative creatives people can come up with.  It also happens to be the signature annual event for NAC, Niagara Artists Centre, a not-for-profit, charitably registered, member-driven collective formed by and dedicated to serving the working artists and community of Niagara.  How local?  Well, my own neighbour Sandy Middleton is involved again this year and I hear her costume is stunning this year!

Tickets start at $ 35 per person and tables start at $ 400, with all tickets exclusive of taxes and gratuities.    For tickets and information, call 905-688-5550, ext. 3257 or go to

This weekend Chorus Niagara kicks off their 50th anniversary season, tonight as part of the Welland & Port Colborne Concert Association season, which is completely sold out.  But Chorus Niagara returns tomorrow afternoon for their own concert season opener, and tickets are still available for that performance.  Titled Our Favourite Things - An Afternoon of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the concert will feature some of the greatest and most memorable Broadway hits by a team that redefined the genre in their day.  Some of their box-office hits included Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King & I, The Sound of Music, and many more.

Joining the Chorus Niagara ensemble this time will be members of the Niagara Symphony conducted by Chorus Niagara Artistic Director, Robert Cooper, and soloists for the performance include soprano Allison Angelo, tenor Adam Fisher and baritone Philip Kalmanovitch.

Both peformances this weekend are at the Dr. J.M. Ennis Auditorium at Centennial Secondary School in Welland, and tickets for Sunday afternoon are still available from any chorus member, or through the Brock Centre for the Arts box office, at or by calling 905-688-5550, ext. 3257.  It promises to be a great way to kick off the 50th anniversary season for Chorus Niagara!

Finally on Sunday in Niagara Falls, opera will be front and centre at the historic Seneca Theatre on Queen Street in downtown Niagara Falls.  I received an email earlier this week from Dr. Mary-Lou Vetere, a musician in her own right, who along with the Vetere Studio in Niagara Falls is presenting the legendary Metropolitan Opera soprano Aprile Millo and a number of local opera singers in a concert titled Opera Grandissima.  Mary-Lou has been a gifted singer and accompanist herself for many years, and her fellow singers will all help to celebrate all things opera on Sunday.  Aprile Millo was dubbed in one article I read this week as the "Lady Gaga of Opera" and she seems fine with that rather interesting nickname.

For tickets and more information, call 289-213-5626 or pick them up at the door on Sunday.  The performance begins at 7 pm.

So there you go - we've filled your weekend with music and fun and you don't even have to leave Niagara; everything you need is right here!  Oh, and don't forget we also get an extra hour of sleep Saturday night as we return to Standard Time, so remember to set your clocks back one hour before going to bed tonight.

November 3rd, 2012.