When the original Broadway production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera concludes its final performance this Sunday April 16th at the Majestic Theatre, the show will be going out with its mask held high, as the most successful Broadway musical of all time. For 35 years, it has whisked spellbound audiences away to a world of operatic spectacle and gothic romance thanks to its entrancing Music of the Night…and a couple of Canadians. “Well, there have actually been quite a few Canadians,” Justin Peck clarifies before adding, “but I’m the best one.”

It is true that since Phantom first opened on January 26th 1988, the Broadway production has featured a strong Canadian contingent, but in its final months, two in particular are helping to see it across the finish line: the agile and amiable Peck – clearly as quick with words as he is on his feet – who has danced with the company since 2006, and sunny soprano Raquel Suarez Groen, who joined Phantom for its 30th anniversary to make her debut as Carlotta Giudicelli, a character quite comfortable spending most of her time with her head held high.

Raquel Suarez Groen’s Carlotta, with fellow Calgarian and former Phantom, Laird Mackintosh to her left

For the former Calgarian, understanding the mindset of the delicious diva has been a piece of cake. “I grew up with a lot of Carlottas, so I try to channel all of my inner ex-voice teachers or people I’ve worked with. These people really exist,” she confirms, “and they take themselves very seriously. For them, even touching a door handle is a big deal. They’ll grab a scarf first because they don’t want to get sick, so the line in Prima Donna that says, ‘The stress that falls upon a famous Prima Donna/Terrible diseases, coughs and colds and sneezes!’ rings very true. Still, the thing that they always say to me, and say to anybody, is that Carlotta is never a caricature of an opera singer and never a caricature of herself.  They want her to be very real.”

The goal of someday embodying the character first came into focus for Groen when she watched the Las Vegas production of Phantom with her parents in 2009 to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. “As opera singers, we kind of grow up to purposely not like The Phantom of the Opera, even if we’ve never seen it, because people always say, ‘my favorite opera is Phantom!’ and opera singers are like, ‘Ahhhh – it’s a musical!’, but I loved it. And now,” she says with understandable pride, “all of my costumes are actually the Vegas production costumes.”

Vancouver’s Justin Peck

When asked whether his desire to audition for Phantom also stemmed from seeing a live production of the show, Peck’s answer is, in a word, unexpected: “I’d never even seen the show before. Isn’t that horrible?” The Vancouver native grew up studying dance at the National Ballet School of Canada and performing with Alberta Ballet and Ballet BC before eventually finding his way to New York. “I was a ballerina and the commercial theatre wasn’t on my radar until I got to New York and was like, ‘Wow – how am I going to afford to live here if I don’t have a proper job?’ I was actually going to leave and then I auditioned for Moving Out and booked it, but it was the same thing with Moving Out,” he admits sheepishly. “It was my first Broadway audition and before I signed the contract I thought, ‘I should probably watch the show’, so at least it’s consistent.”

In the years that followed, he joined the world of Phantom and proceeded to travel and dance with a variety of different companies while taking on a variety of different responsibilities. “I was originally a vacation swing for all the productions,” he explains, “and then performed in Hamburg, Las Vegas and also toured all over the US, which was crazy. I can’t even count all the places we visited with the tour because we moved around so much.” In spite of these commitments, he was granted permission to participate in another of Twyla Tharp’s productions when the chance arose. “I did two shows of hers – Moving out and Come Fly Away – and it wouldn’t have been possible without Phantom because they were generous about letting me do it. They weren’t like ‘Well, we need you!’ they were like, ‘Well, how can we make this work for you?’ which was great.”

Since getting a full-time position on Broadway in 2011, he’s danced one of two ‘tracks’ in the show. “We alternate so there are fewer injuries, so one week I’ll do the Hannibal solo dancer and Half Man/Half Woman in Masquerade, and then the next week I’ll do the Il Muto solo dancer, a police man and give the flowers to Christine. I’m everywhere, like a Where’s Waldo that comes in and out.”

Now, sadly, the entire cast, crew, orchestra and set will be heading out of the Majestic Theatre together following Sunday’s final performance. Word of the show’s closure came as a shock to not only the theatre community but the company as well, as they’d been diligently working to keep things running smoothly following Phantom’s post-pandemic reopening in October 2021. “There’d be eight people out with Covid, and with me being the Dance Captain, we’d do endless, endless, endless rehearsals to get people on,” Peck recalls, the irony sinking in. “We had, for the first time, two weeks off in a row without rehearsal,” he laughs, “and everyone’s trained and we can call so-and-so (if we need to), and then boom – the show closes.”

“None of us believed it,” Groen says of the fateful day last September when the New York Post broke the news that Phantom’s Broadway run was ending. “Then we got an email saying, ‘We’re meeting at 4 o’clock. Everybody please either Zoom in or be in the building’. We were having a rehearsal, so they sat us down and said, ‘This has happened. We wanted to tell you first, however somebody leaked it and the rumors are true.’”

Phantom’s massive 2021 reopening block party, hosted by Andrew Lloyd Webber

The big question, however, was why. Phantom’s return after the 19-month shutdown was heralded as Broadway’s big comeback and celebrated with a street party DJed by Andrew Lloyd Webber himself. The U.S. Small Business Administration endowed the production with 9.9 million dollars as part of its Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program to ensure it would bounce back. Though attendance levels across all Broadway shows were lower due to continued concerns over Covid-19 variants, there was little reason to think the production was in any real jeopardy. After all, Phantom had long been a symbol of New York City as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building. Why bring the curtain down on musical theatre’s most resilient enterprise, just as its global fanbase was safely able to travel back to the Majestic again? “They just said ‘every show has its lifespan and it’s just time to close’, so I don’t think any of us really know why,” Groen says of the explanation provided, adding, “I do know they’re going to renovate the theatre.”

The Majestic, which first opened in 1927, had to undergo significant modifications in order to accommodate Phantom’s many sets and effects. Once the production exits the building next week, the Shubert-owned venue will apparently need to be restored to the condition it was in prior to Phantom’s arrival in 1988, making it impossible for the original incarnation of the show to return to its longtime home.

Director Hal Prince and Designer Maria Björnson with a miniature of Phantom’s set

Considering recent events, it seems increasingly unlikely that the original incarnation will be staged again at all. Though Producer Cameron Mackintosh has stated the show will come back to Broadway sooner rather than later, nothing has been said about preserving Maria Björnson’s sets and costumes, Hal Prince’s direction and Gillian Lynne’s choreography. Even before those three key members of the original creative team passed on, moves were being made to edit out their contributions. In 2012, Mackintosh launched a 25th anniversary touring production of Phantom in the UK and US with radically different sets, staging and direction, yet billed it as “the brilliant original” in spite of the complete overhaul. Audiences were not pleased with the bait-and-switch. Then in 2021, significant permanent changes were made to the original London production of Phantom at Her Majesty’s Theatre, including alterations to Björnson’s intricate proscenium, signature chandelier and even the Phantom’s lair. Additionally, the number of musicians in the orchestra pit was slashed from 27 down to 14. These were merely money-saving measures in difficult financial times, some would argue, but also part of a consistent attempt to move away from the carefully crafted elements that made the original creative team’s vision for the piece so special.

Speaking with Ny1.com this week, Webber himself confirmed rumors that the closure is happening against his wishes and in spite of the show’s continued viability, saying, “What’s really sad about it is it’s not necessary. It could easily, easily run on now, but, again, it’s not my decision.” In the same interview, he also expressed pride in the quality of the Broadway production, which has remained almost unaltered since opening night and continues to attract new young fans. “I see some of the things the young who are coming to Phantom now are saying and one of the things that is consistent is that they’ve never seen anything like it. Phantom is something different and one of the things that I wonder is whether there will be a production like a Phantom again, you know, of that scale today. I think it’s got to be questionable whether anybody would be able to afford a nearly 30-piece orchestra now on Broadway. You’re never going to see that again.”

Original Phantom Michael Crawford and Christine Sarah Brightman cross the iconic lake of candles

The opulence of the piece is not lost on the performers. “There really is such grandeur to that proscenium,” Peck says of Björnson’s gilded angel and demon-themed framework for the show. Every element of her production design has stood the test of time, from the grand staircase in Masquerade to the jaw-dropping candlelit lake revealed during the title song – an iconic theatrical effect if ever there was one. “It really is THE moment, and those lights are not LEDs,” he notes. “I always thought that was the hook that would keep people coming back to see it. It’s the vinyl of Broadway, you know? I just hope that when it does come back, it is as impressive and honors Maria’s legacy. She really was a genius.”

As the final curtain call draws near, the company can take some comfort in the knowledge that they’ve not only entertained more than 20 million audience members during nearly 14 thousand performances, but also managed to have a few good laughs along the way. “At one performance,” Groen winces, “when I did the ‘these things do happen?’ scene and stormed off, somebody was standing on my dress and I fell flat on my face as I walked out, which was lovely. Then, there was the time my dress got caught in the door of the manager’s office, so I sang the whole scene trying to rip my dress out, and the Piangi cover was just staring at me. Nobody helped me,” she chuckles. “At one point I even started singing the wrong words to Think Of Me by singing the movie version and everybody around me got the giggles. It’s so funny how in this show when anything goes slightly wrong, people just lose it.”

Equally cherished are memories of moments shared with those who have passed in the intervening years, like the legendary and inimitable Gillian Lynne. “Getting to work with her was just bewildering,” Peck reminisces. “She was so great, so full of life and unfiltered. The constant refrain from her was ‘fire your nipples!’ – meaning to project and shoot out energy – so we’d all be out there with our nipples firing,” he laughs. “She was not in denial about things being about sex.”

The influence of the late, great Hal Prince, who made of point of regularly checking in with Phantom to safeguard its quality throughout the unprecedented run, is especially missed. “What was so remarkable about him to me was that he had the confidence – and why shouldn’t he be confident? – but he had the confidence to just not touch things. He had good instincts. He could come and either not give a note, or just give one or give many, but it never seemed like he was trying to fill the air, if that makes sense.” The fabled director’s enthusiasm for everyone’s work, Peck noticed, never seemed to wane. “You got the sense that no matter how many times he saw Phantom, he was happy to be there. It was something he was really proud of and happy to be associated with, even years on.”

“I didn’t get to work with him a lot,” Groen concedes, “but my favorite thing happened when I first joined the show. As opera singers, we’re not taught how to do our makeup because people do it for you. All of a sudden at Phantom I was in charge of my own makeup and I looked ridiculous. I had covered up my eyebrows and drew in new ones, but they were up on the top of my forehead, almost into my hairline. So my one picture that I have with Hal Prince to cherish forever is me with my giant eyebrows high in the air.”

Groen, Prince and the not-so-terrible eyebrows

Among those likely to also be fondly remembered come Sunday’s closing performance is Kris Koop, who passed away in 2018 after a 12-year run with the company, during which time she played Christine, Carlotta and Mme Giry while also raising money for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids through the cast cookbook series she helped publish, appropriately entitled The Phantom Cooks. The remarkable Rebecca Luker, who was part of the original company as understudy to Sarah Brightman and Patti Cohenour before becoming Christine full-time and continuing on to a storied career, is sure to also be in the minds of many. Her brave fight against ALS right up until her passing in 2020 left an indelible mark on all those who knew her and respected her immense talent. Somewhat less acclaimed but no less memorable is Wally Carroll, who passed in 2019 after serving in the Navy, performing on All My Children and then acting as affable backstage manager at the Majestic for decades. They are but a few of the many who helped shape Phantom’s course, and their presence is sure to be felt as the lyrics of Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again echo for the last time throughout the theatre.

“For a lot of people, this production has been their entire adult life,” Groen points out. “There are people who’ve been here for 35 years, who are dressers and crew. People who put their kids through college. People who got married. People who became grandparents. It really is much bigger than just a Broadway show. It’s like a family, which is pretty amazing.”

“When Hal would come and speak at an event or an anniversary,” Peck agrees, “he would always point to the amount of people the show employed, and how many people didn’t leave theatre because they could afford not to. All that comes with a show being here for so long.”

Members of the Phantom family, including Groen, Peck and current Phantom Ben Crawford

Even after it’s over, the show’s impact will continue to be felt by both performers as they explore their next chapters. Groen is looking forward to playing “Mother” in Toledo Opera’s 2024 production of the musical Ragtime, as well as continuing to coach a new crop of Broadway hopefuls. “I run a program called Empower Voices Now that helps students deal with performance anxiety and gives them the opportunity to work with people they normally don’t have access to. We even recently did a ‘Pharewell’ camp where people got to work with (cast members) Ben Crawford and Julia Udine and Ali Ewoldt,” she says of the program, which she hopes to bring to Canada. “My home base will be in New York but I’ll definitely be going back and forth.”

Peck will also be splitting his time between the Big Apple and Great White North, albeit to focus on a grand production of a different sort. “I bought a pandemic panic house in Prince Edward County on Lake Ontario, so I’m going to do some gutter cleaning,” he quips. Though he’ll keep his eyes peeled for interesting performing opportunities, his overseas Phantom experience has inspired him to expand his professional horizons. “I had to fill in for the resident director when I was in Germany and I enjoyed doing that and being on the other side of things, so we’ll see.”

At the moment, they’re just trying to appreciate being present for the show’s last great milestone and having the opportunity to give enthusiastic fans the best send-off possible. “Audiences have been amazing every single show. It’s like we have a Saturday night audience every day,” Groen shares. “A lot of people come and say stuff like, ‘well, this is the last time I’ll ever be able to see it.’ I think everyone is really realizing how special it is.”

While Andrew Lloyd Webber has said that he might not attend, it’s likely Sunday will still bring with it a sea of familiar faces and Peck wouldn’t have it any other way. “As we end this chapter, it would be great to have everyone kind of gather together and share anecdotes, and I’m sure the public would love it too. That would be a nice way to end it. After all, it’s been like a long-term relationship for everyone – you love it, you take it for granted, and in the end, you’re forever changed by it.”

Groen outside the Majestic Theatre, by Jeremy Daniel

For information about tickets to Phantom of the Opera’s final performances at Broadway’s Majestic Theatre this week, including Friday night’s charity fundraiser for the Broadway community, please visit the show’s website.

More information about Raquel Suarez Groen can be found at her website and hilarious videos of her character, Carlotta, auditioning for new roles can be seen at her Instagram account.

Special thanks to Groen, Peck and Michael Borowski.

There’s really nothing better than sitting down for an evening of live theatre and getting swept away by a dazzling production and a wonderful score. The touring company of Broadway’s Aladdin has descended upon Montreal this week to provide us with exactly that – a much-needed dose of magic and music amidst this slushy spring weather. Whether or not this theatrical voyage to a faraway place has more ups than downs, however, might be a matter of personal taste.

Make no mistake – the source material is solid. Disney’s animated adaptation of the Thousand and One Nights tale about a boy who finds a magic lamp became a pop culture phenomenon when it debuted during the thick of the Disney Renaissance period. The film seamlessly blended adventure, comedy and romance to great effect, pleasing audiences and critics alike. It ultimately proved the most successful film of 1992, earning over 500 million worldwide and two Academy Awards, for Best Original Score and Best Song. It seemed inevitable, then, that the work of composer Alan Menken and lyricists Tim Rice and the late Howard Ashman would eventually be brought to the stage, but it wasn’t until 2014 – after several out-of-town tryouts – that Disney Theatrical finally made it happen. The show has since weathered mixed reviews and a temporary shutdown due to the pandemic and continues to play to Big Apple audiences eager to revisit the story of Aladdin.

In this lavish touring production, fresh-faced Adi Roy is warm and winning in the title role, opposite Senzel Ahmady’s comely and confident Princess Jasmine. His gentle vocals and her strong belt make for a pleasant combination as they navigate Menken’s classic score. Unfortunately, their characters don’t feel quite as fresh or groundbreaking as they once were. The independent princess and the pauper with a heart of gold have become a touch one-note in the intervening years, especially compared to the more complex protagonists seen across the current theatrical landscape.

Perhaps it’s partially because there’s little dramatic tension in their seemingly forbidden romance. The headstrong Jasmine is willing to run away from the comforts of palace life even before she meets the “street rat” who wins her heart. It’s reasonable for even the youngest in the audience to assume she would abdicate her throne to be with him, or at the very least twist the arm of her kindly father the Sultan (Sorab Wadia) to land the husband of her choice. Why, then, does Aladdin persist in lying to her and disguising himself as the fictional “Prince Ali” when it’s clear she already loves him for who he is, with or without a royal title?

Hoping to justify his insecurities, the producers have reinstated a song excised from the film called Proud of Your Boy, which touches on Aladdin’s desire to make something of himself in the eyes of his deceased parents. It’s a valid idea that goes unexplored, as he repeats his otherwise unaltered character arc from the movie. It’s a shame book and lyric writer Chad Beguelin didn’t manage to mine new territory for either of the heroes by expanding upon what once made them so compelling.

Thankfully, the Genie at the heart of the story has lost none of his trademark punch and pizzazz in the translation from screen to stage. Marcus M. Martin brings all the magic one man can muster to his portrayal of the quick-witted character made famous by the incomparable Robin Williams and created on stage by Tony winner James Monroe Iglehart. It’s a show-stopping role to be sure, but that can be a double-edged sword. When audiences come into the theatre already expecting you to deliver, it’s even more difficult to exceed expectations. Martin manages it with panache, commanding the stage with sassy charm, jazzy vocal stylings and enough razzle dazzle to make even the most jaded of audience members sit up in their seat and smile like a kid again. By the time he and the tap dancing chorus reach the frenzied finale of Act One’s Friend Like Me, you’ll have to resist the urge to rise to your feet in an ovation. This is one Genie who definitely works hard for your money.

The show’s other big coup de théâtre comes in the second act, when Prince Ali attempts to woo Jasmine aboard his magic carpet. Impossible as it may seem, the duo do in fact sing their love song in midair thanks to the brilliant effects work of Jim Steinmeyer and Jeremy Chernick. It’s a jaw-dropping sequence and sublime example of “less is more”, as the swelling orchestrations from the film are dialed back to a gentle, almost music box-like arrangement of A Whole New World. Watching them float across the moon singing sweetly to one another brings new meaning to the lyrics, “hold your breath, it gets better.”

The shining, shimmering and splendid sets and costumes – designed by Bob Crowley and Gregg Barnes respectively – add immeasurably to the atmosphere of fantasy and romance. Like the show’s hero, however, there are times when it does feel as though they’re trying a little too hard to impress. Natasha Katz’s lighting design, for instance, seems to be in an almost constant state of flux, bathing the bedazzled harem pants, capes and crop tops of Agrabah in such vibrant color combinations that one occasionally wonders if the plot isn’t actually taking place on the Vegas strip.

Casting a welcome shadow over the proceedings is Anand Nagraj as the scheming Jafar, a role originated by Jonathan Freeman in both the animated film and Broadway production. Nagraj’s malevolent voice and willingness to embrace his character’s sneering snobbery make him a terrific – if underutilized – addition to the proceedings. In a glaring missed opportunity, he is denied a proper villain song and instead left to pitch Aladdin on being the Diamond In the Rough he needs to brave the Cave of Wonders and retrieve the lamp. Aaron Choi accompanies him as the rarely-helpful human sidekick Iago, who at times parrots his master’s words.

In another attempt to work around the headache of integrating animal characters from the film, Aladdin’s monkey Abu has been replaced by a trio of loyal buddies who help him hustle in the marketplace and tussle with the palace guards. Though Colt Prattes proves a swarthy scene-stealer as the group’s unofficial leader Kassim, the Huey, Dewey and Louie-colored comrades are almost completely irrelevant to the plot. In spite of getting to sing the best new numbers in the score – High Adventure and Somebody’s Got Your Back – their presence in the narrative needlessly complicates matters. After all, if they’re as broke and homeless as Aladdin, wouldn’t they also be interested in stealing away the Genie’s lamp and getting some wishes for themselves? And if they’re not, why do they allow their disadvantaged friend to live on the streets in the first place?

Perhaps it’s simply best not to dwell too much on the musical’s shortcomings. As Broadway producers continue to dial back on the opulence of their shows in these hard financial times, audiences are often left wanting more bang for their buck especially from touring productions, which notoriously cut corners. This is one of the few big-scale musicals to come out of Broadway in recent years and survive long enough to make its way around the continent with much of its sparkle intact. So, as a faithful adaptation of a beloved classic that delivers the kind of fantastical stagecraft that makes you leave the theatre feeling like you’re floating on air, can it really be faulted for falling short in a few places? Hardly.

As Aladdin himself would admit, two out of three wishes granted ain’t all that bad.

Aladdin runs through Sunday April 2nd at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Info and tickets on the Place des Arts website and Broadway Across Canada. Information about the Broadway production of Aladdin can be found at AladdinTheMusical.com

Dance, laugh, repeat.

Groovy, Baby

Self-taught Montreal musician Radiant Baby’s second LP Pantomime came out in 2021, and this show marks the release of the Deluxe version. It “combines contemporary electronic sounds with 70s vintage influences:

Check them out along with blesse:

and Debate Club:

Radiant Baby + blesse + Debate Club, Thursday, February 9, Doors @ 8 p.m., Show 9:00 -11:45 p.m. @ Diving Bell Social Club 3956 St. Laurent Blvd., 3rd Floor, H2W 1Y3 Tix

Laughter = Life

This Thursday, next Thursday, and the one after that, you can get all the laughs you need at The World’s Blackest Comedy Night. All the comedians are black, “telling the jokes and stories you can only hear from black people”. The writeup managed to include UNAPOLOGETICALLY, in caps…twice…which is exactly how I like my comedy.

The World’s Blackest Comedy Night. Thursday, February 9, 16 & 23 @ Café Cleopatra, 1230 St Laurent Blvd., H2X 2S5 Doors @ 7 p.m., Show @ 8 p.m. Tix

New Music Drop

Montreal rockers Duchess are dropping their latest album The Whole Damn Thing with a launch party at Turbo Haüs. They’re promising new tracks, and old favorites. First single’s out now:

Duchess Album Launch Party, Friday, February 10 @ Turbo Haüs, 2040 Saint Denis St., H2X 1E7 8 p.m. Deets

Staying power is hawt

No wave pioneer, poet, rebel, and all around powerful woman Lydia Lunch is in town fronting Lydia Lunch Retrovirus, her latest musical incarnation. The only thing you can expect is the unexpected:

Montrealer Johny Couteau’s on the bill too, bringing synthy sounds:

Lydia Lunch Retrovirus + Johny Couteau Saturday, February 11 @ L’Escogriffe, 4461 Saint Denis St., H2J 2L2 Doors @ 9 p.m., Show @ 10 p.m. Tix

Featured Image via Radiant Baby on Facebook

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

It’s Sunday night, and the snow is falling like Hallmark movies and Christmas cards, all of which I’m well over by this stage of the season. I’m sorting through my wardrobe to find a summer dress that can be winterized long enough to get me to Chef Molotov Fiona Genevieve‘s Jardin d’Hiver.

It’s her first Montreal pop-up, and I’m honoured to be here. While the term “adventurous eater” serves up questionable imagery, I consider myself “adventur-ish”; I’ve been known to throw a peach into a stir-fry, and was pretty sure I invented strawberries with basil when I made some jam once. All that to say, I’m eager to sample creative flavour pairings I didn’t know I needed in my life.

Turbo Haüs, photo by Josh Kirshner

As a bonus, I’ve never been to Turbo Haüs, and it’s been on my to do list. Walking along St. Denis on summer nights, the punk and metal coming out of the bar has always been up my alley, and the crowd looks like people I would hang with. Still, I can be reluctant to visit new places without a “reason”, and here it is.

I absolutely want to stick to the awe-mazing dinner and a show, but I have to say that Turbo Haüs is a wonderful and warm space, carefully decorated so that while it gives all the dive bar vibes, it’s still artsy af. The bar is a guy who looks like a mechanic doing delicate glasswork, and I’m here for it.

Once we’re shown to our seats, the summer theme is in full bloom. Pink and white faux flowers cover the drum kit, the speakers; vines of fake leaves have been wrapped around VIP chairs, bringing a sense of pagan royalty, a fae feast of sorts. The combination of set and setting are in themselves a careful choice; Andrew Jamieson is producing the event, and his gritty graf vibes underscore the lush decor. Lights dance around the room, laughter and chatter bounce off the walls, it’s a party before anyone has said or done anything.

Kola was the perfect opener to ease everyone in. His grooves were summer sexy, and just when you thought that was the whole thing, he started to sing. Smooth and bright, his voice brought honey soft sunshine, and I could’ve been laying out on the fountain at Jazz Fest feeling the warm concrete on my skin. I’d never heard of him before, and now I’ll be adding him to some playlists.

I’d never been to a fancy-ass tasting menu thingy before, so I’m trying to look cool while being full of excitement. The first course arrives, Melon with a Mint Salsa Verde, Wrapped in a Curried Butternut Squash Ribbon, and these are the combos I’m here for. Three perfectly balanced bites, and I’m marvelling at Fiona’s mind. It makes sense in the mouth, but it’s weird in the brain.

Mina Minou takes the stage, and I’m already cheering for her. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her before, and while her moves and creativity rightly captivate audiences, I must add that she has the brightest, kindest smile I’ve ever seen a burlesque performer bring to the stage. As such, she’ll get you in your cockles and your —

Chef Molotov’s Juniper Berry & Coffee Salmon Gravlax with Fermented Strawberry Creme Fraiche & Picked Sumac Beets, photo by Josh Kirshner

We eat the best halloumi I’ve ever had (Seared Halloumi with Z’attar and a Pickled Peach Salsa with Confit Cherry Tomatoes), and I’m already wondering if I can convince Fiona to hold a workshop so I can learn her ways. While the presentation is picture perfect, the ingredients are accessible, the methods are doable. Pop-up today, cookbook tomorrow..?

Stepping outside for a break with friends, I’m shocked by the cold. When was the last time I had watermelon in winter?

Lea Keeley was also new to me, and she sang the room into silence. Her range and heart, her intimate lyrics — she played the guitar and keys, and even looped herself live into a layered and haunting song. Definitely not her first rodeo, even if the instruments were stripped away, her voice would stop you in your tracks and take your breath away.

I’m not going through every course here, mostly because I’m still thinking about the stone fruit gazpacho (yes, you read all that right). When Fiona called it the evening’s showstopper, she was absolutely right.

Reading it, I couldn’t imagine what it would taste like. While I’d caught her on Insta making the tomato caviar, you couldn’t see them in the rich, purple gazpacho, just feel them in my mouth, like little flavour pearls. And a perfectly seared scallop with stone fruit?! Yes; definitely yes, I would eat it again right now.

Turbo Haüs was the perfect host, and kept the cocktails flowing. Fiona had selected cocktails to pair with courses, and the couple I had were wonderfully matched. More intricate than “white or red”, the combinations were a continuation of her bold pallet.

The event ran late, and people still lingered, ordered another, chatted with the friends they came with, and new ones too. I was pleased to see how many people sought out the performers and of course our Chef to express gratitude and joy.

My fingers are crossed that we’ll be talking about another Chef Molotov event soon enough.

Featured Image: Chef Molotov’s Melon with a Mint Salsa Verde Wrapped in a Curried Pickled Butternut Squash Ribbon, photo by Josh Kirshner

If we’re all burned out, then the system isn’t working, is it? We exist beyond our ability to grind! Take an afternoon off, call in sick, go to a show, go look at art. Fuck the man: It’s your life, make it matter.

Like life before colour TVs

Opening this Thursday, the Duran Mashaal Gallery is presenting the exhibition B&W. Showcasing international artists using various modalities, the pieces will be connected by the minimalism of being black & white.

I’m not even playing when I say bring your colour blind friend: they dig it when the colours don’t muddy up their view.

B&W @ Duran Mashaal Gallery, 1300 Sherbrooke St W Suite 102B. Opening reception: Thursday, February 2, 4 – 8 pm, runs through March 1. Deets

Party like it’s the early aughts!

This Saturday at Bar Le Ritz, put on your icy blue eyeliner and dance your way back to 2007. CALL ME! Alternative & Indie Sleaze Dance Party presented by SUPER TASTE is promising a fierce playlist for those looking to dance their faces off to alt & indie hits. As a non-club kid, this sounds like a hot party.

CALL ME! Alternative & Indie Sleaze Dance Party @ Bar Le Ritz, 179 Rue Jean-Talon W., on Saturday, February 4, 11pm – 3am. Tix & Deets

Onomatopoeia, baby

Pkew Pkew Pkew is a punk group from T.O., playing Turbo Haüs this Sunday. They’re billing themselves as “good boys”, while the “punk rock weird boys” of Boids will be repping MTL at the show, and the “pop punk fun boys and girls” of FOMO are coming in from St. Henri, Quebec (no, not the one with the metro). Lace ’em up, and come on down.

Pkew Pkew Pkew @ Turbo Haüs, 2040 St. Denis, Sunday, February 5, Doors @ 7pm, Show @ 8pm. Tix

The apocalypse might be beautiful…

Painter Adam Gunn imagines what climate change might do to the colours we perceive (Google “why is the sky blue”, ‘cuz I don’t have time to get into it). The results are stunning, vibrant, space-scapes and landscapes of a future Earth you wouldn’t recognize. Dive into the technicolor future of an environmental catastrophe we’d be too dead to see!

Regretté de tous @ Art Mûr, 5826 St-Hubert. On now through February, 25. Deets

Featured image from Adam Gunn: Regretté de tous via Art Mûr on Facebook

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

When I first walked in to the International Wrestling Syndicate (IWS) event Praise the Violence the
night of Saturday, January 21, 2023, I was prepared for the worst. I imagined a den of toxic masculinity:
sexist dudebros who abuse women behind closed doors all gathered in one place to fuel their excessive
need for violence as muscle-bound costumed men pretended to beat each other bloody for their

What a found wasn’t that at all. The audience was as varied in gender as it was in age, and when the
fighters or performers- how they prefer to be known depends on the wrestler – gathered around the
merch table to schmooze with their fans they were friendly and congenial, eager to hear feedback about
their performances.

“The IWS tends to bring in all sorts of people,” says wrestler Sonny Solay, The Rockn’ Roll General, who
speaks on behalf of his own experience, not the IWS. “Wrestling was generally marketed towards young
men, and as they got older they have their families and it’s more of a family show. The best way to
understand professional wrestling is we are the three ring circus: if you’re there for the lion tamer, you’ll
like the lion tamer; if you don’t like the lion tamer, you’ll like the clowns, if you don’t like the clowns,
you’ll like the guy who gets shot out of a cannon…There’s somebody for everyone at our shows.”

As for the concerns of women regarding toxic masculinity and sexism, there was at least one women’s
wrestling match at the event. Solay encourages women to give IWS events a shot, saying that the
perception of professional wrestling as an area where women were objectified may have been justified
in past wrestling eras, but since the women’s revolution in wrestling, that’s all changed.

“There’s a lot more women-forward promotions and the work that they’ve been doing in Japan, women
have shown that they can hang with the men and even surpass a lot of us as far as skill and intensity
goes. So I say give it a chance and you’d be pleasantly surprised,”

The IWS –initially named the World Wrestling Syndicate – is the biggest wrestling promotion in Canada. It was founded in Montreal in 1998 by pro-wrestler SeXXXy Eddy, with Manny Elefthriou and Nic Paterson.

In the year 2000, the professional wrestling promotion was renamed the Internet Wrestling Syndicate when one of the founders partnered with Wild Rose Productions, an adult entertainment company.

In 2004, following tons of pro wrestling matches including tag-team bouts, No-Rope Barbed Wire matches, and Tag-Team Championships, the promotion was renamed the International Wrestling Syndicate or IWS.

The promotion group based out of Montreal has helped launch the careers of such World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE, formerly the WWF) stars as Sami Zayne and Kevin Owens, as well as IWS legends like The Green Phantom, who fought an intense table match last Saturday, wresting the belt from The Maniacal Maredes.

The IWS women’s championship match pitted Dani Leo, Melanie Havok, Jessika Black, and Katrina Creed against one another, with Havok emerging victorious.

Photo by Sebastien Jette

The matches were everything one could hope for from pro-wrestling: blaring high energy intros, breathtaking stunts, snazzy costumes, and performers with their ring personas on full display. As a martial artist and self-defense instructor, it was obvious to me when hits did not connect, and the faking of injuries rivaled what one would see in any FIFA match. The ring, according Sonny Solay, who spells his second name phonetically after the French spelling was butchered by one-too-many announcers outside of Quebec, is designed to maximize sound, thus giving the crowd a better show. As to whether fights are actually real, they are not, though whether the outcomes are set in advance varies.

“It’s not a matter of it being a real fight, but there are certain beats that need to be hit. I can’t really go into it too much without getting to specifics…It’s not a real fight, but the outcome is usually pre-determined. And when I say ‘usually pre-determined’ I mean sometimes things happen, sometimes there are surprises, that’s the magic of professional wrestling, that’s why people love going to the shows.”

In terms of the violence of the shows, Solay reminds me that shows are still a three-ring circus, and that sometimes things happen that wrestlers weren’t aware of beforehand. The show I saw involved a table match or two, in which an opponent could only be beaten when their bodies made contact with a wooden table hard enough for the table to break. Other times fluorescent light tubes are broken on the backs of wrestlers and both carry the risk of bloody but minor wounds. That said, Solay points out that any contact sport comes with risks, and more common injuries include cuts, bruises, and ankle and wrist injuries.

“Technically all injuries are possible, but we train to make sure that they happen as little as possible.”

Now let’s say someone wants to become a pro-wrestler. Solay says that every wrestler has a different road they travelled to get to the IWS.

He initially started as an athletic wrestler, only to stop due to injury. He got into the IWS via a friend, but ultimately joined the IWS Dojo which puts the emphasis on getting people in the ring, teaching them the basics and allowing them to explore the type of wrestler they want to be.

He recommends the IWS Dojo as a way of making sure someone can be the best wrestler they can, speaking highly of the mentoring and training offered by Super Star Shayne Hawke. Those 18 or over (or 16 and have parental consent) who are interested in becoming pro wrestlers are welcome to message the IWS Dojo’s Facebook page. They are more than willing to offer a one-time trial to see if it’s a good fit.

Featured image by Sebastien Jette

The IWS has monthly shows in Montreal that are entertaining and fun. Check em out and follow your
favorite wrestlers on social media.

The Bluest Day of the year is over. We’re cruising into February without once having scary windchill. The days really are getting longer. All the things we wished were open and available this time last year, are here and poppin’. It’s the small things, Montreal; don’t forget to count them.

Did you say intestine?

MAI (Montreal, Arts interculturel) always has interesting offerings, and Rock Bottom is no exception. The multidisciplinary piece explores what happens to the body when we hit our own rock bottom. It’s billed as “a movement performance that forms an intestine with the gut feelings of Emile Pineault (choreographer, performer) and (author) Gabriel Cholette”.

Teaser rock bottom – Emile Pineault & Gabriel Cholette from emilepineault on Vimeo.

Rock Bottom @ MAI 3680 rue Jeanne-Mance, January 25-28, Showtime is 7:30 p.m.. Tickets availabe through the MAI website

Jazz exists all year round, you know…

Double bass player Ira Coleman interprets jazz compositions and traditional Mandinka (Senegalese, Gambian, and Sierra Leonean) themes supported by flute, piano, and balafon, exploring where they overlap.

It’s in connection with the MMFA exhibition Seeing Loud: Basquiat and Music (which you should also see, and I’ll keep saying so through February 19).

Ticket prices vary, but if you’re under 34 or under, it’s 18 bucks, so do something classy on the cheap.

Jazz and Mandinka Music @ Bourgie Hall, 1339 Sherbrooke Street West, on Thursday, January 26, Show at 6pm. Tickets and info on the MMFA website

Pretty sure I saw him live in the 90s?!

Jon Spencer & the HITmakers are in town this weekend, and if you’re old enough to ask if I mean that Jon Spencer, then yes. Jon Spencer & the Blues Explosion broke up in 2016, but the beat goes on, and Jon Spencer & the HITmakers put out their first album in 2022. His Spotify bio calls him “an elder statesman of noise rock and punk blues”, and while that’s niche af, he might be right.

Jon Spencer & the HITmakers @ Bar Le Ritz PBD, 179 Jean-Talon Ouest, Friday, January 27, Doors at 7:30, Show at 8:30. Info & Tix

Dinner and a show!

Catch me putting on a summer dress and having foodgasms at Molotov Cuisine owner Fiona Genevieve (aka Chef Molotov)’s Jardin d’Hiver this Sunday. She’s a fab chick with wholesome, delicious food, and she’ll be bringing summer vibes right when we need them.

Darragh Mondoux will be Mistress of Ceremonies, Mina Minou will be shaking what God gave her, and there will be musical performances by Lea Keeley, and KOLA.

Oh, look! I met with Fiona and sampled some tastiest! Tickets are flying, so grab ’em while you can.

Chef Molotov’s Jardin d’Hiver takes place Saturday, January 29th at Turbo Haüs, 2040 Saint Denis St. Cocktails at 6:30pm, Tasting & Performances at 7pm. Tickets and more info via Eventbrite

Featured image of Rock Bottom © Gabriel Cholette, courtesy of MAI

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

January 19, 2023

My darling,

We’re in the thick of this winter thing. Both burnout and the blues are tearing through workplaces and social circles. We’re all pale and grumpy. We know it will pass, but all too slowly. Without the artists and performers, we would have nothing but malls, and binge watching to get us through this hard time. Thanks to them, we have reasons to put on outfits and brave the weather. Thank God for the artists, the arts, the events. May Spring speed itself to us.

Have some laughs and call me in the morning

I knew we had comedy clubs, but as someone who usually only gets live laughs at JFL, I never realized how many stand up shows there are the rest of the year.

We all need laughs desperately right now, so pick a day, grab a friend, or straight up leave your loved ones for an evening and get the giggles the doctor ordered. (Note that while I’m listing the downtown location, there are also locations in Vaudreuil, Laval, and the South Shore.)

The Montreal Comedy Club is at 895 Rue De La Gauchetière Ouest. Multiple dates and showtimes. Check MtlComedyClub.com for details

Blues rock right in yer face

Midnight Miles is releasing their first single of 2023, so it’s time for a concert!

Ryan Bradley Setton (formerly of The Holds) describes the style as “in your face blues rock”. They’re promising a whimsical journey of a show, from tender to reckless, inspired by classic rock, blues, and RnB.

Special guests ~ Matt Enos and the River Men

You can listen to some of their tracks on MidnightMilesBand.com or this brief sample below before heading out:

Midnight Miles + Matt Enos and the River Men @ Petit Campus, 57 Prince Arthur Est, on Thursday, January 19, Doors at 8 p.m., Show at 9 p.m. Info on the Facebook Event Page, tickets available through ThePointOfSale.com

Why is there a “W” in playwright?!

As part of the Wildside Festival in partnership with Centaur Theatre and La Chapelle Scènes Contemporaines, Wildfire is on now and playing through the 28th. Tragic, funny, surprising; I’ve seen it and written about it, and would be hard pressed to do it justice in a snippet. Read my review, or skip it entirely and just go see the show.

Wildfire runs January 16-28 at La Chapelle Theatre, 3700 Saint Dominique St. For info and tickets, please visit the Talisman Theatre website

Who wants to party till breakfast?

It seems the all night party trials last summer went well, because Club Soda got itself a special liquor license to keep the drinks pouring and music pumping through Saturday night until 8 a m. Sunday. DJs, effects, light shows, party people, it’ll all be there.

It’s a team effort with MAPP_MTL and SHIFT RADIO, Homegrown Harvest, Transmission MTL and MUTEK promising not just a party, but “a new chapter for Montreal nightlife. A space to dance, converse, and set the foundation for a sustainable nightlife.”

AEX @ Club Soda, 1225 St Laurent Blvd., Saturday, January 21, 10 p.m. to 8 a.m., Sunday, January 22. Info on the Facebook Event Page and tickets available through LePointDeVente.com

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Talisman Theatre’s Wildfire is currently playing at La Chapelle, and I took the opportunity to peep the play.

The credits and awards that this group has attained in their various endeavours already gave a clue about the calibre I could expect.

For example, this is the English version (translated by Leanna Brodie) of David Paquet’s Le Brasier, which itself received both the BMO Award, and the Sony Labou Tansi International Francophone Theatre Award, and it’s been placed in the internally renown directorial hands of Jon Lachlan Stewart.

At its core the story is one of generational trauma haunting a bloodline beyond household walls. It deals with loneliness, longing, the potential fatality that stems from a lack of joy. To me, it was also about what we mean to say versus what words actually come out, as the characters share their deepest truths with the audience while cherry picking their words to one anothers.

There are three players (Julie Tamiko Manning, Kathleen Stavert, and Davide Chiazzese), six characters, and one set. Each actor plays two parts, and without costume or set changes, the task falls solely on them to distinguish themselves.

They not only pull it off, they ace the assignment. And these aren’t easy characters: they are flawed, pained, desperate people.

It seems improbable to portray murder, sex, death, and passion, with such minimal design, but it’s all alive and bubbling with no need for accoutrements.

When your BeReal goes off at the perfect time

They were not joking when they billed this as a dark comedy. In fact, they could ‘ve capitalised the Dark, or even DARK.

There are jokes, and it is funny. I wondered, though, if some of the many laughs were out of discomfort: the kind of laugh you try so hard to suppress when someone says something too personal, too true, let alone when they say it to a whole room.

In fact, one of Kathleen Stavert’s characters compares the audience to her cookies: she talks to them, but they never respond, which liberates her to tell them all her secrets. And she doesn’t once hold back, delivering with a vulnerable honesty that makes you want to look away, but you can’t: she’s begging you not to, pleading with you to listen to these things she can’t share elsewhere.

There are long pauses here; measured words, awkward silences, cringeworthy revelations. The tension is intentional, and doesn’t let up. Lots of folks aim for this vibe, but this strikes the chord.

While the playwright, translator, and director obviously deserve kudos, it would’ve all been for naught had it not been for the top tier performances of all three players. The actors were harmonious together, their characters whole and complete, as though once the script ran out they could still exist beyond the stage.

At the end of the show, there’s a moment of silence; breaths are held for a second before we realize it’s over, and then in the rush of our exhale, we leap to our feet for a standing ovation.

Afterwards, walking home, the image that sticks with me is about the taste of homemade cookies cooked without a home. It may sound like nothing, but I turn it over in my mind, and find it precise and profound, speaking directly to the heart of isolation.

I don’t often go to plays, but when I do, I want them to be this good.

Wildfire runs January 16-28 at La Chapelle Theatre, 3700 Saint Dominique St. For info and tickets, please visit the Talisman Theatre website

When I was asked to review Holly Rhiannon’s witchy YA book, A Time When Demons, it sounded like just what the doctor ordered.

Fiction is important. When studies cite the importance of reading (which include, but are not limited to, stress relief, along with improved concentration and memory), it’s based on fiction (this is your brain, this is your brain on fiction).

Now think about what you’re usually reading: probably mostly comments and texts, atrociously written at that. Next in line is most likely articles, be them summaries or editorials, skillfully written (sometimes), but still non-fiction. In fact, even though I’m a fiction writer by preference, I’ve noticed that for the past few years I’ve been reading more non-fiction than anything else, stuffing my head with facts rather than reaping any of those fabulous fiction benefits.

Firstly, I dunno how or why things get classified as YA. I know some wonderful children’s books that are arguably even better as an adult (Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice for instance). Secondly, I wouldn’t say this book is appropriate for under 16s for some of the same reasons some adults will really dig this. While the writing is accessible, it’s got all the thrilling stuff: lust, puppy love, murder, and magick (plus one scene that merits the book a suicide trigger warning).

I don’t read romance novels. Now, this isn’t a romance novel, but it has more infatuation and longing than I’m used to, which was fun. There really was a time when every crush became the centre of the world, and you could love someone you’d never spoken to so much that it hurt.

It’s intense, and a nice place to visit, but man, I’m glad I don’t live there anymore (how did any of use survive the beautiful heartache?!). These characters are about 18, so they’re in the thick of it.

I appreciated the way the magick was handled here. Powers were clear and limited, and the parameters followed the whole way through, thus preventing any of the characters from becoming invincible. That might sound like a low bar, but it’s all I ask of stories with superpowers. Superman used to just “leap” over tall buildings, you know, but I digress.

I can’t tell you too much about the murder bit, as I’m trying hard to avoid spoilers. What I can say is that I believe there are mysteries where the astute reader can pick up clues throughout the narrative and make an educated guess (albeit probably a wrong one that you’ve intentionally been led to), and there are the kind where at the end of the story we’re all equally surprised together, and probably couldn’t have seen that coming. This falls into the category of the latter, with the wrap up bringing the murderer, means, and motive together and putting a bow on it.

It’s probably fair for me to say that I’m not a fan of “pop” literature. If it’s “this season’s hottest novel” or “flying off the shelves”, it’s probably not my bag. Love stories make me roll my eyes, murder mysteries rarely catch my attention, and I’m certainly no youth (as much as that pains me to admit). If we’re talking bookstore categories, I’ve been a consistent “lit fic” chick since puberty.

With A Time When Demons, I enjoyed the magick, and the sense of emotional chaos created by a character trying to be true to themselves while also being aware of the expectations pressing in on them.

This might work for the youth / magick / murder lover in your life, or someone looking to give those genres a try. It’s available in hard copy and ebook formats, and written by a Montreal based author, so support your local artists.

Johnny Legdick is an atypical stage musical. The show’s style is childish, complete with rhyming lines, a Snidely Whiplash-esque villain, and toys that serve as props and henchmen.

The music and the show itself is far from it, with adult dialogue and costumes and the kind of true-blue guttural rock music die-hard fans have been starved for since the spread of the falling-asleep-at-the-mic sound popularized by bands like Coldplay. It’s campy and cheesy and raunchy – an adult fairy tale reminiscent of Dr. Seuss – and I loved every minute of it.

The show’s premise is simple: Johnny Legdick is a man with a birth defect – he has a leg where his penis is supposed to be. The tale is a story of triumph as Johnny vanquishes the villain, gets the girl, and finds his place in the world. The tale is told by Grandpa (Tom Carson) to his grandson Billy (Tyler Miller), who sits on his lap as he’s read a bedtime story.

Is Legdick’s birth defect based on any real-life biological deformity? Not at all! The show’s co-author and director Jimmy Karamanis sheepishly admits that the idea came from a song the show’s star and co-author Jonah Carson (son of Tom) made up and used to sing in high school.

The show, which premiered in 2015 to critical acclaim, was built around that song. Johnny Legdick has just completed its fourth run this month at Théatre Sainte Catherine, with Karamanis assuring us that it will be back. He says this run was a way of assuring the cast and crew that they could still work together after a long hiatus due to life and the COVID-19 pandemic. If what I saw was any indication, they definitely can.

Johnny Legdick is low budget, campy, and raunchy in all the right ways. The pants used to create the title character’s birth defect were made during the first run and it shows. A lot of the other costumes look cheap and hastily put together.

It’s the music and the cast and band’s unbelievable chemistry that make this show special. The band, led by musical director Macleod Truesdale, pumps out the guttural rock sounds die-hard fans of the genre have been craving in an age of cookie-cutter pop tunes.

Johnny Legdick is not for kids. There are men in lingerie and genital and sex jokes galore. Even the music played in the theatre before the show consists of covers of popular tunes like Tracy Chapman’s Fastest Car and Wang Chung’s Everybody Have Fun Tonight, with the lyrics changed to include the word “d*ck” in strategic places. Unless you want your kids to go home with a much broader, raunchier vocabulary, do not bring them.

If you love camp and are not scared of musicals, you need to see Johnny Legdick. As for those who don’t like musicals, the show is only forty-five minutes, give it a chance. It’s worth it.

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney are joined by Special Guest Andrew Jamieson to talk about the recent behind-the-scenes drama at WWE – Stephanie McMahon resigning, Vince McMahon forcing his way back into power and a potential sale – ahead of the company’s three shows in Montreal.

Follow Andrew Jamieson at WhoTheFuckIsAndrewJamieson.com or @fakejamieson on Instagram

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

It may seem strange that a musical about the events of 911 would make North American audiences grin and cheer, but according to the star of Come From Away’s touring production, that is exactly what has been happening.

“People always leave the auditorium tapping their feet and laughing. It’s not a downer or a hefty drama at all,” Marika Aubrey says of the feel-good show, which has returned to Montreal for a one-week-only engagement at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier. “It’s really about community and kindness,” the Australian-born actress explains. “It reminds us that what unites us is far greater than what divides us.”

Come From Away recounts how nearly 7,000 displaced and terrified travelers were warmly welcomed by the citizens of modest Gander, Newfoundland when 38 planes were diverted there during the chaos of September 11th 2001. Aubrey stars as Beverley Bass, the real-life pilot who had to take charge of the unprecedented and stressful situation.

Created by the husband/wife duo of David Hein and Irene Sankoff, the piece was workshopped in 2012 and staged in Oakville, Ontario before enjoying successful runs in San Diego, Seattle, Washington and Toronto. It finally opened on Broadway to standing-room-only crowds in 2017 and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, winning for Best Direction.

Though the Broadway production closed in October, Come From Away holds the record as the longest-running Canadian musical to ever land on the Great White Way. That would be reason enough for Canadian audiences to embrace it enthusiastically, but in truth, they are apparently more tickled by the references it makes to a certain iconic coffee chain.

Come From Away star Marika Aubrey

“Some Americans don’t even know what Tim Hortons is…but in Canada? That is an immediate giggle,” Aubrey shares.

“Canadians recognize everything. So I’d say our Canadian audiences are really proud and celebratory.”

For her part, Aubrey is thrilled to have brought the story to so many different communities over the course of the tour. “We play houses that are twice the size of the Broadway house and we sell out pretty much everywhere we go. Our audiences are, on average, around the 3,000 mark,” she notes. “That beautiful Broadway house is something like 1200 seats. You know, it’s really an intimate show, not an arena spectacular, and yet it still works, thankfully, in these bigger spaces. I’m grateful that audiences have really embraced us.”

Aubrey has a long history with the show, dating back to 2018. “I’d immigrated from Australia prior to getting the audition brief and I’d never seen it, so I took myself to the theatre and bought a ticket at like, two minutes to curtain,” she recalls.

After familiarizing herself with the material, she auditioned and was cast as a standby performer in the tour, a position she held for 10 months, until the creative team summoned her back to New York.

“They were having trouble finding a replacement Bev for the company and wanted to see what I did with it. The next day, I got a phone call to say I’d be stepping into the track, so it’s spanned a huge amount of my life.”

“I think all shows tend to walk you through significant life changes,” she reflects, “but this one? I can speak for everyone in the company when I say that this one has really earmarked a lot of good stuff and bad stuff over the past few years. It’s been six calendar years, even though we did have that big 18-month enforced holiday,” she quips of touring during a pandemic. “Still, this is the kind of show that only comes along once in a lifetime, so it’s worth the sacrifice.”

During Christmas 2021, Aubrey found herself having to emulate her character by making an emergency stopover to the Broadway production, as COVID spread through the cast.

Pilot Beverley Bass and Aubrey

“It was Christmas Day and I was at home with family when I got the call saying Rachel Tucker and quite a few other people in the company had come down with the Omicron strand,” she recounts. “The show was going to be cancelled if I couldn’t play Bev the next day. So, I woke up the next morning, went to midtown, tested negative and went on.”

“I made my Broadway debut with 11 actors I’d never worked with before, with costumes that weren’t fitted to me, with makeup I found at the back of my toiletry bag and with my own hair, because normally I wear a wig,” she chuckles. “I was even singing in a different key because Rachel sang it slightly lower than me, so it was wackadoo…but the best kind of wackadoo. I think because I’d done the role hundreds of times by that point, I could just relax and enjoy it. I didn’t have a single person in the audience (to mark the occasion) and there was no champagne, but it just felt like this really cool opportunity to serve and allow our holiday audiences to see the show they’d booked tickets for, so I’m glad it happened the way it did.”

That can-do spirit seems to channel the very essence of Beverley Bass herself, who not only paved the way for women in her field by becoming the first female captain of an American Airlines commercial flight in 1986, but also cofounded the International Society of Women Airline Pilots.

“Originally, (the creative team) thought they might make the show mainly about Beverley because she has a really cool life story,” Aubrey explains. “When they went to Gander and started talking to people, they realized the story was so much bigger than just this one woman.” The resulting character seen on stage became a composite of the various pilots interviewed and their accounts of what happened, save for one particular song, entitled ‘Me And The Sky’, which is devoted entirely to Bass’ experiences.

“It’s this big four-minute number that spans Bev’s life story and I think the reason it resonates is because it speaks to huge changes in male dominated industries. I get a lot of women and young girls either writing to me on social media or coming to see me at the stage door and telling me that they listen to this song because it galvanizes their spirits to know they can do anything that boys can do. I think that’s why it’s become such an anthem.”

When asked if the real Beverley Bass has proven a personal inspiration, the actress is pleased to report they’ve become good friends over the last few years, even if neither is interested in pursuing the other’s occupation. “She says to me all the time, ‘I don’t know how you do it! I don’t understand how you get up and sing in front of all those people!’ and I’m always like, ‘Bev, you fly planes! Like…jets! Are you kidding me?’ What I do is, to me, not nearly as scary as taking an enormous plane up in the air.”

“Having said that, I have a very sassy 5-year-old girl who has been really inspired by Bev and her story,” she laughs, “and I wouldn’t be surprised if I have to bring her to the airport to take some flying lessons at some point. It would be a nice turn of events, wouldn’t it?”

Come From Away runs from Tuesday, January 10th through Sunday January 15th. For ticket information, please visit the Place des Arts website

Featured Image: The North American Tour of Come From Away Photo Credit Matthew Murphy

It’s been a year, y’all. We shook off the collective nightmare of lockdown, put on our dancing shoes, and partied. Bars, theatre, concerts, comedy, art, all the stuff that keeps the lights on in our city and our souls returned from the forced hiatus.

It didn’t take long for us to get used to it, and every now and again I stop myself while doing some mundane thing like walking through the Eaton Centre and remember how much I craved the basics.

As some of you may know, I have a lot of well thought out complaints about the ways of the world (catch me on FTB Weekends with Jason C. McLean), but provincial elections and healthcare crisis aside, the gratitude was especially delicious this 2022.


It’s a mind bender to recall that we came into 2022 under curfew, and in lockdown, but at the time it was hard to think of much else. Instead of show announcements, we kept our ears to the ground for cancellations, wondering how far ahead they were planning.

It was miserable. Igloofest was canceled. Online shows offered some reprieve, but meh. If we were in a tumbleweed climate, they would be rolling through this month.

The whole thing was gloomy.


February is often called the most depressing month, and in the COVID time it was at least doubly so. We were still under partial lockdown, but hope was on the horizon!

Nuit Blanche was finally coming back and Osheaga announced its lineup, signaling that normalcy was within reach. Some performers would change before the show, but all we heard is that there would be shows.

In fact, some local shows started to pop up and bars were scheduled to reopen February 28. Is dancing allowed? Is singing allowed? No one’s sure, but we’re stoked to get out there and find out.


The show is finally going on, which is really saying something considering the curtain on CATS was originally supposed to go up in March of 2020.. Just For Laughs announced its lineup and things to look forward to were starting to pop up everywhere.

This is when Montreal Museum of Fine Arts was doing what it could with limited capacity: starting at the end of February, you could get in if you booked your time slot (in 15 minute increments) online, masking and distancing are mandatory, giving the security staff the new task of keeping people from moving through the rooms too quickly or getting too close to one another. Only the major exhibit was open, and I learned that I don’t like Riopelle, but being back feels momentous.

Concerts have begun, but safety measures are in place there too, making the whole thing seem weird. My bf goes to see Sepultura at a fully masked metal show, and it sounds dystopian to me.


The MMFA is actually factually all the way open, though you still need to book a time slot. I beeline for The Decorative Arts & Design Pavilion, which is open for the first time in ages, having been “closed due to reorganization” or some such even before the pandy. I am in my happy place.

The MMFA’s Decorative Arts and Design Pavilion (photo by Dawn McSweeney)

As part of an experiment on our party rules, the SAT serves up drinks and tunes for 24 hours straight which gives me some hope that maybe the “new normal” will allow for some reconfiguration of things we’ve taken for granted as status quo for too long (writing this at the end of December, that hope has long since crashed and burned, but it was lovely while it lasted).

I’m comforted knowing that while everything feels like it’s on the brink, Montrealers can unite against some showy corporate silliness as we all discuss the city’s new giant ring.


Spring is springing, and the good times are indeed rolling. I finally get out to my first post-COVID show. I’ve seen Symphony X before, and they put on a good show despite not being on my regular rotation. This is about getting out, and bring with people and not wearing a mask in a crowd.

We meet up with friends for drinks and food. No vax passes. No masks. We come and go from the show so much, it’s about the band the same way high school dances are about dancing. I’m jazzed.

I also leave town for the first time in years, and head to Halifax for the first time ever. We hit some familiar territory, and hug people we’ve missed.

Back in Montreal, masks were still in place at Mainline Theater where performers wore them throughout Carrie: The Musical rehearsals. As someone who’s still masked at work, let me say that phone calls are hard enough, kudos for pulling off a musical.

There were no masks on stage for Contact Theatre’s Next to Normal at Monument Nationale and Cirque du Soleil came back strong with Kooza.


At this point our regularly scheduled Montreal programming seems to be rolling right along, and Fringe is next! James Gartler checks out Tango to the Pointe along with Al Lafrance’s Is This Yours? and Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play, saying of Josephine that “it stands easily as one of the best shows to ever play at the Montreal Fringe Festival”.

I peep What About Albert? and enjoy the heck out of it.

Photo by Joseph Ste-Marie, courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company


I smiled through this whole month. There are events at every turn, and Montreal summer is thriving. At the beginning of the month, our Editor Extraordinaire says to me “hey, someone approached us with a creative thing that made me think of you”, which is how I met my creative soulmate, and that will come up later.

ComicCon is back, and the fits are fierce. Flipping through the cosplay pics, I get a little sentimental thinking about how long it’s been since we’ve all been able to let our freak flags fly in all their carefully crafted glory. Man, we’re beautiful.

James Gartler went to Malcolm McDowell’s talk and he learned that the only time in his 60 year career he was ever stiffed on gig was by a producer in Montreal, so we have that dubious distinction.

JFL is back for its 40th edition, and I’m desperate to laugh with strangers. From late July into early August, all my friends have to listen to me fangirling about who I’m interviewing. I loudly tell everyone I know that I can’t make their things ‘cuz I have media passes to comedy shows, and article deadlines. Everyone calmly assures me that I wasn’t invited to their things, and pats me on my head for being so cute and excitable.

Seriously though, when you look at it all in one place our FTB Team had JFL on lock. Samantha Gold spoke to Canadian comedy royalty Rick Mercer, comic, Hollywood and Bollywood actor Vir Das and even Randy Feltface, an actual puppet. Jason C. McLean spoke with Letterkenny star Mark Forward and caught Irish comic Tommy Tiernan’s new show. James Gartler took in Trixie Mattel’s free outdoor drag show and SNL and stand-up star John Mulaney’s latest one-man show.

I spoke to a bunch of folks I never thought I would such as Alonzo Bodden and Pete Holmes. Despite Big Jay Oakerson closing out our phone interview by saying I should come up and say hi at the show, I freeze and never say hi. I see him outside with Brendan Sagalow on another day, after a different show, and I stare like a weirdo, but keep my distance.


As Montrealers we’re confident in our summers, but painfully aware of their fleeting nature. By the end of July squeezing in all the summer activities becomes a full time job, and this year it’s coming to a head as Osheaga & JFL share a weekend.

Osheaga 2022 photo by Chris Zacchia

As one FTB team was all over JFL, another team covers Osheaga with Joe McLean and Jerry Gabriel‘s previews and coverage from Jerry Gabriel of the rock-oriented Day One and the mix of everything Days Two and Three, plus Chris Zacchia’s festival photos.

Meanwhile, my Maritimers BIL & SIL come to town for their first Osheaga, and they haven’t been here in years. We live it up, and I fall in love with MTL yet again as I experience it through tourist eyes. They had a blast at the show.


Oh, I remember August because before we’d even sent the Scotians home, my bf tested positive for COVID. Damn it. We lock ourselves in, and I catch it in short order.

Considering I’ve been working at an office this whole time and taking public transit throughout, it seems fair. We both feel like bags of poop, but we’re super glad it wasn’t worse.

Meanwhile, Samantha Gold was checking out Repercussion Theatre’s All Shall Be Well and the POP Montreal lineup is released giving us more to look forward to.


In September I interviewed a fictional character when I sat down with Andrew Jamieson as Conor Blaine, (the aforementioned creative thing and the aforementioned creative soulmate). It was like playing with someone else’s imaginary friend, and it tickled me.

Drinks with fictional character Conor Blaine (photo by Dawn McSweeney)

Montreal Stop Motion Film Festival returns for it’s 14th edition, and I didn’t know this existed until it was over, so as I write this I’m marking my calendar for next year.

At MMFA, Nicolas Party’s pastels surprised me as the colours spilled off the pages and onto the walls. The Decorative Arts & Design Pavilion is closed again as pieces from there are used as part of another exhibit.

POP Montreal started at the very end of the month which takes up right into…


POP Montreal taught me a lot about how to better cover a multimedia, multi location arts festival. There was so much to do and see, but for me the highlight was catching Sophia Bel, who I’d never heard of, and now I tell other people about.

Samantha Gold interviewed Rocky Horror Show director Amy Blackmore and the time warp was live for the first time in years. Me First & The Gimmie Gimmies come to town, and it’s a fun time.


In art news, MMFA puts on a fantastic Jean Michel Basquiat exhibit called Seeing Loud: Basquiat & Music. It features works by the artist, but is specifically designed to showcase the importance of music in both his career and life. The music plays throughout.

Big famous pieces aside, there are framed journal pages, concert posters, and a super cool map where you can track his path via concerts in NYC. This bad boy runs through February 19, 2023.

In other museum news, the Decorative Arts & Design Pavilion is back to being closed for reorganization or whatever. I sigh dramatically.

Anti-Flag brought old school punk to town, and image+nation celebrates 35 years.


The beginning of December already feels like a year ago. The Candyass Cabaret brought sexy back, the Stygian Caravan brought creatives together, and speaking of together, Glass Tiger still is.

Andrew Jamieson’s Sleazy Christmas introduced me to comedian Morgan O’Shea who I thought was just some friend of a friend, and next thing you know, he’s going up on stage, and I’m laughing till it hurts. Turns out he’s profesh. I’ll be intentionally seeking out his comedy in the future.

As is always the case, this year isn’t over yet, and we’re already looking to the next.

Osheaga 2023 headliners have been announced, and I already have Lizzo tickets for May.

Entertainment this week? Personally? So much chilling.

All the best to you, yours, and the dreams you’re chasing. Blessed be & haribol.

Featured Image of Sophia Bel @ POP Montreal by Dawn McSweeney

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney are joined by Special Guest Samantha Gold to discuss the top stories of 2022: Quebec Election, Elon Musk and Twitter, Quebec Healthcare & the return of shows.

Follow Samantha Gold @samiamart on Facebook & @samiamartistmtl on Instagram

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram