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December 4, 2008

Whoa - not only is the weather crazy but there's so much of a whirlwind going on this week in the world of politics.  But this week also brings us a blizzard of entertainment news - even with attempts to scale it down. So read on my friends!

The HOT events continue ... Aubrey Dayle and Vernon Reid perform together on December 4 and 6.  C
elebrate the season with the Gospel Christmas Project on December 7th.  Not to mention, there's the very popular annual AroniMAGE awards in honour of Aron Y. Haile on December 7thAnd the supersensational Soweto Gospel Choir on December 17 and 18 at Massey Hall.



Aubrey Dayle and My id with Vernon Reid – December 4 and 6, 2008

Aubrey Dayle and My id collaborate with Grammy Award winning guitarist Vernon Reid for shows in Toronto on December 4th at Toronto's Lula Lounge.  On December 6th, Hamilton’s The Pepper Jack Cafe is the venue.  


My id for Dayle is the conscious musical illustration of his instinctual needs and drives; and the Toronto based drummer who formed this group harnessed some of the city’s finest eclectic musicians. Pooling their strengths in jazz, rock, world beat, R&B and hip hop My id projects outstanding musicianship; and this musical brilliance will be further boosted for the upcoming concerts with virtuoso Vernon Reid collaborating.


Vernon Reid and his exceptional Black rock band, Living Colour made tremendous strides throughout several decades; and their first-rate platform back in the 80s and 90s ushered them into the realm of a ‘Black Coalition’ of conscious and ground-breaking, top instrumentalism and selling 4 million recordings world wide. Fusing philosophies of social justice, Reid and My id will together bring a sound of equality and freedom to the Ontario concert halls this December.


Living Colour continues to impress audiences today and are enjoying a current major resurgence because of ‘The Guitar Hero 3’ video game that features their massive hit, “Cult of Personality.”


Featured on Dayle’s debut CD along with, Allman Brothers bassist, Oteil Burbridge and singer Hassan Hakmoun, Reid has worked with some stellar talents like: Mick Jagger, Bill Frisell, Carlos Santana, Public Enemy, Garland Jefferies and James Blood Ulmer.


Described by James Blood Ulmer as “He was born in Jamaica, grew up in Canada and plays like he's from Georgia!”, Dayle has toured and recorded with Reid on the James Blood Ulmer Grammy nominated CD project 'Memphis Blood: The Sun Sessions' and 'No Escape from the Blues:  The Electric Lady Sessions'. The contemporary ‘jazzist’ recently returned to live in Canada after being based in New York City for 14 years. He has also toured and recorded with Garland Jeffries, Sonny Rollins, Peter Gabriel, Hassan Hakmoun and John Popper Band.


The December 4th show at Lula Lounge will serve as My id’s second CD release party. Recorded live in another Reid/My id joint effort last year, the CD is titled “Aubrey Dayle's My id & Vernon Reid Live Revival.”

Lula Lounge
1585 Dundas Street West (one an a half blocks west of Dufferin)

8:00 pm
TICKET PRICES:  $18.00 in advance via Ticketweb.com $22.00 at the door and $27.00 with CD.

BOX OFFICE number: www.ticketweb.ca 888-222-6608


The Gospel Christmas Project – Sunday, December 7

Source:  Andrew Craig Productions

The Young Centre for the Performing Arts invites you to ring in the Christmas season with one of the hottest shows this season: The Gospel Christmas Project!

Imagine 20 of the world’s favourite Christmas carols, totally re-imagined and re-arranged in the high-energy style of Contemporary Gospel. Then imagine hearing those arrangements sung by powerhouse vocalists like Dora-award winner Jackie Richardson, Alana Bridgewater of “We Will Rock You”, Kellylee Evans (the 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards Female Vocalist of the Year), and Gospel singing sensation Chris Lowe. Add to that mix the dynamic Sharon Riley and Faith Chorale, and put them all under the masterful direction of Andrew Craig, with his explosive band. It’s a recipe for an unforgettable holiday experience!

The Gospel Christmas Project has already been an acclaimed CBC Radio special, and made into a coveted CD recording. It’s also been a CBC Television special, not only nominated for a Gemini award, but a Bronze World Medal winner at the prestigious New York Festivals. It was a groundbreaking concert presentation with the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and it was one of last year’s most-talked-about shows at Massey Hall. And now, you can experience it live at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, in Toronto’s Distillery District!

“I left with a surge of joy” – Carol Lipson, The Live Music Report
“It was the star on the top of the tree of Christmas experiences this year” – from the Gospel Christmas Project blog

Don’t miss this year’s most-uplifting holiday presentation. There are two shows only, and tickets are going fast!

The Young Centre For The Performing Arts
55 Mill Street, Building 49
Distillery District
2:00 pm and 8:00 pm
Tickets: $20 – $45


The Pepper Jack Café
38 King William Street - Hamilton, Ontario

8:30 pm

TICKET PRICES:  $12.00 in advance $15.00 at the door and $2O.00 with CD.

BOX OFFICE number: (905)525-6666 and www.pepperjackcafe.com
www.myspace.com/myidmusic, www.myidmusic.org, or www.myspace.com/vernonreid

Get Ready To Inspire – December 7, 2008

Following the successful 2006, 2007, INSPIRE events, the Aroni Awards returns on Sunday December 7th, 2008 for yet another captivating event, with the presentation of five AroniMAGE awards to the unsung heroes of our community. The AroniAwards Education Grants will be presented to three students who show strong dedication to community service, a positive outlook and continue to persevere despite socioeconomic hardships and other obstacles.  The Aroni Awards Gala was created in honour of Aron Y. Haile, an African Canadian and accomplished student, entrepreneur, software developer, who died in a vehicular accident in 2003, at the young age of 30. 


Canadian Idol’s favourite judge Farley Flex returns as Master of Ceremony, with some of Canada’s premier entertainers  as they presenter, participate or performer in support of our Youth. The evening features a VIP Reception, Silent Auction,  Awards Presentations, 3 Course Dinner (Dynamic Catering),  Live performances, and After Show reception and more. This year’s Aroni Awards Gala will once again be held at the newly renovated Atlantis Pavilions (Main Ballroom).  The magnificent complex with its 30-foot floor to ceiling windows, panoramic views of the Toronto skyline and waterfront, offers a unique venue to create the perfect setting for the Aroni Awards Gala. 

4:00 pm – 10:00 pm
$60 (Includes 3 Course Dinner Catered by Dynamic, Silent Auction, Cocktail VIP Reception, Live Performances, After Awards Reception) 

Soweto Gospel Choir Returns to Toronto For Two Performances Only! - December 17 & 18

Source:  Sony Centre for the Performing Arts

The exciting and dynamic Soweto Gospel Choir will return to Toronto for two performances only on December 17 and 18, 2008 at Massey Hall. The performances are presented by The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.

Two-time Grammy® Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir thrilled capacity audiences on each of their previous visits in 2005 and 2007. These return performances will include their newest holiday offerings as well as traditional favourites.

Expect earthy rhythms, rich harmonies, a cappella numbers as well as accompaniment by an exciting four-piece band and percussion section. Add energetic dancing and vibrant, colourful costumes, and the mix is awesome. The Choir performs in six of South Africa’s 11 official languages.

The popular Choir has made its mark on the international stage performing with such luminaries as Bono, The Eurythmics, Jimmy Cliff and many others. They have also performed for Nelson Mandela. Often referred to as the “Voices from Heaven”, the Choir reaches across cultural boundaries and each performance is uplifting, exhilarating and thrilling.

Massey Hall, South side of Shuter Street, between Yonge & Victoria Streets
8:00 pm
Tickets: $18-$78 plus applicable service charges
Tickets can be purchased through the Roy Thomson Hall Box Office (60 Simcoe St., Toronto), by telephone 416-872-4255, online at masseyhall.com or ticketmaster.ca.
GROUPS of 10 or more call Roy Thomson Hall 416-593-4822 ext. 225

Visit www.masseyhall.com for more details.


'Hit Man' Still Trying To Achieve Greatness

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Guy Dixon

(December 01, 2008) Producer-composer David Foster, his hair well tousled for a day promoting his autobiography Hitman and career-spanning concert DVD, twice cuts the conversation to ask if I'm a "rocker."

"I'm always a little nervous when I'm with someone like you," says the 59-year-old hit factory and mega-starmaker to Celine Dion and Michael Bublé. "I can tell right away that you're respectful of what I do, but you'd rather be interviewing Bruce Springsteen. Am I right?"

It's difficult to know how to respond. Even for someone who isn't dying to revisit his mid-eighties staple Love Theme from St. Elmo's Fire, Foster's story is compelling: from the kid growing up in Victoria with perfect pitch, to years of struggling in the Los Angeles music business, only to rise to commercial heights producing the industry's biggest names, from Barbra Streisand to Alice Cooper (of all people).

Foster is at a contented time in his life right now, reason enough for the book and the DVD Hit Man (which will air on PBS's Great Performances this month). En route to this level of comfort, he has gone through three marriages.

He has also juggled a hectic second career of charity work, mainly through his David Foster Foundation, which helps families of children needing organ transplants. He even starred in his own Osbournes-like, dysfunctional-family reality TV show, The Princes of Malibu. In the midst of all this, he weathered a crisis in 1992 in which he nearly killed entertainer Ben Vereen in a freak accident, after Vereen walked out onto California's Pacific Coast Highway in the middle of the night. Vereen, according to Foster's book, phoned him three months later while recovering and said, "Good hit."

But Foster is drifting into retrospective mode. He's still driven by work, he says, reaching for a cassette recorder to jot down musical ideas - sticking to old habits rather than using digital devices. In short, he isn't so content with life that he wants to slow down.

"What's keeping me going is that when I do look at my whole career, it doesn't look like much."

In one breath, he admits he would have liked to have worked at discovering more new talent in the eighties - a role he's particularly known for now - rather than focusing on a few superstars. Yet in the next breath, he adds: "I would have liked to have been a Burt Bacharach, or a Henry Mancini or a John Williams. That would have been very satisfying for me. Not particularly more fame than I have, but a career more concentrated on your own work, rather than coming to the aid of others."

Then comes the non sequitur: "But maybe you're just a rock 'n' roller and you don't want to be here in the first place. I mean, you lean toward rock music, right?"

Foster isn't intentionally baiting me. There's no slyness here. It's just a question, even though it seems irrelevant whether or not one leans toward the power balladry of Dion, Groban or Whitney Houston. It's his production work with Houston on I Will Always Love You, from 1992's The Bodyguard soundtrack, that solidified Foster's reputation, particularly coming after his work on Unforgettable, Natalie Cole's album of duets with her late father Nat King Cole. With vibrato-driven whole notes and sentimentality rising with each key change, the David Foster sound is as immediately recognizable as Phil Spector's Wall of Sound.

"I mean, my shit is kind of obvious," Foster says. "It's the big key change, the big stop, the heart-stopping moment, the moment where the crowd is going to burst into applause when watching it live. I try to do that with every song, and it works - sometimes." It's all about taking listeners on a journey, he adds.

"In the case of Michael Bublé, he makes you believe that he really believes what he's singing about in his lyrics. He takes you on a journey. In the case of Celine, she literally gave me chills. Now I know that you can be a Celine hater or a Celine lover, but there are at least 150 million people that have bought her records. You can love it or hate it, but you've got to respect it. It's a phenomenal instrument that she has."

Still, the question of defensiveness keeps recurring, and Foster persists with his "rocker" question. "I mean, ah, no, I don't have a David Foster album in my collection," I finally have to say.

"Fair enough," he replies. No offence taken, none intended. And the conversation, and even subtle ribbing, continue with ease. But on face value, it's a strange tone for someone of his stature: 15 Grammy Awards, a No. 1 hit with Chicago's Hard to Say I'm Sorry and John Parr's Man in Motion, and other accolades too many to mention.

But there's a story he relates about Kenny G that seems telling. Foster wanted to pull together a big band to play at the pop saxophonist's 10th wedding anniversary. Foster was working on one of Bublé's early albums at the time, so crooning melodies were in his head. But Kenny G didn't like the idea.

"I don't want those [jazz] guys at my party. Those are the kinds of musicians who look down on my music. It would make me too uncomfortable," Kenny G said, as quoted in Foster's book.

Perhaps it's an insight into how aware commercial stars are of the critical orthodoxy commonly espoused by music journalists. And that's obviously what Foster is getting at with this "rocker" label. For Foster, huge sales are a clear sign that at least someone is listening. He says his music is what comes naturally to him.

"I can unequivocally tell you that every single second that I'm in the studio, I'm trying to achieve greatness. Every single second," he says. "I don't always achieve it, but there's a saying people use all the time in the studio that I don't allow. 'It doesn't bother me.' ""

He will never disparage anything he has done, he says. "That came about from a Quincy Jones moment when I gave him [an album] of the Average White Band that I produced. I handed it to him and said, 'Don't listen to track one and track three. Track two the vocals are a little out of tune. Track six, I hated that song, but they wanted it on the record.' And he snatched it out of my hands, and said, 'You're an idiot, it's got your name on it. Do not make any excuses for it.' And from that moment on, I never made any excuses for anything I did."

Nor should he have to.

Durham County And Englishman's Boy Win Big At Geminis

Source: www.thestar.com - Cassandra Szklarski,
The Canadian Press

(November 28, 2008) The gritty cable drama Durham County and the CBC miniseries The Englishman's Boy ruled over the sexy historical series The Tudors at the Gemini Awards on Friday, picking up the most hardware at a glitzy televised event honouring the best in Canadian TV.

Durham County, which airs on the Movie Network and Movie Central, earned three awards, including best actor for Justin Louis, best actress for Helene Joy and best direction for Holly Dale. The series stars Hugh Dillon as a Toronto homicide detective that moves his family to the suburbs only to discover that his neighbour may be a serial killer.

CBC's The Englishman's Boy was named best dramatic miniseries, while its star Nicholas Campbell took the best actor title. Those wins were in addition to four Geminis it picked up at a ceremony last month.

Former 90210 hunk Jason Priestley hosted Friday's star-studded party, while current 90210 star Shenae Grimes was among the homegrown luminaries that appeared as presenters.

The best drama series was the Vancouver-based Intelligence, a CBC crime show that was cancelled earlier this year despite being embraced by critics.

Meanwhile, the rock 'n' roll mockumentary Cock'd Gunns, an IFC show, won for best writing in a comedy series and best ensemble performance in a comedy.

The glamorous night put the spotlight on the industry's most coveted awards, but most Geminis were handed out last month at a series of non-televised ceremonies.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers' King Henry VIII drama The Tudors on CBC was among the big winners in those categories, netting four trophies.

Other early winners included the CBC's The National, The Fifth Estate and Hockey Night in Canada, which each snagged three trophies.

On Friday, CBC's veteran news parody This Hour Has 22 Minutes beat out CTV's ratings giant Corner Gas for best comedy, while George Stroumboulopoulos was named best talk show host for his night-time chatfest, The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos, also on CBC.

The best actress trophy for work in a dramatic program or miniseries went to Natasha Henstridge, who appeared in CTV's Would Be Kings.

CBC's Ron MacLean was named best sports host for his duties on Hockey Day in Canada, while Ian Hanomansing won the trophy for best anchor for CBC's supper-hour newscast in Vancouver.

Project Runway Canada on Slice was named best reality program or series.

Citytv's 19th century detective series Murdoch Mysteries had led the pack with 14 nominations overall but walked away with just two wins in the non-broadcast portion of the awards.

2008 Gemini Winners:

Best Comedy: This Hour Has 22 Minutes

Best Drama: Intelligence

Best Reality Show: Project Runway Canada

Best Dramatic Miniseries: The Englishman's Boy

Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role: Justin Louis, Durham County, "What Lies Beneath"

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading role in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries: Nicholas Campbell, The Englishman's Boy.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Rols: Helen Joy, Durham County, "Guys and Dolls"

Best Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic Program or Miniseries: Natasha Henstridge, Would be Kings

Best Ensemble in a Comedy Program: Inessa Annie Frantowski, Brooks Gray, Andy King, Rebecca McMahon, Leo Scherman, Morgan Waters in Cock'd Gunns, "A Taste of Success"

Best Direction in a Dramatic Series: Holly Dale, Durham County, "What Lies Beneath"

Best Host, Talk Program: George Stroumbolopoulos, The Hour with George Stroumbolopoulos.

Best Host, Sports Program: Ron MacLean, Hockey Day In Canada

Best News Anchor: Ian Hanomansing, CBC News at Six - Vancouver

Best Writing in a Comedy or Variety Program or Series: Brooks Gray, Andy King, Leo Scherman, Morgan Waters for Cock'd Gunns,

Gemini Humanitarian Award: Gord Martineau

Barbadian Descendent Eric Holder Favoured To Head United States Justice Department

The Brandman Agency

(December 1, 2008) (Bridgetown, Barbados)– Eric Holder, who traces his family roots to the parishes of St. Joseph and St. Philip in Barbados, is President Elect Barack Obama’s pick for the United States’ next attorney general.  A former D.C. Superior Court judge, U.S. Attorney and Deputy Attorney General, Holder is currently a senior legal advisor to President-elect Barack Obama, and was instrumental in selecting Senator Joseph Biden as Obama’s vice-presidential running mate. Pending Senate confirmation, Holder would make history as the first African-American attorney general of the United States. 

Holder was born and raised in a Bajan home in Queens, New York, where his parents placed large emphasis on education in his upbringing.  With family currently in St. Michael, Barbados, Holder continues to visit the island frequently.

Ties between the U.S. and Barbados date back to as early as 1751 when Barbados welcomed America’s very first president, George Washington. His first trip out of the US to the sun-drenched island functioned as a possible cure for his brother Lawrence’s ailment. In 2007, the plantation house that George and Lawrence rented was restored and is now a museum named the George Washington House (www.georgewashingtonbarbados.org) open to the public.  More recently, during an official visit to Barbados with her husband, former President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton unveiled a plaque outside the George Washington house that recognized the bond between Barbados and the US.

The island of Barbados offers the most authentic Caribbean experience with its exceptionally rich culture and history rooted in remarkable landscapes, including The Crane beach, St. Philips, voted one of the world’s sexiest beaches for 2008 by Concierge.com.  Barbados is the first and only Zagat-rated Caribbean island with numerous internationally renowned chefs who masterfully put signature spins on local delicacies and traditions. Barbados is also an ideal stage for world-class events and has hosted numerous athletic championships, including the ICC Cricket World Cup Final 2007 and the 2006 PGA World Golf Championship-The Barbados World Cup. Accommodations range from picturesque plantation houses and villas to quaint bed and breakfasts to award-winning five-star resorts. The newly renovated Grantley Adams International Airport offers non-stop and direct service from a growing number of U.S. cities via Air Jamaica, American Airlines, Delta and US Airways, making Barbados the true gateway to the Eastern Caribbean.  The Barbados Tourism Authority has provided excellent service for 50 years and is a proud member of the Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association.  For more information on travel to Barbados, visit www.visitbarbados.org, or contact the Barbados Tourism Authority at 1.800.221.9831.

Toronto Singer Reunites With Family In Ethiopia In Tearful Homecoming As Country's Newest Star

Source:  www.thestar.com - John Goddard,
Staff Reporter

(December 02, 2008) ADDIS ABABA–Toronto singer Kemer Yousef buried his head deep in his father's neck and smelled him again for the first time in 24 years.

After a long embrace, he crossed the room to likewise smother himself against his mother, emerging with a broad smile and a face wet with tears.

"I never thought this day would come," he said of the highlight so far in an emotional homecoming as one of Ethiopia's top pop stars, part of a week otherwise crammed with radio, television and magazine interviews.

Kemer (Yousef is his father's name) is living out an almost surreal immigrant dream: returning as a celebrity to a country he once fled in terror.

In 1984, at age 20, he walked for three days across a desert into Somalia, where he was tortured as a suspected spy and eventually released into a UN refugee camp.

Three years later he made it to Toronto, where he began a musical career singing to pockets of Ethiopian Oromo people in North America, Europe and Australia.

Last year, his seven-track music DVD Nabek scored a major hit throughout Ethiopia, crossing all ethnic and language lines, and igniting a clamour for his return.

"Even two, three months ago, it was nothing but Kemer," taxi driver Terefe Muluneh said last week while negotiating downtown traffic, the hit song "Nanawe" blasting from his cassette player. "In every café, people want his songs."

Demand has dropped slightly since, Muluneh said, but the singer's arrival one week ago seems to have rekindled the frenzy.

The latest covers of Rose, Royal and other celebrity magazines feature Kemer's beaming face. Interviews began running on the weekend in the national media. His songs and videos remain in rotation on radio and television, and singers at Club Habesha covered several of his songs the other night.

Some TV clips include three Toronto Caucasian dancers – Jennifer Dallas, Elisha MacMillan and Yaelle Wittes – trained in popular Oromo moves and travelling in Kemer's entourage.

Security is tight. Two government drivers and two armed guards accompany the group everywhere, an unexpected novelty for a singer accustomed to passing largely unrecognized through his home in the St. Lawrence Market neighbourhood.

Some fans managing to contact the group have told how Kemer's music has changed their lives, including one woman, Eman Mohamed, who said listening to his songs has brought her remission from cancer.

"I'm going to surprise her and have Kemer visit," said tour co-organizer Aisha Abdulwahb.

Heightening the family-reunion drama Friday night, the power failed on the city's outskirts where Kemer's parents and other relatives are staying. They are visiting from the eastern city of Dire Dawa.

Kemer entered a candlelit front room and seemed instantly to recognize his father. He is thought to be 103. Kemer next headed straight for his mother, sitting next to an aunt and an elder sister, all three wearing the naqab robes of devout Muslim women.

Kemer's first homecoming concert is planned for Sunday. He headlines an invitation-only celebration for the country's annual Nations and Nationalities Day at Addis Ababa's 20,000-seat Millennium Hall.

Raptors Fire Coach Sam Mitchell

Source: www.thestar.com - Doug Smith,
Basketball Reporter

(December 03, 2008) DENVER — Sam Mitchell is out as the head coach of the Toronto Raptors.

Team president and general manager Bryan Colangelo fired the 45-year-old Mitchell today, a day after a horrendous 132-93 loss to the Denver Nuggets dropped Toronto to 8-9 on the season.

Jay Triano, one of Mitchell's assistants and the longest-serving member of the coaching staff, takes over on an interim basis, becoming the first Canadian-born head coach in NBA history.

Mitchell leaves with a career record of 156-189 and after winning the NBA's coach of the year award in 2006-07. He also guided the Raptors to the only Atlantic Division title in franchise history and consecutive playoff appearances in the last two seasons.

However, the team has not made much progress this season towards becoming one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference, despite a roster Colangelo said before the season was the most talented in his three-year tenure in Toronto.

The loss in Denver was shocking for the manner in which it occurred. After winning two of their last three games and having what Mitchell called a great practice the day before, the Raptors were listless and lifeless from the opening tip. They were out-hustled and out-played in every facet of the game, leaving veteran players to question not the coach but themselves.

"It's about us," point guard Jose Calderon said after the game.

But Colangelo obviously thought differently. The general manager was livid after the game and cancelled plans to leave the team in the middle of the road trip to remain here and travel to Salt Lake City for a game with the Utah Jazz on Friday night.

Mitchell was in the second year of a four-year contract. He was to be paid about $4 million this season and next with some guaranteed money on the final year of the deal he signed after winning the coach of the year honours.

Triano, 50, is in his seventh season on the Raptors staff, having worked with Lenny Wilkens, Kevin O'Neill and Mitchell.

The native of Niagara Falls is a former head coach of the Canadian national men's team and has worked for the past two summers as an assistant coach and consultant with the U.S. Olympic select team.

There was no immediate word on the fate of Alex English and Mike Evans, the other assistants on the staff.

Mitchell became the sixth head coach in franchise history in 2004, taking over from the fired Kevin O'Neill. After a 13-year NBA playing career, he was an assistant for two seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks and was on the staff of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats as an assistant when the Raptors gave him his first head coaching job.

Mitchell becomes the third NBA coach to be fired already this season after Oklahoma City fired P.J. Carlisemo and Washington axed Eddie Jordan last month.


Media Giant Ted Rogers Dies

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(December 02, 2008) Ted Rogers, the founder of the communications empire that bears his name, has died at his Toronto home at the age of 75.

The founder of Rogers Communications Inc. was admitted to hospital on Oct. 30 for treatment of an existing heart condition.

A statement from the company's board of directors says Rogers was surrounded by loved ones when he died at his home.

Rogers, who has long been listed as one of Canada's wealthiest people, earlier handed over his corporate duties to Rogers chairman Alan Horn.

The company owns the Toronto Blue Jays and their home the Rogers Centre, five Citytv television stations across the country, as well as the Rogers cable, wireless, radio and television businesses.

Tributes to Ted Rogers

His legacy will be one of connecting family, to friends and to information through his telecommunications and publishing empire, and also through his philanthropic work, like his recent $15 million contribution to Ryerson University.
- Toronto Mayor David Miller

He did a lot of good for us and he will be missed.
- Premier Dalton McGuinty

Ted Rogers was one of the greatest entrepreneurs and builders our country has ever seen. For us at CTVglobemedia, he was both a wonderful partner and very tough competitor. But at all times, he was a gentleman and his word was his bond.
– Ivan Fecan, CEO of CTVglobemedia.

He was a visionary, an entrepreneur and a nationalist. People are often described as great Canadians. Ted Rogers represented the gold standard when it comes to great Canadians.
– Ontario PC Leader and former Rogers executive John Tory.

Though Ted was relentless in business and building this company over the years, he was also very much a family man. His impact on family, community and country was as impressive as his business success.
– Phil Lind, Rogers   vice-chairman.


Affordable Caribbean

Source: Movie Entertainment, Melanie Reffes

(December 2008) When the winter winds start to blow and the snow begins to fall, thoughts turn to a vacation under the tropical sun. And with a little creativity after the less-than-stellar year on Bay St., even the cash-strapped can head to the sunfreckled beaches and gin-clear ocean without breaking the bank. So swap that seaside villa for a hilltop hotel and you’ll discover travel on a shoestring is the real deal.

The perennial favourite, Jamaica is easy to get to, with plenty of flights from various cities. An all-inclusive hotel is the best bet because tipping is not allowed and you can cavort at the swim-up bar without taking out your credit card. Leading the pack in Montego Bay, Breezes fronts Doctor’s Cave beach, famous for its healing waters, which might come in handy if you took a bath in the stock market. With three restaurants and a rooftop Jacuzzi, $119 U.S. per night will warm your heart and your wallet. www.superclubs.com

“Hold this vial of sugar water and the birds will come to you.” With that directive, Fritz Beckford welcomes nature buffs who rise with the sun to watch birds in the wild. Close to MoBay, Rockland Bird Sanctuary is an untouristy tourist attraction with no snack bar, gift shop or website and an admission fee of just $8 U.S. Good eats don’t have to stretch the budget, either. Scotchies is a no-frills bonanza where a dinner for two of roasted breadfruit, frosty Red Stripe beer and chicken blackened in fiery peppers will come in under $20.

Another favourite of the winter weary and the penny pinched, Barbados beckons with beaches, bargains and a trio of Almondall-inclusive resorts. The newest, Casuarina Beach, starts as low as $300 U.S. per night, per room (not per person), which includes fine dining at a choice of three restaurants, unlimited margaritas at four bars, state-of the- art gym, tennis court, water activities and a Kids Club so the grown-ups can spend a quiet afternoon on the beach. “With the current economic situation, value is very important and the best value is an all inclusive,” says Wendy Cole, vice-president of sales and marketing. “It is the only way to afford a vacation without the guilt.” www.almondresorts.com

In Paynes’s Bay, blink and you’ll miss it, which would be a shame, because Connie de Grill Master dishes up fall- off-the-bone ribs at his roadside stall. When he’s not “de Grill Master,” Connie is in the kitchen at the swishy Sandy Lane resort, where his claim to fame, apart from his rib recipe, is the dinner he cooked for Tiger Woods’s wedding.

Practically next door, Grenada is all about spices, sugary sand and an azure sea. Facing Grand Anse Beach, Jenny’s Place — www.jennysplacegrenada.com — is owned by Jenny Hosten, Grenada’s first and only Miss World. With rates starting at $60 U.S. including Wi-Fi, should the urge strike to check your stocks, you’ll have plenty of cash for day-tripping, underwater exploring and a stop at the market for a sack of fresh nutmeg that costs less than a bottle of beer.

And if it’s Friday, head to the coastal village of Gouyave for the Fish Fry. Chefs grill and sauté marlin and snapper till the wee hours and with the streets groovin’ with reggae and calypso, this may be the best bargain under the starry skies.

Sun, sand and savings:


Caribbean Provides Value-Added Packages For The Winter 2008-09 Season

Source: Lou Hammond & Associates

(December 3, 2008) NEW YORK – The Caribbean region (www.CaribbeanTravel.com) is offering a variety of last-minute travel deals with value-added escape packages this holiday and winter season. These market-mindful values are available throughout 2009 for travelers seeking a romantic getaway or a vacation with the family.

“These select hotel values along with the increasing number of new direct flights to the region, make this 2009 winter season the perfect time to enjoy the warm-weather beaches of the Caribbean,” said Hugh Riley, acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. “Travelers who are reluctant to forego their vacation considering the current economic climate, should take advantage of these deals being offered throughout the holiday season and beyond.”

In the coming months, offers in the Caribbean include:


The Verandah Resort & Spa and St. James’s Club & Villas, two eco-friendly, upscale family resorts, grant parents’ vacation wishes with a new holiday “Kids Stay, Play and Eat Free” program. This program allows up to two children to stay and dine free per room when sharing the same accommodations with their parents, with a maximum of two adults and two children per room. Rates start at $635 based on double occupancy. All food, beverages, room accommodations, activities, non-motorized water sports, taxes and gratuities are included and air credit of $2,000 is available Dec. 23, 2008 – Jan. 3, 2009. The credit is available Dec. 21, 2008 –  Jan. 6, 2009, when booked by December 1, 2008. For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-345-0356 or visit www.eliteislandvacations.com.


Elbow Beach, Bermuda offers the “Suite Temptations” promotion now through Mar. 31, 2009. The package includes a complimentary fourth night free when booking a three-night stay with continental breakfast for two, VIP services, a welcome amenity and a $50 voucher for an 80-minute spa treatment. Reservations must be made by Dec. 31, 2008. For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-223 7434 or visit www.mandarinoriental.com/bermuda.


Hilton Santo Domingo offers savings of up to 50 percent off on holiday getaways. From Dec. 12, 2008 – Jan. 11, 2009, rates start at $110 per night, based on single or double occupancy. Rates do not include 26 percent tax. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.hiltoncaribbean.com.

PUNTACANA Resort & Club is offering the “Winter Caribbean 3-Day Spa Getaway” Dec. 12, 2008 – Apr. 12, 2009. The package includes deluxe accommodations, fine dining each night at a choice of three of the resort’s restaurants, VIP roundtrip transfers and a lunch at The Grill at the Club House. Rates start at $240 per night. Guests who book will be treated to a luxurious treatment at Six Senses Spa, one of the world's premiere spa destinations. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.puntacana.com.


Grenada True Blue Bay Resort & Villas is offering the “Surf and Turf Adventure Package” Dec. 15, 2008 – Dec. 14, 2009. The package includes seven-nights accommodations, continental breakfast buffet, River Tubing and Sulfur Pond Tours and a Sea Fun Adventure Cruise. Rates start at $1,025 based on double occupancy and $607 based on single supplement. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.truebluebay.com.

Maca Bana’s “Rejuvenate for 2009 Package” is available from Jan. 1 – 31, 2009 and includes a seven-night stay in a one-bedroom villa, airport transfers, daily maid service and stocked welcome fridge. Rates start at $1,923 per person inclusive of all taxes and service charge. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.macabana.com.


Sandals Grande Ocho Rios is providing 60 percent off value rates for guests traveling now through Dec. 26, 2009, starting at $152 per person per night. Additionally, guests who book seven nights or more in a Great House Premium room category or higher by Dec. 22, 2008 and travel by Dec. 26, 2009, will also be rewarded with a $250 credit to the exclusive Red Lane Spa. For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-SANDALS or visit www.sandals.com.


Nisbet Plantation Beach Club is offering guests a free night’s stay on Christmas Day, a bottle of champagne and a massage when booking a seven night getaway. For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-742-6008 or visit www.nisbetplantation.com.


Golden Lemon Inn is offering the “All-Inclusive Winter Special” from Dec. 16, 2008 – Apr. 15, 2009. The package includes the choice of a spacious room in the romantic Great Hour or a one-or-two bedroom Beach-side Villa with private plunge pool, full American breakfast served in the Great Hour Pool-side Garden or Front Gallery, complimentary lunches, gourmet dinners nightly, bar well drinks, airport transfers and a half-day sightseeing tour. Rates start at $650 per couple based on double occupancy. For more information or to book a reservation, call 869-465-7260 or visit www.goldenlemon.com.


Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort is offering vacationers 50 percent in “Sun Dollars” savings now through Apr. 19, 2009. Sun Dollars are valid for exciting activities and amenities such as spa treatments at the resort’s Serenity Spa; fine wine; a room upgrade; Zip Lining through the Rainforest and horseback riding. This new increase gives travelers half back on their vacation dollars in resort credit. Sun Dollars are not refundable or redeemable for cash, and are credited to the guests’ bill upon check-in and are applied toward resort purchases.   For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-345-0356 or visit www.windjammer-landing.com.


Beaches Turks & Caicos Resort Villages & Spa invites the entire family to take advantage of its exclusive “Beaches Resorts’ Family Reunion Package” with a discounted rate of up to 55 percent off. The package includes a private Caribbean cocktail reception, Caribbean-inspired family reunion activities, a family portrait session courtesy of Beaches Resorts’ Snap Shots studios, a complimentary 5 x 7 family photograph, private check-in for the entire family, a special farewell cake and nightly group gourmet dining. For more information or to book a reservation, visit www.beaches.com.

Seven Stars Resort is offering complimentary nights now through May 31, 2009. Guests who book a three or more night stay get one night complimentary. Guests who book at least seven nights get two nights free. Guests also receive a 20 percent resort discount on all food and beverage, spa treatments and boutique purchases. Daily rates start at $485.  No blackout periods apply, including Christmas and New Year’s. The program is valid for all room categories. Offers cannot be combined and are subject to availability. For more information or to book a reservation, call 866-570-7777 or visit www.sevenstarsresort.com.


Bolongo Bay Beach Resort offers the “Holiday Celebrations Special” featuring a savings of 20 percent off the resort’s European Plan (EP). The package is available on all EP bookings of five nights from Dec. 15, 2008 – Jan. 15, 2009.  Nightly rates start at $96 per person per room, based on double occupancy. Rates quoted do not include 15 percent tax, service charges and $5 per day energy surcharge. For more information or to book a reservation, call 800-524-4746 or visit www.bolongobay.com.

The Westin St. John Resort & Villas is offering value-driven deals with its “Sunsational Savings” program now through Dec. 31, 2009. The program offers a fifth night free to guests who book a four night stay, a sixth night free plus a $150 resort credit to guests who book a five night stay or a seventh night free plus a $200 resort credit for guests who book a six night stay. Nightly rates start at $489. For more information or to book a reservation, call 877-782-0149 and request rate code SUNFREE or visit www.westinresortstjohn.com.

Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort & Spa is offering the “Sweet Caribbean Holiday Getaway” Dec. 24, 2008 – Jan. 1, 2009 with rates starting at $470 per night. The package includes buffet breakfast daily, a gourmet marketplace lunch option, dinner in one of the resort’s three restaurants, à la carte dining, tropical drinks, nightly themed dinners with live calypso music, kayaking, windsurfing and other non-motorized water sports. All-inclusive rates start at $719 per night based on double occupancy. One child ages 3-12 per adult may stay, eat and play at no additional charge and rates for children ages 13-17 are $95 per night. For more information or to book a reservation, call 877-999-3223 or visit www.wyndham.com.

The Caribbean Tourism Development Company

The Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) is a marketing and business development unit, owned equally by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). Its mission is to own, promote, protect, advance and enhance the Caribbean brand.  The CTDC combines the resources of the Caribbean region’s destinations, accommodations and service providers to create a viable, cohesive, business unit that is able to identify commercial opportunities and allow the members of CHTA and CTO to benefit collectively from those opportunities in ways that individually they could not.  In all its endeavours the company engages only in activities that honour the Caribbean brand.


Radio One, Toronto's No. 1

Source: www.thestar.com - Greg Quill,
Entertainment Columnist

(November 28, 2008) For the first time in radio ratings history, CBC Radio One (99.1 FM) ranks as the top station in the Toronto radio market, according to the all-important fall 2008 audience survey, published yesterday by BBM (Bureau of Broadcast Measurement) Canada.

Radio One increased its share of total hours tuned by Toronto area listeners over the age of 12 by a full 1 percentage point, to 9.4 per cent, and enlarged its reach (the number of local listeners who tuned in for at least 15 minutes each week) by 53,700, to 696,100 over the same period in 2007.

The network's local morning show, Metro Morning with Andy Barrie, continues to hold top place in its time slot with a 12.9 per cent share of hours tuned.

"These results are hugely gratifying," said Denise Donlon, executive director of CBC Radio. "We've held listeners right across the schedule, in non-news programs."

The fall ratings "book," reflecting listening habits in September and October, determines advertising rates charged by commercial radio stations for the coming year.

Radio One bumped adult-contemporary music stations and perennial Toronto market favourites, CTVglobemedia's CHUM-FM (104.5) and Rogers' CHFI-FM (98.1), into second and third places respectively. CHUM-FM is down by 0.1 of a percentage point over the previous fall book, to 8.8 per cent for hours tuned, despite an increased reach, up almost 148,000 to 1.034 million. CHFI-FM's share fell by a whopping 1.2 percentage points, to 8.4 per cent, with a diminished reach, now 745,200.

CBC Radio One broke multiple regional and national records in the survey, including: an all-time high share of 11.1 per cent of total hours tuned nationwide, up from 9.9 per cent a year ago, and an audience of 3,460,100, up 240,000.

The network has also grown its audience in both the under-50 and over-65 demographic groups in the past year. Radio One has an 8.6 per cent share of hours tuned by listeners in the 35-49 demographic, up from a 7 per cent share a year ago.

Other notable gains in the fall book were made by Corus Radio's classic rock station Q107, which now ranks fourth in Toronto with a 7.3 share (up 1 percentage point) and a reach of 749,200 (up 90,000), and Rogers Media's 680 News, which ranks fifth, with a 5.4 share (also up a full point) and a reach of 1.062 million, up by 203,500.

680 News knocked long-time Top 5 champ NewsTalk 1010 (CFRB), now owned by Astral Media, down to sixth place, with a 5.3 share and a local reach of 471,400.

Astral's other recent Toronto radio acquisition, the adult contemporary station EZ Rock (97.3 FM), fell to ninth place, with a 4.7 share.

CBC Radio Two, which had just changed its format to contemporary Canadian music after a loud row with its classical music fans, saw its share fall to 1.9 per cent.

Swagger An Odd Addition At Legend's Concert

Source: www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry,
Pop & Jazz Critic

(November 30, 2008) My favourite part of John Legend's Friday night concert was the encore.

At the behest of an imploring capacity crowd, the Ohio native emerged from the wings of Roy Thomson Hall wearing a suit and sang "Ordinary People" while accompanying himself on piano.

The Grammy-winning tune from the 29-year-old's 2004 debut Get Lifted is his best song: a realistic narrative about the hard work of monogamy which contains the lines "Though it's not a fantasy/ I still want you to stay."

The words showcased his bona fides as a lyricist; his rich, beseeching voice shone without the ten-piece band; and he displayed the leadership skills of the erstwhile choir director turned record label boss that he is by guiding the audience through the bridge with an authoritative "c'mon" when they hesitated at the high notes.

That was followed by a rousing version of change anthem "If You're Out There" which Legend performed at the Democratic National Convention. In closing, he encouraged attendees to donate to his African charity, cementing his reputation as an entertainer with a social conscience.

It was a classy finale to the meandering, 100-minute show which began with black-and-white footage of Legend as tough guy taking on a phantom opponent in a boxing ring. Then the singer, clad in black leather jacket, tight grey leather pants, white T-shirt, fingerless gloves and sunglasses, emerged from the rear of the theatre, walked through the audience to the stage and posed with an index finger in the air to sing the first tune "Used To Love U."

It's the kind of swaggering entrance that would bring fans of Jay-Z or T.I. to their feet; this audience cheered his arrival, but seemed perplexed by gospel-rooted Legend's gangsta pose.

There was so much posturing at times, I expected him to do the Michael Jackson crotch grab and tunnel scream. Thankfully, the grinding was subdued when Legend brought a female fan onstage for "Slow Dance," though he did fall to one knee, putting his face awfully close to her nether region.

Legend is best when seated at the piano, band at the minimum, with simple lighting and no distractions, when intensity is wrought by emotion rather than volume. He's a masterful musician – highlighted by the improvised piano-vocal transition from the ballad "So High" to club jam "Green Light" – with plenty of Stevie Wonder years ahead of him, so I guess an Usher phase is allowed.

Looking like Sam Cooke in skinny pants and V-neck sweater and sounding like '60s era Motown, opening act
Rafael Saadiq delivered a surprisingly fierce set from his current retro disc The Way I See It.

Nagata Is Fit To Be A Taiko Drummer

www.thestar.com - John Terauds, Classical Music Critic

(November 28, 2008) Most musicians don't have to live like a cross between a monk and a marathon runner on a remote island to perfect their craft.

Unless they practice taiko, the art of Japanese drumming. Toronto native
Kiyoshi Nagata, at 38, is one of the masters of a musical art form that was dragged out of the tradition-bound confines of court music and Shinto religious ritual into public performance in the 1950s.

His take on the current state of the art is on display Saturday night at the Ryerson Theatre, in celebration of a new album as well as the 10th-anniversary of his group, Nagata Shachu (Japanese for Nagata Ensemble).

The concert features various sizes and types of daiko (drums) being played on stage, alongside traditional Japanese melodic instruments such as the shinobue (bamboo flute) and shamisen (three-stringed lute), plus vocals.

"Taiko is such a visual art form. There's choreography. There's big movements. To listen to it live, you can feel the vibrations, it's very loud," says Nagata before one of two community classes he teaches every Monday at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

He also teaches at the University of Toronto, where he has 18 first-year and eight second-year students. In everything he does with taiko, Nagata tries to balance past, present and future. He explains that creativity comes from respecting tradition and working within it.

"I think there is still lots to be said within that framework," says Nagata. "It's like a haiku poem, where you are limited to a certain number of syllables, but the possibilities are endless."

Nagata Shachu's new album, Tsuzure (Tapestry), reflects the breadth of expression possible on the combination of drums and melodic instruments. It is a richly layered 11-track offering, parts of which get a live performance on Saturday.

In the traditional Japanese costume the group uses in performance, Nagata hardly looks like a second-generation Canadian who grew up in Richmond Hill and went to University of Toronto to study economics and political science.

He was 11 when he was bitten by the taiko bug after seeing a live performance at the long-defunct Caravan festival. By age 16 he was leading a taiko group at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

In university, he decided to make taiko his life. "In 1992, I moved to Japan and lived there for two years. My ultimate goal was to study with the Kodo Drummers," Nagata says.

That group was founded by Oguchi Daihachi, a jazz drummer who fell in love with the possibilities of taiko after World War II. Nagata was profoundly influenced by Daihachi, who was killed in a roadway accident in July.

Nagata signed up for a two-year apprenticeship with the Kodo Drummers on the Japanese island of Sado.

"I lived with five other apprentices, all of them were from Japan. We lived communally in an old, drafty schoolhouse," Nagata relates. They had to wake up every morning at 4:30 and run for 10 kilometres.

"You practice literally from 8 o'clock in the morning to around 6 o'clock at night and then you have your own individual practices in the evening, six days a week for the year. It's pretty intense. It's like boot camp," he adds.

"Their rules were no smoking, no drinking, no girlfriends." Nagata laughs.

"The acceptance letter said I had to bring my own clothes, my own futon and a planer."

The last item was a mystery, until he discovered he would need it to make his own drumsticks. The daily running – something Nagata has kept up – is good preparation for the sheer physical and mental concentration required of taiko.

"I can't think of any other musical art form that is as much of a physical workout or that uses as much arm movement," says the Toronto master.

Just the facts
WHAT: Nagata Shachu

WHERE: Ryerson Theatre, 43 Gerrard St. E.

WHEN: Saturday @ 8 p.m.

TICKETS: $20-$30 @ 416-978-8849 or www.uofttix.ca

Rap Producer Marco Polo Returns To 'Screwface Capital'

Source: www.thestar.com - Nick Aveling,
Staff Reporter

(November 30, 2008) The chances of making it big in Toronto's famously cynical hip-hop scene are about the same as being struck by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket at a Notorious B.I.G. concert.

So when
Marco Bruno, the 28-year-old Toronto-bred producer known as Marco Polo, set his mind to making beats for some of the most legendary names in hip-hop, he skipped town. Fast.

"Right now, unfortunately, (Toronto) still has that title of being the Screwface Capital – and it's wack, but it's the truth," said Marco, who graduated from the Harris Institute for the Arts' engineering program in 2002. "To be honest that's part of the reason why I left. I didn't feel that support from other artists. It's so hard to make it in Toronto because nobody wants to work together. Every opportunity they get to blow up or make money, they don't want to share that. There's no movement."

Marco settled in New York City, the Mecca of hip-hop, and promptly got down to the business of fetching coffee and answering phones for no pay at Manhattan's Cutting Room Studio. But after studio sessions with Talib Kweli, Mos Def, De La Soul and pre-fame Kanye West, it wasn't long before word spread throughout the underground hip-hop community that some kid from Toronto was producing "dope beats."

"I just knew I had to keep working hard on those beats and perfecting my craft until the word got around," said Marco.

In 2007 his debut album Port Authority hit the streets. Not a keyboard was harmed during the making of the album – which features a litany of rappers over-top beats produced exclusively by Marco – because not a keyboard was used. Instead, the album was entirely sample-based – a production technique scarcely heard on the radio in the last decade.

Staying true to the early- to mid-'90s boom-bap aesthetic – "boom-bap" being an onomatopoeic nod to the ferocity of the kick and snare drums – the album was unapologetically rooted in New York's Golden Era. And so were its featured rappers, many of whose careers peaked, at least commercially, during that time.

But to anyone who had been listening to hip-hop for as long as Marco, Port Authority's line-up read like a hall of fame ballot: O.C., Masta Ace, Buckshot and Kool G Rap, your favourite rapper's favourite rappers, all made appearances. The album's lead single, "Nostalgia," seemed to say it all.

"I'm not blind to how things are going," said Marco. "A lot of these rappers I grew up listening to are not at the forefront as they once were, but that's just where I came from and that's what I always wanted to do. I don't even look at it as a style of hip-hop. I just make the beats that I want to make."

Marco will be back in Toronto this Thursday, remaking the beats he wants to make live on stage at the Beat Lounge II production showcase.

"It focuses on local Toronto producers and showcases their material. They called me up to be the feature producer. I'm going to be doing a 45-minute set with DJ Linx. I'm going to load beats up on my MPC, and he's going to play songs that I've produced, and we're going to go back and forth," he said.

And while he's there, he might just find some local talent for his next album.

"(Toronto has) so many dope artists that make good music, but the examples that get heard are not the best," said Marco. "We have diverse talent."

Marco Polo performs at Beat Lounge II at the Silver Dollar Room (486 Spadina Ave.) on Thursday, Dec. 4 at 10:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 at Rotate This, Soundscapes

Sarah Brightman: Goddess Of Chaste

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Music Critic

(November 30, 2008) With her little-girl voice and elaborate frou-frou dresses, Sarah Brightman comes across as musical Ritalin for attention-challenged listeners.

Is this because the British artist can't let go of the child inside – or is she a shrewd judge of her times?

Like Madonna, Jay Chou, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra – and most other recent and upcoming multimedia spectacles to blow audience ears and minds at the Air Canada Centre – Brightman sells millions of albums, inspires hundreds of fan sites, and soothes many a troubled breast.

As is the case with her frequent singing companion Andrea Bocelli, either you love the singing or you loathe it, and there's no changing anybody's opinion about that. So let's not even dare question the music itself.

But Brightman is about so much more than music. Our collective love of big-scale entertainment consistently trumps highbrow quality standards, and is as old as our great civilizations.

The ruins of old cultures are dotted with giant temples and yawning amphitheatres. French king Louis XIV's theatre at Versailles could literally move heaven and earth with its mind-blowing backstage mechanics. Surely Mozart's Vienna would have loved André Rieu's reproduction Schönbrunn Palace as much as Torontonians did last winter.

With her high-tech Symphony tour in full sail across North America – landing at the Air Canada Centre tonight – Brightman sits near the top of the pop-star pantheon for over-the-top visual theatrics.

These days, only Madonna seems to play a stronger hand. Which leads to an interesting comparison: In the post-feminist world, both performers portray themselves as goddesses – very, very different kinds of goddesses.

For her Sticky & Sweet tour, Madonna appeared in a cloud, astride a throne, black-booted leg provocatively swung over the giant chair's right arm. Brightman loves nothing more than to fly atop her stage, released from the mortal bounds of gravity like a guardian angel.

Madonna is our Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love who married the unattractive Hephaestus and went on to become associated with adulterous love. The Romans called her Venus – different name, but as naughty as ever.

Brightman is Artemis (Diana, to the Romans), the goddess of hunting who represented light and chastity as she swanned about the bucolic mountains of Arcadia.

On stage, these women are locked in a pseudo-immortality arrested somewhere in teenagehood – Madge smoking covertly with the other bad grrls at recess, Sarah rehearsing the role of Mary for the Christmas pageant.

It's probably pushing the parallels too far to show how both women are roughly the same age and astrological sign (Madonna, born Aug. 16, 1958; Brightman, born Aug. 14, 1960) and that they began their performing careers as dancers. Voice and acting came later.

Madonna has sold somewhere north of 60 million albums. Brightman has flogged about 15 million of her own, not counting earlier successes in Andrew Lloyd Webber musical mega hits such as Phantom of the Opera.

A live performance by Madonna & Co. is like a drug-fuelled party. The Sticky & Sweet tour concert at the Air Canada Centre was a bombardment of images and sound.

The Brightman experience is more like a long, pleasant daydream.

They know how to pick collaborators: Madonna used Eric Jao, a.k.a. DJ Enferno, to juice up the crowd. The more sedate Brightman has invited Greek pop-opera tenor Mario Frangoulis to begin stirring the emotional pot tonight.

And full control of the creative process is paramount.

"I do all of it," says a surprisingly relaxed and affable-sounding Brightman, on the phone from Ottawa this week. "I've never made a big deal of it, because it's something I've done from the very beginning. It's my pleasure to put it together. I have so much experience doing what I do that I could work on other people's shows." She admits to considering theatrical production as her next career move.

Besides two new albums (Symphony and its Christmas-themed companion, Winter Symphony), Brightman's tour is pushing stage technology up a notch.

A South Africa-developed 3-D projection system sets Brightman afloat in a variety of elaborate visual atmospheres. "It's like a breath of fresh air," she says of the technology that wasn't available four years ago for her Harem tour.

For Brightman, "the spectacle runs alongside the music." She is proud that "the whole visual side has become stronger as I get older."

Symphony takes her audience on a series of voyages. "My career has lasted about 30 years now. It's been this amazing journey," Brightman says. "I picked feelings and understandings of visual things to create a series of journeys."

She describes a Dorothy-in-Oz sequence, a gothic Phantom of the Opera-inspired section, even an Alice in Wonderland fantasy. (There's that little-girl thing again.)

The subject of goddesses doesn't come up. But when she is asked who she sings to in a packed stadium, she replies: "I always sing the song for somebody – it's one person, yet many people."

Isn't that the way all goddesses make us feel special?

Eldredge Jackson's 'Pleasure' Principles

www.eurweb.com - By Kenya M Yarbrough

(December 01, 2008) *Jazz saxophonist Eldredge Jackson has released his highly anticipated disc, “Listening Pleasure," and is making a name for himself with the help of some great names of the genre.

The CD boasts the “fresh, explosive energy” that the artist is bringing to contemporary jazz, laced over the production of legendary bassist Wayman Tisdale and producer Preston Glass.

“It came about from the place that any musician who looks to put a CD out or something that comes from within,” Jackson said of the inspiration for the disc. “And having this gift of music that has been given to me as a child, it’s been a long-awaited dream of mine to have a CD and to be able to finally produce a CD (with) Wayman Tisdale. When we got started on it, he was not only the first person; he was the only person – with his knowledge of the industry – to work with me on this. We collaborated on about nine or ten of the songs on the project.”

Jackson also recruited Preston Glass for the project. Glass is a renowned songwriter and producer who’s worked with the likes of Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, George Benson, Kirk Whalum, and Earth, Wind & Fire just to name a few.

“He produced the (Lionel Richie) ‘Hello’ track and the Michael Jackson ‘Rock With You’ remix track (on the CD). I was deeply honoured to have him be a part of this as well,” Jackson said.

The artist explained that he thought of redoing Richie’s 1984 hit “Hello” while he was driving and listening to the radio in his car.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this song was awesome back when it originally came out. This may not be a bad song to see if we can put the sax to it and see what we can come up with.’ So when we got in the studio and started playing around with it we thought, ‘We’ve got to do this.’”

    Jackson added that that was the pretty much the same process in doing the 1979 Michael Jackson hit “Rock With You.”

“Michael Jackson – another great inspiration to the music industry,” he said. “So I thought ‘Let’s see how this would sound if we slowed it down and put a little groove to it and see what we come up with.’ We tested it out and the vibe that we received from playing it, we thought maybe this is something we can cover and add that flavour to, as they say.”

Jackson told EUR’s Lee Bailey that most of the album was recorded at Tisdale’s studio, The Basement Studios, so he had the opportunity to work with the former NBA forward in writing, composing, and directly in producing the album and selecting music, like his track “I Like That.”

“I got a call about 11:00 one night and it was Wayman and he said he had a song I had to listen to,” Jackson said. “I went over to his place, he started playing it and I started saying, ‘I like that. I like that.’ And he said, ‘Well, that’s what we’ll call it.’ So that’s how it came about. I added the melody to it and there you have it.”

“One thing about Wayman that I really appreciate is [that he gives] me the space to be creative and make sure that my creativity was in the forefront and being able to express the music that I have and that goes from the likes of the title track, ‘Listening Pleasure,’” he said. “That was a song that I wrote many, many years ago and had a chance to let Wayman listen to it. When he first heard it, he loved it, and he immediately said, ‘This is your style and your sound; this is one out of your heart.’”

For your “Listening Pleasure,” check out Eldredge Jackson’s sound at www.eldredgejackson.com.

“The response that we receive when we’re playing the songs is overwhelming, so I am very pleased with how the project turned out.”

Tough Year Brings BNL 'Closer Together'

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Michael Posner

(December 01, 2008) It has been an annus horribilis for Canadian pop band Barenaked Ladies, but things look like they might be starting to turn around.

In July, co-founder and lead singer Steven Page was arrested in New York State and charged with a felony, possession of a controlled substance (cocaine). The charges were later reduced to misdemeanours, and adjourned until April, at which time it's expected they will be dropped.

A month after Page's arrest, BNL co-founder Ed Robertson's Cessna 206 float plane crashed near Baptiste Lake, north of Bancroft, Ont. Miraculously, he and his wife and two friends walked away without a scratch.

Now, interpreting these events as a kind of wake-up call, the 20-year-old band that has sold 12 million records and become a household name is starting to put itself back on its professional legs.

The events of the past several months “have brought us closer together,” drummer Tyler Stewart said on Friday, as the band took a break from their latest project: recording a cover of the former Hockey Night in Canada theme song. “Any time one member of the group has a problem, we tend to rally. And I think that person becomes a better person because of it.

“I watched [keyboardist] Kevin Hearn, after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1998, become an ambassador. He handled that incredibly gracefully. And Steven has also handled this quite gracefully and is working hard to improve himself, and get to some of the underlying issues that lead to things like that. I've seen him really improve as a human being over the last six months. He's working hard on himself. It's the whole rock-bottom thing or not even rock-bottom – just something that slaps you awake.”

Later this month, they'll have four concerts at Toronto's Massey Hall, including two matinees based on their best-selling children's album Snacktime, two more at Ottawa's National Arts Centre, and a New Year's Eve show at Detroit's Fox Theatre. In February, they'll embark on their third annual four-day Ships and Dip Caribbean cruise cum musical festival, with Sloan, The Weakerthans and Great Big Sea (among several other bands) and some members of the Kids in the Hall comedy troupe.

And next April, after writing and recording some new songs, the band will begin a 20th anniversary North American tour.

After Page's arrest and Robertson's plane crash, Stewart says he had friends calling to say, “ ‘Don't leave your back yard.' But I think there's an opportunity to rise out of it. We've been through 20 years together, a miracle to begin with, and we've had a lot of trials and tribulations. A lot of things you wished had never happened. But it's the old adage, ‘What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.' I kind of believe that these days.”

Despite their two decades together, says Stewart, “in some ways, it sort of feels like it's back to square one. We feel our best work is still ahead of us. … This whole thing has made us realize that when we're out doing what we were put on the Earth to do, make music and make people happy, we're doing the right thing. So we need to do our thing. Sometimes you don't know what that is until somebody almost takes it away from you.”

The 45-second BNL cover of the iconic hockey anthem has a banjo-driven bluegrass sound and will include a brief vocal. Sports channel TSN is inviting other famous Canadian bands to rerecord the song for later use on TSN and RDS hockey broadcasts. The band Simple Plan was the first to participate.

“The song is so memorable,” says Stewart, a major hockey fan. “Too bad for the CBC, but finally the artist [composer Dolores Claman] got [her] due and wasn't screwed out of the money [she] should be getting. It's iconic because of the repetition, yes, but also because the music is incredibly good. … And she wrote an incredible percussion part.”

The Barenaked Ladies' version of the tune will debut this month.

Cross-Country Concerts Mark World AIDS Day

www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(November 27, 2008) A trio of free concerts will grace stages in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto this weekend, forming the first national event to mark
World AIDS Day.

The events, dubbed Voices of Hope, mark the 20th anniversary of the international awareness day on Dec. 1.

Jazz diva Molly Johnson will host the Toronto event on Monday, while Friday night CBC Radio broadcaster Kelly Rice and writer-broadcaster Bill Richardson will lead the Montreal and Vancouver concerts respectively.

The three organizers – the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation (Vancouver), Casey House (Toronto) and La Maison du Parc (Montreal) – have enlisted performers including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Conservatory Academy Orchestra, the Metropolitan Silver Band and the Toronto Men's Chorus.

The Toronto event will also feature a 54-bell carillon concert by candlelight. Hosted in local churches, the repertoire will include works by Bach, Handel, Mozart and Vivaldi.

Organizers hope to promote awareness of some alarming recent trends in the spread of HIV/AIDS. The number of Canadian cases is rising, particularly in Ontario where infection rates have equalled those of the epidemic's peak in 1984. And cases of AIDS among adults aged 15 to 29 are increasing.

The concerts are also meant to help break the stigma that still surrounds the disease while honouring those whose lives it has taken.

“There's so much you can possibly do, but it's never enough,” said Toronto performer Eugene (Dr.) Draw, an electric violinist and veteran of AIDS benefits whose father ran the first AIDS clinic in Soviet Russia in the late 1980s.

Draw believes firmly in the arts as a way of raising funds and dispelling misconceptions about the disease, another conviction he inherited from his father, who started a theatre and dance company as part of his clinic work “to cut down the alienation” of people with AIDS.

Casey House chief executive officer Stephanie Karapita said she hopes this year's model will spread to become a countrywide event.

Broadway's Best Kept Secret: Chester Gregory

Source: J'ai St. Laurent-Smyth, Inque Public Relations, inquepr@comcast.net, inquepr@gmail.com

(December 03, 2008)  *Chester Gregory is currently acclaimed as one of the most dynamic musical theatre presences in the entertainment business - a young black man in possession of a powerful five octave voice that has elicited high praise from the late Isaac Hayes, a standing ovation from Michael Jackson and inspired Phil Collins to compose a Broadway song custom made for what his God-given instrument can do.

Now - after several years of blowing audiences away playing the lead in the biographical musical The Jackie Wilson Story, key roles in Hairspray, Tarzan and Cry Baby, and he originated the "Donkey" role for Dreamworks' Shrek on Broadway - Chester Gregory reveals to the R&B/Soul world the regular guy behind all of those dazzling characters...the man in the mirror he faces everyday.

With his sincerely soulful and introspective debut CD In Search of High Love, Chester Gregory introduces himself as a thoughtful and sensitive songwriter blessed with a voice that captivates and demands attention. Each song is either a true to life tale spun from a life spent in heavy pursuit of love (and the lessons that brings) or an old school soul classic that will warm hearts within a whole new generation.

"The best way to describe my album In Search of High Love is a soulful journey of self-discovery through the ups and downs of love, ultimately resulting in self realization" Chester shares. "The path of learning to love yourself and love God before you can love someone else. While I've thoroughly enjoyed performing on Broadway - eight shows a week of telling other people's amazing stories - I have a personal one I'd like to express. I hope people enjoy this music and can get into the overall message I'm trying to share."

From the sunny, feel-good soul of "On and On" to the quiet fire of the power piano ballad "Questions" (with hooks that the man telegraphs straight to your heart with spine-tingling passion), Chester Gregory steps up as a man unafraid to lay his emotions on the line. As prepared by producers Grammy-winner Dave Tozer (John Legend), PJ Morton (India.Arie) and David Liang (Carl Thomas), as well as peers Afta-1, Nevi-Nev and J. Most, Chester's roof raising stage voice is massaged into musical settings that will melt R&B lovers' hearts.

Highlights of Chester's CD include the poetically perplexing "Clouds to the Ground" (an interlude that likens the sensual attraction of a mysterious woman to the gravitational pull of the earth's atmosphere), a digital lounge take on the doo wop gem "I Only Have Eyes For You" (graced with the mesmerizing harmonized layering of Chester's elastic voice) and the crossover-bound "Say it's Over" (featuring sexy guest rapper Farrah Burns and a sample from Kenny Loggins' "This is It" that was also recently used by Kirk Franklin - proving creative minds think alike). There's also the spacey, four-on-the-floor club pump of Jackie Wilson's soaring 1967 chart-topper "Higher and Higher," balanced nicely by the completely contemporary "High Love" - a heavy backbeat ballad laced with bluesy guitar changes and Chester's smoothed out voice delivering some seriously mackalicious likes. "I don't wanna roll trees / The only thing I wanna smoke is you / It sounds insane / You're pumpin' through my veins / And I love this feeling / I get weak / You knock me off my feet / You make me feel so...oooohhhhh" (the last line punctuated with a euphoric falsetto flight that does the master Lenny Williams proud). "Most of my songs come out of me 'having a moment" Chester says elusively.

Gary, Indiana-native Chester Gregory grew up admiring all around entertainers ranging from King of Pop Michael Jackson to triple threat icons Sammy Davis, Jr. and Gregory Hines. Years of dedicated vocal training (surprisingly not in the church) led to a bachelors Degree in Musical Theatre at Columbia College in Chicago.

Now, alongside the successful cast of characters he continues to inhabit in the footlights, Chester Gregory (a.k.a. Chess Gregory) peels back another layer to show the world what he is truly made of with his accomplished and inspired debut CD In Search of High Love. Chester concludes. "My album is a musical expression of healing thru the discovery of love…"

In Search of High Love in stores February 24, 2009 on CD.


Neil Diamond Shines Bright At ACC Show

Source: www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner,
Pop Music Critic

(December 03, 2008) Neil Diamond looks pretty spry for a 67-year-old, but he's obviously getting on enough in years that he feels he should be looking out for the health of his audience.

Don't get me wrong: the 20,000 greying super-fans who took in Diamond's thoroughly enjoyable gig at the Air Canada Centre last night – there's another show for another 20,000 greying super-fans this evening – came to party. That was a pretty major love-in, right there. If he'd reprised the chorus to "Sweet Caroline" just one more time, Forest Hill grandmothers would have been taking chunks out of the seats in front of them with their teeth.

When your crowd is largely closing in on retirement age (or past it altogether), you've got to be cognizant of the fact that many people in the stands perhaps don't get out to shows as much as they once did. Thus, the ACC was courteously treated to two separate pre-show recordings over the P.A. last night warning patrons to take their seats quickly because the show was about to start and "the lights will dim abruptly." Wouldn't want a scene of mass panic and blind stampedes with screams of terror ("Oh my god, it's a blackout!!!") echoing 'round the bowl.

Still, what the room might have lacked in concert-going savvy, it more than made up for in contagious exuberance. This might have been mainly a sit-down, Vegas-y kind of show, but at the slightest suggestion from Diamond that it was time to get up and dance – for more rollicking (if slightly less rollicking than they might have been 30 years ago) standards like "Cherry Cherry" or "Kentucky Woman" or "Forever in Blue Jeans," for instance – that place was on fire. Even the three schoolmarms at the end of my row, who could barely be bothered to move aside when I got up for beer or bathroom, were on their feet, swaying and clapping like proper tent revivalists, by the expected big finale, "Brother Love's Traveling Salvation Show."

And why not? Diamond was the consummate "smoothie" entertainer for the duration of his two-hour show, hitting all the expected marks – surefire singalong moments like "Solitary Man" and "Cracklin' Rosie," along with the bottomless well of baritone ballads ("Love on the Rocks," "You Don't Bring Me Flowers," "Play Me") that had 60-year-old women erupting in girlish screams all night long – and a few less omnipresent oldies such as "Beautiful Noise" and the Hot August Night opener "Crunchy Granola Suite" that no doubt went down well with the diehards.

Material from 2005's 12 Songs and this year's Home Before Dark – Diamond's two recent, acclaimed records with super-producer Rick Rubin – wasn't overlooked, either, with the ruminative, autumn-years balladry of "Home Before Dark" and "Hell Yeah" standing strong against some of his best material.

The songs aren't quite as rustic and stripped-down as Diamond thinks they are, being conducted as they are with the aid of the same 14-piece band he uses for "I Am, I Said," but the chap obviously believes strongly in where he's at right now as a songwriter. He's heading back into the studio with Rubin to record another disc when the tour winds down in January, in fact, so he's probably less interested in standing still musically than his audience might like him to be. He's pretty good to that audience, though, I gotta say, and I get why it dotes on him so much.

Singing Comes Second For Trio Of Priests

Source: www.thestar.com - John Terauds,
Classical Music Critic

(December 03, 2008) There isn't much going on at Queen and Parliament Sts. on Monday nights. But inside the looming St. Paul's Basilica this week, it was standing room only for a concert by three Irish priests who have made an unimaginable journey from rural parishes in Northern Ireland to the world stage.

Fathers Eugene O'Hagan, his younger brother Martin and David Delargy were struck by proverbial lightning last spring, when they were offered a recording contract by Epic, a division of Sony/BMG.

The album, called The Priests, is a mix of traditional and contemporary sacred music. It has already topped the classical charts in Ireland and, if Monday night's reception in Toronto is any indication, will do very well here, too.

You're forgiven for rolling your eyes heavenward at the thought of three 40-something men singing the likes of "Panis Angelicus," "Ave Maria" and "O Holy Night." But, lo and behold, this is good singing – the O'Hagan brothers are classic Irish tenors, Delargy a rich baritone.

The new arrangements of the disc's 14 tracks are free of any sticky sweetness. The orchestral accompaniment is tasteful. The choir backup – recorded at the Vatican – is balanced (as it was Monday night with young singers from St. Michael's Choir School).

After a whirlwind visit to Washington and New York this week, the trio will be back in their parishes in the diocese of Down and Connor to lead masses on the weekend.

They are probably the only recording artists who have a clause in their contract that says their day jobs come first.

Ideally, they won't be away from their Christian flocks more than three days at a time, Martin O'Hagan said in an interview with the Toronto Star yesterday.

O'Hagan looks like he just walked out of a Hollywood casting call for Irish priests: all wavy salt-and-pepper hair, bright blue eyes, a ready smile and engaging burr.

But he is the real deal, a Christian minister who happens to have a lifelong love of singing.

The O'Hagans and Delargy met in high school and have been singing together since 1974, he said.

"We've always had to spin the plates to make sure we maintain the balance between music and the priesthood as well."

His rural parish, "right down by the sea," has about 720 people.

"Music is something that has kept us sane amid all the other pressures we have to face," the priest said with a laugh.

He has sung Messiah umpteen times with local choral societies, especially at this time of year. The annual performances of Handel's great oratorio help "get people into the Christmas spirit," he said.

In Northern Ireland, goodwill toward one's fellow man was often difficult to find during Ulster's protracted bouts of terrorism.

"Music, in that context, was so uplifting, so healing, so enlightening," O'Hagan said. "It helped us journey through the difficulties. Also, in the Troubles, it helped us build bridges and reach across divides. Music helped us overcome any sense of us and them, and helped us celebrate things that we have in common."

This open, inclusive attitude is what gives the Priests a genuineness missing in a world overflowing with manufactured pop acts.

Folk Music Legend Odetta Dies

Source: www.thestar.com - Polly Anderson,
The Associated Press

(December 03, 2008) NEW YORK–Odetta, the folk singer with the powerful voice who moved audiences and influenced fellow musicians for a half-century, has died. She was 77.

Odetta died Tuesday night, said her manager, Doug Yeager.

With her booming, classically trained voice and spare guitar, Odetta gave life to the songs by workingmen and slaves, farmers and miners, housewives and washerwomen, blacks and whites.

First coming to prominence in the 1950s, she influenced Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other singers who had roots in the folk music boom.

An Odetta record on the turntable, listeners could close their eyes and imagine themselves hearing the sounds of spirituals and blues as they rang out from a weathered back porch or around a long-vanished campfire a century before.

"What distinguished her from the start was the meticulous care with which she tried to re-create the feeling of her folk songs; to understand the emotions of a convict in a convict ditty, she once tried breaking up rocks with a sledge hammer," Time magazine wrote in 1960.

"She is a keening Irishwoman in 'Foggy Dew,' a chain-gang convict in 'Take This Hammer,' a deserted lover in 'Lass from the Low Country,'" Time wrote.

Odetta called on her fellow blacks to "take pride in the history of the American Negro" and was active in the civil rights movement. When she sang at the March on Washington in August 1963, 'Odetta's great, full-throated voice carried almost to Capitol Hill," The New York Times wrote.

She was nominated for a 1963 Grammy awards for best folk recording for Odetta Sings Folk Songs. Two more Grammy nominations came in recent years, for her 1999 Blues Everywhere I Go and her 2005 album Gonna Let It Shine.

In 1999, she was honoured with a National Medal of the Arts. Then-President Clinton said her career showed "us all that songs have the power to change the heart and change the world.''

"I'm not a real folksinger," she told the Washington Post in 1983. "I don't mind people calling me that, but I'm a musical historian. I'm a city kid who has admired an area and who got into it. I've been fortunate. With folk music, I can do my teaching and preaching, my propagandizing.''

Among her notable early works were her 1956 album Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues, which included such songs as "Muleskinner Blues" and "Jack O' Diamonds''; and her 1957 At the Gate of Horn, which featured the popular spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands.''

Her 1965 album Odetta Sings Dylan included such standards as ``Don't Think Twice, It's All Right,'' "Masters of War" and "The Times They Are A-Changin'.''

In a 1978 Playboy interview, Dylan said, "the first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta." He said found "just something vital and personal" when he heard an early album of hers in a record store as a teenager. "Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar," he said.

Belafonte also cited her as a key influence on his hugely successful recording career, and she was a guest singer on his 1960 album, "Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall.''

She continued to record in recent years; her 2001 album Looking for a Home (Thanks to Leadbelly) paid tribute to the great blues singer to whom she was sometimes compared.

Born Odetta Holmes in Birmingham, Ala., in 1930, she moved with her family to Los Angeles at age 6. Her father had died when she was young and she took her stepfather's last name, Felious. Hearing her in glee club, a junior high teacher made sure she got music lessons, but Odetta became interested in folk music in her late teens and turned away from classical studies.

She got much of her early experience at the Turnabout Theatre in Los Angeles, where she sang and played occasional stage roles in the early 1950s.

"What power of characterization and projection of mood are hers, even though plainly clad and sitting or standing in half light!" a Los Angeles Times critic wrote in 1955.

Over the years, she picked up occasional acting roles in TV and film. None other than famed Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper reported in 1961 that she "comes through beautifully" in the film Sanctuary.

In the Washington Post interview, Odetta theorized that humans developed music and dance because of fear, "fear of God, fear that the sun would not come back, many things. I think it developed as a way of worship or to appease something. ... The world hasn't improved, and so there's always something to sing about.''

Interview: Behind Judy Collins' Blue Eyes

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian,
Entertainment Reporter

(December 03, 2008) Judy Collins looks at you and her eyes are still as azure as they were when Stephen Stills immortalized them in song 40 years ago.

Yes, "Judy Blue Eyes" is in Toronto, finishing a two-night gig at Hugh's Room tonight. Yesterday, she performed an hour-long live concert broadcast on Classical 96.3 FM and AM 740.

The lady still knows how to enthral an audience, with a voice that sounds like lace-making set to music, and nowhere was that more evident than in her rendition of "Send in the Clowns." She performed with eyes tightly shut until the final line when she opened them in all their aqua splendour to sing, "Well, maybe next year."

After the concert ended, the autographs were signed and the guests had gone, she unwound on a sofa in one of the offices and talked about why she sang it that way.

"I'm meditating. I often do that when I perform. It puts you in a different place where you're free to let your feelings flow."

And that's something she's been doing for 50 years now, both as a singer and a songwriter.

Many of her compositions seem to be autobiographical at first glance, but a closer examination reveals they're more likely to resemble the title of her 1973 album, True Stories and Other Dreams.

Most Collins fans know her hauntingly lyrical song "My Father" and assume it must be an accurate portrait of the man who "always promised us that we would live in France" while "we lived in Ohio then, he worked in the mine."

"With writing you have to realize you must have poetic licence," Collins admits.

The original promised destination of the song was Spain, but "I couldn't find any rhymes except plain and rain, which weren't very exciting," she says.

In defence of her alterations to reality, she quotes Mark Twain: "History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme."

The important thing is the point of the song, "which is my father teaching us the promise of how special the world was with us in it."

But that didn't mean her childhood was all happiness. At 14, she swallowed 100 Aspirin in an adolescent attempt at suicide.

The reason? "My father was a perfectionist and he had very high expectations" of his piano prodigy daughter.

"I was studying a Paganini piece, `La Campanella,' and I didn't have it up to speed. It's an insanely difficult piece of music, but he wanted me to play it and I wasn't ready."

After her suicide attempt, her father wrote her an apology: "Sometimes I expect too much of my children."

Many years later, she made peace with her past by composing "My Father," "but he died before he ever heard it."

A later song, "Holly-Ann (The Weaver)," is a seemingly elegiac piece about her younger sister.

There's such a profound underlying sadness to the piece, one feels her sibling must have reached a tragic end, but Collins laughs. "She's a great artist living in Vancouver now with three kids and a happy, busy life."

When asked to account for the melancholy in the song, she shrugs and says, "There's melancholy in everything I write."

Then there's "Born to the Breed," written for her only child, Clark, when he left home at 16. "I know you're going to make it," she affirms, "as sure as you were born."

But 17 years later, in 1992, after relapsing into alcohol abuse, he killed himself.

"Suicide blows your life to pieces," says Collins. "It fractures everything you think you know about who you are. It makes you realize how little influence we have, how powerless we are."

And yet, she still sings the song to this day. "It brings me closer to Clark," she insists.

However, it's not just the songs she writes about others, but the songs others write about her, like Stills' famous "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes."

"I'm writing a book now all about my life in the '60s," reveals Collins, "and I'm calling it Suite: Judy Blue Eyes – Sex, Drugs, Rock 'n' Roll and Folk-Rock."

She still remembers the first time her ex-lover Stills sang it for her. "It was supposed to get me back. I thought it was beautiful. So beautiful. And too bad it's not going to work.

"My granddaughter and I had dinner with Stephen last year and he told me he's always been sorry I never made any royalties from the song. `Well, it's never too late,' said my granddaughter."

She laughs and shakes her head. "I've finally learned that none of us were meant to be perfect. As Leonard (Cohen) said, `There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.'"

Judy Collins performs tonight at 8:30 at Hugh's Room, 2261 Dundas St. W. For reservations and information, call 416-531-6604.


Hip Celebrates Toronto Teacher

Source: www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(November 28, 2008) Amid rapturous applause from students and cheering by members of The Tragically Hip, Alex Voros of Toronto was honoured yesterday as Canada's music teacher of the year. Voros, from Chaminade College School in North York, received the award for his 30 years of work in promoting musical education and for encouraging students of all backgrounds to learn an instrument. Voros, 60, said he was thrilled to have The Tragically Hip on hand as the Catholic high school's 70-member concert band performed the theme song to the film The Godfather. Tragically Hip singer Gordon Downie said the band was honoured to acknowledge Voros's talents and the work of all music educators. "It's been said that those who can, teach – and those who can't, join rock bands," Downie joked.  "Alex Voros isn't just teaching, he's making introductions, he's introducing you to a lifelong friend. He understands (music's) magic and beauty, and believes in its power to transform and to lift up spirits." The MusiCounts Teacher of the Year Award is sponsored by the music education charity of the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

T.I. Keeps 'Single Ladies' At 'Bey'


(December 01, 2008) *Beyonce's current hit "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) sold 204,000 digital downloads last week, but it wasn't enough to remove T.I. from his perch atop the Billboard Hot 100. The rapper's "Live Your Life" featuring Rihanna begins a fifth non-consecutive week at No. 1, followed by the 28-2 rocket of "Single Ladies," and Beyonce's other current single "If I Were a Boy" holding steady at No. 3. T.I.'s former No. 1, "Whatever You Like," slips 2-4. Katy Perry's "Hot N Cold" drops 4-5, Kanye West's "Love Lockdown" rebounds 9-6 and Lady GaGa's "Just Dance" featuring Colby O'Donis powers 16-7. Pink's "So What" drops 5-8, as Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent" improves 11-9 and Akon's "Right Now (Na Na Na)" falls 8-10 to round out the top tier. On Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, "Single Ladies" begins a second week at No. 1. As previously reported, Beyonce scored her third-straight No. 1 debut on The Billboard 200 with "I Am ... Sasha Fierce," which sold 482,000 copies.

At Home With Brian This Christmas

www.eurweb.com - By Fiona McKinson

(December 01, 2008) *Brian McKnight has a voice perfect for gospel music and on his new seasonal release, he spreads the good news with "I’ll be home for Christmas."  But from the start, his signature style – tinged with an R&B groove, provides the perfect update to old yuletide standards and three original compositions.  McKnight’s first studio album in two years, recently promoted on The Oprah Winfrey Show as part of the "Fabulous Holidays on a Budget" segment, sets the right tone for Christmas.  It is full of family spirit with appearances from McKnight’s sons Brian Jnr. And Nikolas on Let It Snow.  McKnight’s friends join the party with guest appearances from country star Vince Gill, Argentine musician Noel Scharjris, classical/pop vocalist Josh Groban and Christian jazz group Take 6.  If you are single or if you’re not quite in the mood for festivities, think party season instead. Scharjris helps McKnight to fiesta in Spanish on Silent Night.  The pace of the album goes up and down and the up-tempo tracks are probably the best cuts. It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year should get the party started. McKnight says, "This is the most musical fun I've had in years."  Thankfully the fun leaks from the CD – the perfect soundtrack to the holidays. "I’ll be home for Christmas" is available to purchase on Amazon and iTunes now.

Circus: Britney Spears

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ben Rayner

http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.2&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.3&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.4&fid=Inbox&inline=1(out of 4)

(December 02, 2008) There can be only one Kylie Minogue, but consider Britney Spears promoted to "understudy" status. Pop tarts don't tend to stick around, yet if they can hang on a few years – roughly as long, say, as it would take an actual Pop-Tart to start decomposing – and suffer through enough widely publicized torment, the cool kids' acceptance is never far away once the right supporting musicians are in place. Spears started getting retroactive, redemptive props from the Pitchfork generation circa 2003's pristine pop masterpiece "Toxic." The process continued unabated with last year's strangely compelling Blackout disc, a record of clanging dance floor electronics that won surprised raves despite the fact that its focal point was obviously absent from most of its creation.  Circus offers more of the same faux-voyeurism, assembling an enormous cast of writers and producers to present a slightly more "together" Spears character. She still merits only two co-writing credits out of 15 tracks – on the baby-talk horror "Mmm Papi" and the expected "Oh, god, where are my children?" ballad "My Baby," both awful – but her collaborators have filled her mouth with enough expensive venom directed at her ex-husband ("Womanizer"), the paparazzi ("Kill the Lights") and her own hard-partying ways (the creepy "Blur," which opens with a dazed Spears mumbling "Who are you? Wha'd we do last night?") to cement the illusion that this is the work of a determined tigress on the comeback trail. The runway strut of "Womanizer" puts Spears in line behind Madonna, Kylie and Nelly Furtado in ripping off Goldfrapp (ripping off Gary Glitter), but the same swaggering beat hits a relentless pace on "Kill the Lights" as Britney spews tawdry put-downs like "Is that money in your pocket or are you happy to see me?" "Mannequin" is an outright beast of a dance track, with several Britneys tag-teaming over a gargantuan hip-hop beat. And, in Circus's one moment of pathos, Bloodshy & Avant – the producers responsible for "Toxic" – bring techno-pop melancholia entitled "Unusual You" wherein Brit praises her new man for not being one of the complete bastards she's used to.  It usually takes a team of at least four Swedish males to give us these flashes of talent and humanity, yes. But what the hell. I know so much about Britney Spears at this point I kind of think of her as family. Top Track: "Mannequin." We are no longer human. We are dancer.

Our Bright Future: Tracy Chapman

Source:  www.thestar.com - Greg Quill

http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.5&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.6&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.7&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.8&fid=Inbox&inline=1(out of 4)

(December 02, 2008) Relaxed and focused, relying heavily on lightly applied acoustic instruments and laid-back rhythms, Chapman's new songs range through blues, pop and country, and display her penchant for thoughtful – and occasionally playful – lyrics about love, war, aging and other variables in the human condition. Not as dour as her past work, nor as urgent, this is cozy, rainy-day music to warm your soul. Top track: "I Did It All," a cabaret piece that eschews the melodrama in the faded star's tale for a nuanced portrait that begs our respect, not sympathy.

Freedom: Akon

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ashante Infantry

(Konvict/Universal Motown)
http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.9&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.10&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.11&fid=Inbox&inline=1(out of 4)

(December 02, 2008) Akon's third disc features indistinguishable tracks – mostly about a woman he loves, or has lost – with his nasal Auto-Tune tweaked vocals sliding over Euro dance beats. Despite the braggadocio of "I'm So Paid" and appearances by Lil Wayne, Kardinal Offishall and Young Jeezy, the St. Louis native is suppressing his erstwhile hip-hop sensibility. Apparently, Akon – who serves up several nonsensical, repetitive choruses on par with the one from Rihanna's famous "Umbrella" – considers freedom finding a formula and sticking with it.


Interview Hugh Jackman

Source: www.thestar.com - John Hiscock,
Special To The Star

(November 28, 2008) NEW YORK–It's not the sort of virile behaviour one expects from someone who has just been named the Sexiest Man Alive by an American magazine.

Hugh Jackman isn't ashamed to admit that he fainted in the heat during a horseback scene for Australia, director Baz Luhrmann's epic romantic adventure starring Jackman and Nicole Kidman.

The movie opened Wednesday.

"When you're the leading man it's not good to faint on the first day of shooting," he said ruefully.

"But we'd spent hours waiting and I was on horseback and had on these leather pants and suddenly I felt a hand on my back. I had no idea I was at a 45-degree angle and was about to topple over. It kind of snuck up on me."

The charismatic, easygoing Jackman is a star who has no inhibitions about laughing at himself and he cheerfully relates some of the reactions from his friends when People put him on the cover as the Sexiest Man Alive last week.

"At least 10 people sent me photos of me as a young man or drunk, saying, `I'm taking this photo to the press' and `This is the sexiest man alive?' One I loved was, `I've got tennis shoes sexier than you.' Someone else said, `This is more ridiculous than the Florida 2000 recount.'"

Jackman was talking in a New York hotel having just flown in from Sydney where he attended the premiere of Australia.

In the $130 million (U.S.) movie he plays a rough, tough cattle drover who falls for Kidman's prim and proper English aristocrat in Australia's wild outback.

They join forces to save the land she inherited and together embark on a journey across some of world's most beautiful yet unforgiving terrain.

Jackman shelved all on his busy schedule and trained for seven months, learned to ride horses and herd cattle, attended workshops and rehearsals, and then filmed for nine months in various locations in Australia's rugged outback.

"I just dropped everything else," he recalled. "I couldn't have come up with a scenario as good as this. It would have been unthinkable a few years ago to do something like this. In fact, when I first started talking to Baz I wasn't even going to play the lead. I said I just wanted to be a part of it, whatever it is."

Jackman has been married for 12 years to Australian actor Deborra-Lee Furness, a close friend of Kidman's, so before filming began he and Kidman had a deep discussion about the lengthy love scenes they share in the movie.

"Nic and my wife have been really, really close buddies but although we socialized a lot together I never really knew her well so when we started working together it was really the best situation because we were friends but there was a lot I didn't know about her," he said.

"The worst thing that can happen in onscreen relationships is if you hate each other, and the second worst thing is if you really, really like each other and you're too familiar.

"So Nic and I went on a four-hour horse ride down to Kangaroo Valley, south of Sydney, and just before we were about to cross a river she rode up beside me and said, `Ah, I think we should talk about our on-screen relationship.'

"So we had a very frank and honest and – dare I say it? – adult conversation about how to achieve what we needed to. I won't tell you the details of the conversation but I'm really thankful to her for it. It made it a hell of a lot easier."

It also helped that Nicole is nearly as tall as the 6-ft. Jackman. "It's kind of nice to do a kissing scene with someone where you don't have to be in a ditch or the girl isn't on a box," he laughed.

Jackman had a varied career as both an actor and a song-and-dance man before becoming a star. Although he was born and brought up in Australia, both his parents are English; they separated when he was 8 years old and his mother returned to England.

Jackman had roles in the musicals Beauty And The Beast and Sunset Boulevard before being cast as Curly in Trevor Nunn's revival of Oklahoma! at London's National Theatre. He appeared in a couple of little-seen Australian feature films before Brian Singer cast him in X-Men as Wolverine, the mutant superhero with razor-sharp metal claws.

Jackman made his Broadway debut playing Australian songwriter and performer Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz (rumours are circulating he may return to the New York stage, perhaps starring in a Broadway musical as magician Harry Houdini next year).

Onscreen, he went on to star as the monster-hunter in the movie thriller Van Helsing, played three different characters in The Fountain and he has the X-Men spin-off Wolverine awaiting release next year.

Despite his international success he remains the down-to-earth, Australian boy next door who still enjoys a beer and appreciates his good fortune.

He and his wife have two adopted children, Oscar, 8, and 3-year-old Ava and he wants to pass on to them the lessons he learned from his father.

"The greatest gift I got from my parents was their unconditional love," he said. "My father always talked about passion. He never asked me what I was going to do, he only ever asked me, `Do you love what you're doing?' And if there's anything I want to pass on to my kids it's the idea of passion for life, because that's really what sustains you.

"If you're lucky enough to find and do something that you love, then that's the Holy Grail."

He Even Makes The Seventies Look Good

www.globeandmail.com - Johanna Schneller

(November 28, 2008) James Franco has the sweetest smile, and a voice like chocolate pudding. Both onscreen and over the phone, he transmits an appealing, gentle-dude air. I never bought him as Harry Osborn, the jealous, wet-eyed villain in the three Spider-Man movies, and now I know why: Franco, 30, can't help but seem like a guy who'd just forgive everybody right away and have them over for pasta.

He's having a good year. In August, he played a kindly dope dealer in Pineapple Express, and everything about him was perfect: his ethnic sweatpants, his loneliness inside his cannabis haze, and his stoned laugh with its undercurrent of omnipresent bewilderment. Franco, his co-star Seth Rogen, and their producer Judd Apatow (who worked together on Franco's cancelled-before-its-time TV series, Freaks and Geeks), pulled off something pretty rare. Beneath the sloppy caper plot and filthy jokes, they made a buddy comedy that was genuinely about male friendship. It pulled in over $87-million in theatres; and now, on DVD … dude, it's gonna be huge.

In September, in a tiny role as Richard Gere's aid-worker son in Nights in Rodanthe, Franco was a believable heir to the older actor's sensitive intensity. Franco also made an amusing appearance in a New York Times piece about a new software program that takes someone's photograph and then improves their flaws – widens and enlarges eyes, shortens long noses, smoothes out foreheads. They tested a photo of Franco's ridiculously handsome face. It came back unchanged.

Now, he's playing the love of the title character's life in
Milk, the moving new biopic from director Gus Van Sant about Harvey Milk (Sean Penn), the first openly gay man to hold a major political office in the U.S. (In 1977, Milk was elected to San Francisco's board of supervisors, where he helped bring down Proposition 6, which would have banned homosexuals from teaching in California schools.) As the boy toy who becomes much more to Milk, Franco does his best work yet, and makes Penn seem warmer and more connected than ever.

“I really pursued this movie,” Franco says. “I'm the biggest Gus Van Sant fan, and have been since before I was an actor. I would watch Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho repeatedly when I was in high school. Then, when I started acting, I continued to watch those movies, because the performances in them were really inspiring, and something I aspire to. So I wrote Gus an e-mail saying I'd play anything, the pizza boy, just to be in it.”

California's Nov. 4 passing of Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage, “shows that a lot of the issues of the movie are still alive, a lot of the fights Harvey Milk was fighting still need to be fought,” Franco adds.

Next year, he'll take on another fight, playing Allen Ginsberg in Howl, a drama about the 1957 obscenity trial over that poem. And between films, he's in two different MFA programs in New York: at New York University's Tisch School, for film directing; and at Columbia for fiction writing, where he's working on a second novel. (He wrote his first at UCLA under the tutelage of the novelist Mona Simpson, and earned a BA last year.) “They're two other things I enjoy and I'm really interested in,” Franco says. “I believe in hard work.”

To top it off, turning 30 this year made him feel “a bit more relaxed. I'm learning about all the things that I'm interested in. I'm doing everything I want. I couldn't ask for anything more.”

You know what else is having a good year, by the way? The 1970s. Milk is one of three recent films that showcase the decade in a light more positive than the way it felt while I was living through it, from age 8 to 18. Back then, the seventies felt dark and cynical, tainted by Watergate and Vietnam, gas crises and bankrupt cities, the opposite of the optimistic sixties. But Milk highlights the giddiness of the gay community's coming out, and the activism that it prompted, in such a laudatory and inspiring way that it makes the whole decade look brighter.

Ditto for Frost/Nixon, Ron Howard's upcoming movie about the machinations behind a series of interviews that talk-show host David Frost (Michael Sheen, who played Tony Blair in The Queen) did with Richard Nixon (Frank Langella; put him on your Oscar ballots) in 1977, when Nixon had yet to apologize for or even admit to any wrongdoing vis-à-vis Watergate. The movie is a juicy, satisfying meal for journalists, and it makes everyone in the seventies look more politically informed and active than in the 30 years since.

My favourite 1970s film – and my favourite documentary this year, period – is Man on Wire, which looks at the now-legendary stunt that a French tightrope walker named Philippe Petit and a bunch of accomplices pulled off in 1974. Illegally, they strung a tightrope between the World Trade Center's twin towers, and Petit performed upon it for an hour or so one dawn, before being arrested and becoming a sensation.

Now out on DVD, the film is moving on many levels. First, it's immediately apparent how significant the act was to its perpetrators. It was a serious piece of performance art, a glorious celebration of human accomplishment. Even the cops waiting on the ledge to arrest Petit knew they were looking at something exceptional; watch for the one who says so with an eloquence that is inimitably New York. Second, most of the original gang was interviewed, so it's poignant to see them then, in their youthful exuberance – with all their seventies hair – and now, in their thin-haired, middle-aged maturity. And third, of course, is the fate of the towers themselves, which is not mentioned in the film, but permeates it with an almost unbearable poignancy.

Every decade looks better in retrospect, but these three films make a strong case – which resonates strongly in Obama's North America – that commitment is worthier than apathy, that action is more admirable than resignation, and that informed hope, though hard to sustain, is necessary. You should see them all.

Canadian Actors Throw Support Behind SAG

Source: www.thestar.com - Bruce Demara,
Entertainment Reporter

(December 01, 2008) The Canadian union representing more than 21,000 English-language actors will stand behind the U.S. Screen Actors Guild (SAG) in the event it calls a strike vote.

The U.S. union, which represents 120,000 members, announced last week it would contact its membership in coming days with an "education" campaign, followed by a request for a strike vote authorization.

Stephen Waddell, national executive director of ACTRA (Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), said the decision to support SAG comes at a difficult time for Canadian artists.

"ACTRA will support the Screen Actors Guild to the greatest extent that we can. There is no other alternative for us. We are a trade union and we support our brothers and sisters," Waddell said.

That includes directing members not to work for any "struck" U.S. production that attempts to come north of the border to evade the U.S. guild's jurisdiction.

SAG's contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers ended on June 30. Talks broke off last week, despite the intervention of a federal mediator.

The U.S. producers publicly blasted SAG for seeking a strike vote "at a time of historic economic crisis."

Waddell said the dispute is bad news on both sides of the border.

"The whole situation is unfortunate. The fact that this has been going on for so long means ... there's virtually no U.S. production shooting in Canada, which is a significant problem for our members," Waddell said.

In recent years, ACTRA members have benefited greatly from U.S. productions coming to Canada. But Waddell said standard fare – such as movies of the week, independent films and U.S. TV series work – has dried up in the past year.

Last November, the Writers Guild of America strike, which lasted 100 days until an agreement was reached in February, resulted in a dramatic drop-off in U.S. film and TV production in Canada.

"Our members are hurting, as is the production community generally. Producers, technicians, we're all being hurt by the lack of U.S. production in Canada," said Waddell, who recently met with studio executives in L.A. to discuss the crisis.

Waddell said there are limits on what ACTRA can do to discourage or prevent its members from taking work shipped north of the border.

ACTRA has agreements with hundreds of Canadian production companies, almost all of them doing Canadian film and TV work.

While U.S. producers who are not signatories to the ACTRA agreement would be frozen out, it would be difficult to prevent ACTRA members from working for Canadian companies that land contracts for U.S. productions, Waddell said.

With 50 Years In The Biz, Ron Howard Has Seen His Share Of Failure

Source: www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(December 02, 2008) NEW YORK — “Is there anyone more American than Ron Howard?”

Peter Morgan, the very British scribe best known as the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The Queen, is outlining the reasons he okayed the director of Apollo 13 and A Beautiful Mind to helm the feature film adaptation of his Tony Award-winning play Frost/Nixon, and being very American is evidently very good. This is what he means: “If you spend time with Ron, he has all the qualities that we traditionally think of [as American]: polite, respectful, conscientious, decent, really principled.”

Rebecca Hall, the young British actress ( Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and daughter of Sir Peter Hall, who therefore knows a little something about directors, says of her experience working with Howard on Frost/Nixon: “He's extremely collaborative. Even when it was stuff that didn't necessarily apply to me, he'd always be asking my opinions about things.” And also: “There's no sense of ego or grandeur. He's straight-talking and precise and wants to tell the story in the best possible way, and he's totally willing to admit that he's wrong.”

Respect, decency, modesty, deference: These are not qualities one normally associates with the place called Hollywood or its cultural output, but Ron Howard is a walking billboard for a reappraisal of the town. Born in a small Oklahoma burg, Howard entered showbiz at the age of 4 with small film parts and then a recurring role as the earnest, curious scamp Opie on The Andy Griffith Show.

Unlike many of the child actors over the ensuing five decades, he proceeded to not self-immolate in a haze of drugs or self-indulgence. No, he proved decent to the core.

Rather than elbowing his way into directing jobs, he retreated to film school, to gain an education in theory that he could marry to the practical knowledge he had picked up working in the industry. At the age of 21, he married his high-school sweetheart; the two recently celebrated their 33rd anniversary.

All-American earnestness hangs over Howard like a halo. Sitting in a hotel suite overlooking Central Park on a recent drizzly, windswept afternoon, he says of his career that he hopes he is engaged in “an ongoing creative process of exploration and discovery that's fun for me and hopefully useful to audiences.” (Yes, useful.)

And the films? Solidly built mainstream entertainments that are shot through with an all-American decency. Take Frost/Nixon, which opens in Toronto on Friday and across the country later this month. It revisits, to surprisingly thrilling effect, the 1977 TV interviews that British celebrity journalist David Frost conducted over the course of four marathon sessions with former U.S. president Richard Nixon, who was speaking at length for the first time since leaving office in disgrace. The interviews are remembered nowadays for the fact that Frost, a notorious lightweight who had begun his career as a stand-up comedian, managed to achieve what no one else had ever done: extricate from Nixon a confession (albeit a grudging one) for his abuses of power.

Frost/Nixon quietly asserts that, even in extraordinary times like the Vietnam War, there are standards of behaviour that must be upheld.

While Howard doesn't forgive Nixon, he recognizes that not everyone may have been equally appalled by the president's actions during that time. “I think we all run into a trap. I do. I felt this way watching the interviews in 1977, of feeling like: ‘Well c'mon, it's a tough job and it's complicated beyond what we can imagine. And you know, of course they've gotta bend the rules.' And there's some logic in that. But by the same token, that's a pretty slippery slope and I think it's important that the press be there in a democracy to keep askin' those questions and keep probing and sort of saying, you know, ‘Where is the truth? How far have they gone?' ”

This is Howard's second film, after the 1994 comedy The Paper, to muck around in the high ideals and sometimes low methods of journalism. He caught the journalism bug, he says, while working on the high-school paper. “I always felt like if I didn't continue in the film business, I'd either become probably a high-school basketball coach, an English teacher or go into journalism. I loved it. Loved it.”

Much is made in Frost/Nixon about the U.S. journalism establishment writing off Frost, with his background in comedy and entertainment, as incapable of stepping up and doing the job.

Peter Morgan suggested that Howard, too, was an underestimated talent. “Oh did he?” asks Howard. He sounds a little defensive at first, but then admits there might be something to his screenwriter's theory.

“You're craving that respect, and that acknowledgment,” he nods. “Look, I don't lie awake at nights worrying about it. On the whole, I feel like I've been treated very well. But it's interesting to hear Peter say that, and I do feel at times that, because I'm drawn to films that celebrate more than critique, that can be sort of misunderstood in its own way, as somehow not as creative, or not as artful.”

Howard has certainly earned the respect of the critics, the industry and moviegoers, and he has the trophies to prove it: Oscars and other awards, including nods from the Directors Guild, and a track record of numerous hundred-million-dollar-plus box-office successes. But it took a long time for him to leave behind his reputation as a comedy guy – earned with his beloved role as Richie Cunningham in the hit seventies TV show Happy Days, followed by his direction of goofy comedies like Night Shift, Splash and Parenthood – to be fully accepted as a serious director.

Even now, there is a hint of a cloud over Howard, one that Frost/Nixon should go some distance in dissipating. After winning both a best-directing and best-picture Oscar for A Beautiful Mind (he was a producer on the film), his last three pictures suffered separate indignities: Audiences and critics passed over The Missing in 2003; the Depression-era boxing drama Cinderella Man (2005) garnered appreciative notices but got knocked out at the box office; and The Da Vinci Code (2006) took in $750-million around the world but notoriously bombed with the critics. “They were definitely the toughest reviews I've had,” he grimaces of Da Vinci.

Frost/Nixon is in a different mould: Reportedly made for less than $30-million (less than half his usual budget), it is Howard's first picture in two decades without bankable stars (it boasts, rather, the fiercely talented duo of Michael Sheen as Frost and Frank Langella as Nixon). It has few special effects. And its pleasures are aimed at the movie going audience that can still find thrills in watching conversational pugilists battling it out for posterity.

“This is actually my 50th anniversary, this year,” Howard notes. “I'm 54, I started when I was 4, and in fact I'm very proud of Frost/Nixon, sort of as a symbol of some kind of ongoing creative growth.”

Though he got slapped around with the first Dan Brown adaptation, he will be back next year with Angels & Demons, the Da Vinci Code sequel. He's in post-production on it, and he is already suggesting it has a better filmic rhythm than the original. He admits that he hopes it will win over critics as well as audiences. “I always aim to please, on all fronts,” he says, earnestly, of course.

Two Cineplex Theatres Plan To Serve Alcohol

Source: www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar,
Entertainment Reporter

(December 03, 2008) If the blockbuster movie at your local multiplex turns out to be a bomb, you soon will be able to ease your pain.

Two local
Cineplex Odeon multiplexes are preparing to allow alcohol in their theatres, and it could happen as early as next week.

"We are obviously delighted. This is something that our guests have been asking us for years," said Pat Marshall, spokesperson for Cineplex Entertainment, which is waiting for liquor board approval.

"Our goal is to start selling at the Varsity Cinemas" as of Dec. 10.

Both the Varsity and SilverCity in Oakville already have licensed lounges in the lobby and VIP theatres that will allow those 19 and older to tipple while they watch the latest releases.

Licensed lounges in the concourse areas of theatres were allowed before, but amendments to the Liquor Licence Act allowing in-theatre drinking only took effect Oct. 23.

At this point, no cinema has been approved for the additional capacity, although Cineplex's application is well underway. The idea is a pilot project that will end Nov. 30, 2009.

Besides the requirement to set aside auditoriums for adults, theatres face other restrictions:

A currently licensed lounge with Smart Serve-trained staff (a program for bartenders and waiters).


X Files: I Want To Believe

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Howell

(20th Century Fox)
 http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.12&fid=Inbox&inline=1http://ca.mg202.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download?mid=1%5f2005621%5fANAlvs4AATpiSTWXzw3F7CCDVwg&pid=1.13&fid=Inbox&inline=1(out of 4)

(December 02, 2008) The wacky spaceship X-Files crashes to Earth with a resounding thud in its second movie incarnation. Let's hope those pesky aliens give it a proper burial this time. The TV series, which ended in 2002 after nine seasons, set its sights higher than most such spook shows. It was the thinking person's paranoia. Which is why it can't survive the mortal tedium of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, a slapdash movie that the show's creator Chris Carter directed and co-wrote (with Frank Spotnitz). Gone are head-expanding plots about shifty aliens and "monsters in the dark," to use the eloquent phrase of truth-seeker Dr. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), reunited once again with her acerbic partner Mulder (David Duchovny). Gone are The Lone Gunmen, Cigarette Smoking Man and other colourful characters of both the small-screen series and the first big-screen adaptation, Fight the Future, released in 1998. Instead we get a patchwork plot about a psychic pedophile priest (played by Billy Connolly) and Russian body snatchers that achieves just one incredible feat: it manages to be both mundane and utterly absurd at the same time. Depending on your perspective, the DVD extras are either enlightening or masochistic. There's a feature-length audio commentary with Carter and Spotnitz that explains plot and editing decisions.  The two-disc set also has a feature-length doc that deals with the well-founded fears of reviving the series. Unnecessary extra footage and a mood-killing gag reel should have been sent into deepest space.


Our Dance Show Better Than U.S. Version

Source: www.thestar.com -
Rob Salem, Television Columnist

(December 03, 2008) There was reason to expect the worst. Who knew we'd end up getting the best?

Let's face it, the track record of Canadian adaptations of American reality show formats has been somewhat spotty. Canadian Idol, superficially at least a slavish clone of the U.S. version, has never approached its sizzle and snap. It is – okay, let's say it – dull. Canada's Next Top Model was just too painful to watch.

Project Runway Canada, on the other hand, very closely approximates its American counterpart ... and, given the latter's ongoing upheaval, may soon even surpass it.

But even in its inaugural season, So You Think You Can Dance Canada is already there.

It's down to the fabled "Final Four" tonight at 8 in the final performance show on CTV. And then, in another two-hour blowout starting at 9 p.m., the four will become two and the two will become one, as "Canada's Favourite Dancer" on Canada's favourite show.

It's a show next to which the American original starts to look like a faded Xerox copy.

Five reasons why So You Think You Can Dance Canada dances circles around So You Think You Can Dance:

1. The dancers Creator/co-producer Nigel Lythgoe has said it, and so have visiting judges Dan Karaty and the vocally volatile Mary Murphy: our dancers are better, perhaps the best in the world (and there are almost as many exported Dances as there are countries to dance in).

They are not, as I've said before, just blowing smoke up our tutus. By and large, from the auditions on, the Canadian contestants have been quite astonishingly accomplished, particularly in light of their comparative youth. And they are also far more regionally representative than their American counterparts, which also speaks to their overall excellence.

Even in the all-important personality department – and let's not forget, it is "Canada's favourite dancer," not "Canada's best" – they have exhibited the camaraderie and depth of character that the American dancers don't usually arrive at until they're down to their final 10.

2. The production The differences here are even more obvious and would be even more so were the Canadian producers not hamstrung (ouch) by the franchise's insistence on identical opening and closing credits, and standardized logo and set design.

As hinted at in the fabulous pre-debut CTV promos, we would have done a much better job.

As it is, though, our camerawork just gets better and better, even as theirs has started to rapidly decline. The editing of the montage and rehearsal sequences are similarly superior and superb. We've even managed to outdo our Dance predecessors in the uniquely American art of product placement: a revenue-generating gap for which they should be justifiably ashamed.

And the costume design ... well, the often ludicrously over-the-top American outfits are vastly outmatched by the often just as extreme, yet still more inventive and attractive dancewear provided the Canadian contenders.

Which kind of segues into a discussion of homegrown host Leah Miller, faced with the daunting – and let's face it, impossible – task of following in Cat Deeley's towering stilettos. Miller confided to me that she's far more comfortable in heels, but I suspect that may also have something to do with what they've done with the rest of her wardrobe. Miller never looks anything less than classy and well put-together, unlike Deeley, whose often awful hair and outfits never quite seem to match.

(One suggestion, Leah, and it's a small one: please stop punching that second-last syllable, as in "And here are your JUDG-es ..." You do it a lot and it's starting to get annoying. I say this as a friend.)

3. The judges And here are your judges. For one thing, we have four instead of three, expertly anchored by regulars Tré Armstrong, street-dance diva and star of How She Move, and ballroom veteran Jean-Marc Généreux, returning home from his prominent spot as choreographer on the American version.

One might say that we are missing out on such U.S. staples as Mary Murphy and the brilliant Mia Michaels, except of course we haven't missed them at all, Murphy in particular.

And if we haven't had the remarkable erudition of choreographer Lil' C, or the weepy enthusiasm of a Debbie Allen, we have had in-house dance master Blake McGrath and his fellow Canuck Sean Cheesman. On top of that, the judges' table has hosted everyone from High School Musical's Kenny Ortega to Canadian ballet stud "Sexy Rexy" Harrington.

Their expertise and enthusiasm, along with that of host Miller, surpasses even that of the American show – and that's saying something.

4. The choreography We have likewise played host to some of the best of the Americans, including the aforementioned Lil' C (in the rehearsal hall, if not on the panel), Mia Michaels and anchor judge Généreux. But add to that McGrath, Cheesman, Armstrong, fellow rotating judges Luther Brown and Melissa Williams ... and many, many more, on both sides of the camera.

And while I have to give the best of the American choreographers props for inventiveness, outrageousness and originality, I have to say the Canadian pieces are by and large a lot more consistent.

Again, one very minor quibble: I had hoped to see a more varied reflection of the vast cultural diversity of this country, which the melting pot Americans at least pay lip service to. Something to think about for next season.

5. The pride and the passion Dancers, judges, host, fans ... even in the face of our collective Canadian inferiority complex, we do seem to have taken genuine pride in the accomplishments of the show, its producers and participants. You can see it in the sincere emotion onscreen and the fierce loyalty of its dedicated viewers, an enthusiastic audience that relatively speaking exceeds even that of the original show, now four seasons in.

Then again, it may just be residual resentment that they wouldn't even let us vote.

The notion has already been floated of a major North American dance-off. I say, bring it on.

In the meantime, we still have the final four face-off tonight, with the winner announced Sunday.

To your right is a look at the remaining contenders and one fan's (okay, mine) handicapping of their chances.


Allie Bertram, the perky little ballet dancer from Calgary, 18, is the youngest of the bunch. Which is one of the reasons she'll be the first to go. Don't get me wrong, the kid showed amazing courage and tenacity. She has energy to burn and an indefatigable cheery optimism. But she also has a long career ahead of her.

Miles Faber, 21, also from Calgary, shares Bertram's drive and diversity as a street popper who seemed able to adapt to whatever was thrown his way, with an irresistible smile and aw-shucks modesty. Were the slate a bit different, he might have done better. But the competition is fierce and he's got to come third.

Local girl Natalli Reznik, 28. She has the chiselled body of a Greek goddess. If she were any more "cut," she'd be one of those transparent plastic "Visible Human Body" models we used to construct when we were kids. Already a hip-hop/Latin dancer, she shares the seamless versatility of the previous two and the confidence that only comes with experience. But she's going to be the runner-up. She'd win the season, were it not for ...

Nico Archambault, 23, the contemporary/hip-hop dancer from Montreal. And pin-up boy for millions of lustfully gobsmacked Canadian women. It's not just the bod or the rakish rooster faux-hawk, or the dreamy French accent, or the tattoos and cheeky bad-boy grin ... okay, it's all those things. And a charm and genuine good-guy humility that match his considerable dancing skills. He cinched it with last week's solo, stripped to the waist and body-painted with graffiti. I'm calling him Canada's Favourite Dancer.

But feel free to prove me wrong.

What Makes Tina Fey So Darn Funny

Source: www.thestar.com -
Joel Rubinoff, Torstar News Service

(November 28, 2008) I have a clear memory of Tina Fey standing without shoes on during the 2006 TV press tour in Los Angeles.

It was the hottest night of the summer – 109F (there is no Celsius in California) – and while most NBC celebrities had bagged off the all-star critics' party on the sweltering back lawn of Pasadena's Ritz-Carlton hotel, the diminutive actor had planted herself at the rear of the property, kicked off her heels and settled in for a night of high-powered schmoozing.

This was her chance to get the word out on her fledgling sitcom maverick and – heat wave be damned – she was going to make the most of it.

No wonder. 30 Rock (Thursdays on Citytv) had yet to premiere, but with a premise that seemed disturbingly similar to another NBC series – the mega-hyped Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – scepticism over Fey's whimsical take on the backstage hijinks at a TV sketch show was running high.

How did she think she would fare, she was asked repeatedly, against such illustrious competition? And as a former head writer on Saturday Night Live, how tough would it be to star in her own show?

As she sipped bottled water in her demure cocktail dress and laughed at co-star Tracy Morgan's antics with a souped-up water pistol, the thirtysomething actor was self-deprecating but adamant.

"Some actors are brilliant when they're deep, deep, deep in character," she confided with typical candour. "I'm never brilliant. That's what makes it easy for me.

"So when the network encouraged me to develop something for me to be in, I thought `You know what? I'll try it, and if it turns out I'm the worst actor ever, I'll have that distinction.'

"But I sort of said to myself, I don't think Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Ray Romano worried about it, so I'm gonna choose to not worry about it either."

Simple, honest, direct. And given all that's occurred in the 2 1/2 years since this conversation, oddly prescient.

For as 30 Rock embarks on its third season with a raft of high-profile guest stars (Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Aniston) and consecutive Emmy wins as Best Comedy, a recent ratings surge indicates its fortunes have finally started to shift.

From what I can tell, most of the credit goes directly to Fey. As the show's writer, creator and star, it was her who defined the mix of surreal, cerebral and simple-minded that won over critics, marked the return of genuine wit to prime-time and ensured the show's triumph over one-season wonder Studio 60.

It was her who turned her character, Liz Lemon, into a lovably feisty third-wave feminist who, her boss informs her, "has the boldness of a much younger woman."

It was her who shepherded the show through two seasons of tragically laggard ratings that seemed to earmark it as a populist underachiever in the mould of Arrested Development.

And it was her who, during the recent U.S. election, blew it out of the water when her hilariously satirical portrayal of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin caught fire on Saturday Night Live and landed her – and by association, 30 Rock – squarely in the pop-cult spotlight.

"Sometimes, to feel like I have company during dinner, I dispute credit card charges on speakerphone," Fey's beleaguered TV producer character confided last week, hoping to impress a suitor (Steve Martin) who asks her to run away to Canada because "Toronto is just like New York, but without all the stuff."

It's not the traditional joke-punchline set-up we associate with most prime-time comedies, nor are wonky references to AIDS-injected chicken nuggets, Mystic Pizza: The Musical or Tracy Jordan sex dolls.

And if you know nothing about pop culture, lines like "it's like Picasso not painting, or Bruce Willis not combining action and rock harmonica" probably won't mean much.

But there's something about Liz Lemon's irony-tinged underdog that audiences seem to love. Like Fey herself, she's testy but endearing – and now that they've found her, my guess is they won't let her go without a fight.

Joel Rubinoff is the television columnist at The Record of Waterloo Region. Email jrubinoff@therecord.com

Another Good Comedy Gets The Axe

Source: www.thestar.com - Rob Salem

(December 01, 2008) Ned, the pie guy with the resurrective touch, is ironically unable to save himself.

He and the other quirky characters who populate ABC's comics-coloured fantasy,
Pushing Daisies, will soon be, well, pushing daisies.

The much admired, if underwatched, comedy joins a long list of American network series to be abruptly axed last week, in the middle of their seasons.

Daisies, arguably the best of the bunch, got in only nine first-season episodes before being scuttled by last year's writers' strike, and only seven of this second season's ordered 13, with three more scheduled to run this month, and the final three sometime in the new year. It will then join its "brilliant but cancelled" counterparts in the afterlife of that small corner of television heaven called "DVD."

Show-runner Bryan Fuller, who plans to continue Daisies' storyline in comic-book form (à la Joss Whedon with Buffy and Firefly, and possibly his not-yet-even-aired Dollhouse), is almost sure to return to NBC's rapidly declining Heroes – just in time for a daring rescue.

Other ABC casualties include the similarly wonky, second-season Eli Stone and the credits-heavy Dynasty descendant Dirty Sexy Money – thus putting two veteran Canadian actors out of work: Victor Garber in the former and Donald Sutherland in the latter.

Add to that list Montreal-born Anne Bedian, the sarcastic psychic of CBS's The Ex List, which would seemed to have been doomed to become an ex-show the moment writer/producer Diane Ruggiero walked off the set in a rage six episodes into production, only four of which had aired when the plug was pulled.

Which was one episode more than the critically savaged Jerry O'Connell sitcom Do Not Disturb, which so disturbed viewers its producers felt compelled to issue a public apology in the pages of the industry paper Variety.

Also given its walking papers at Fox – after 14 seasons of increasingly erratic talent turnaround – the already marginalized MAD TV, which never came close to loosening Saturday Night Live's stranglehold on their intentionally overlapping time slot.

The basement-dwelling NBC matched ABC's body count, cancelling two of its freshman shows, Crusoe and My Own Worst Enemy, and Candace Bushnell's Lipstick Jungle, following in the stiletto steps of ex-collaborator Darren Star's Cashmere Mafia, banished to the land of lame Sex and the City rip-offs.

Which is nothing compared to the CW bloodbath that killed all of its out-sourced Sunday-night shows, including the execrable Valentine, a pre-emptive strike on Rob Thomas's about-to-be reborn Cupid, which the CW lobbied for and lost.

In that case it was more like euthanasia, Valentine being one of the worst shows ever aired, with Dexter psychopath Jaime Murray heading up a clan of grounded Greek gods. It was so bad in fact that, in the unlikely event the rest of the run ever airs, it's almost worth watching for the sheer perverse thrill.

And – get this – the empty CW time slots will be partially and temporarily replaced by reruns of mothercorp CBS's twice-cancelled cult hit Jericho.

This would be the perfect time to segue over to the shows that you would have expected to be cancelled, but somehow weren't.

Here there is both good news and bad: Life and Life on Mars are still clinging to life. More or less holding their own are Gary Unmarried, Worst Week, The Mentalist and Fringe. Unfortunately, so are Private Practice, Knight Rider, Kath & Kim and 90210.

Deal or No Deal may have finally burned itself out, at least in its night-time incarnation, though Howie Mandel will quickly bounce back with his Canadian co-produced hidden-camera Howie Do It.

And let's not forget the voluntary end-of season exits of Boston Legal (yay!), a likely Zack Braff-less Scrubs (boo!) and the Emmy-hogging Monk (still worthy, but past its prime).


Oprah Winfrey To Help Honour Susan Taylor

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(December 02, 2008) *Oprah Winfrey is among a number of celebrities due in New York tonight for a benefit honouring Susan L. Taylor, editor-in-chief of Essence magazine. Sean "Diddy" Combs, Terry McMillan and Ruby Dee will also attend the gala, which celebrates Taylor's 37 years with the magazine targeted to African-American women. Tonight will also serve as a fundraiser for the National CARES Mentoring Movement, which is dedicated to pairing vulnerable African-American children with a caring mentor. The organization, founded by Taylor as Essence CARES, currently operates in more than 50 U.S. states.  Gospel stars Yolanda Adams and Donnie McClurkin are scheduled to perform. Other notable attendees will include Michael Eric Dyson, Common and the Rev. Al Sharpton.

Courtney B. Vance Books A Pilot


(December 03, 2008) *Fresh from a guest run opposite wife Angela Bassett in NBC's "ER," Courtney B. Vance has been cast opposite Jack Davenport in ABC's new drama pilot "Flash Forward." According to the Hollywood Reporter, the series is based on Robert J. Sawyer's sci-fi novel and chronicles the chaos that ensues after everyone in the world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds and has a mysterious vision of the future that changes lives forever.  Vance will play Stan Wedeck, the Los Angeles bureau chief of the FBI. Davenport will star as Lloyd Simcoe, who is trapped in Northern California when the event occurs and struggles to reach his son in a Southern California hospital.  David S. Goyer will direct the project, as well as co-produce with Brannon Braga and ABC Studios.   For six seasons, Vance played assistant district attorney Ron Carver on NBC's "Law & Order: Criminal Intent." Vance and his wife also are shepherding several projects through their Bassett/Vance Prods., including "Erasure," a feature adaptation of Percival Everett's novel penned by Dwayne Johnson-Cochran.


There's More To Ross Petty Than Meets The Eye

Source:  www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian,
Theatre Critic

(November 29, 2008) To understand Ross Petty, you have to realize that he loves two things:

1. Karen Kain.

2. Doing his annual Family Holiday Musical at the Elgin Theatre.

Yes, the arch-villain, whom everybody hisses at when December comes around, the man who's spent more time in drag than most, except Dame Edna, is really a total softie when it comes to his bride of 25 years, the artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada.

"After all this time," he sighs happily, settling into the Consort Lounge of the King Edward hotel after a recent rehearsal for Cinderella, which opens Thursday night at the Elgin Theatre, "I love her more than ever for three reasons.

"First, I think she's the most extraordinarily beautiful woman in the world. Second, despite her public persona, she has a profound shyness about her that I find irresistible. And third, she has a deep sense of joy about life that lifts me up even when I'm in the darkest depression."

That sure doesn't sound like the man we see every December wearing more rouge than Boy George in his heyday, and snapping out snarky one liners like the Don Rickles of family entertainment.

But then there's a lot more to Ross Petty than meets the eye. The still-suave 62-year-old baritone was born in Winnipeg and his single strongest memory of his childhood was that "there was a map in our basement with New York City circled in red ink. Oh, how I wanted to be on Broadway! I wanted to be the next Robert Goulet."

He studied classical piano as a boy, earning his certification at 17, then studied at the University of Manitoba, all the time singing and dancing in that summertime Winnipeg landmark of outdoor musical theatre and supersized mosquitoes, Rainbow Stage.

After graduation, Petty spent a year in Victoria, B.C., at the city's then-flourishing regional company, Bastion Theatre. After that, it was on to Caesar's Palace.

No, not the one in Vegas, the one in Glasgow.

"I spent a year singing in front of a line of beautiful dancing girls," he laughs, "then I was off to London."

He hit the West End and co-starred opposite aging screen star Betty Grable in a legendarily bad musical called Belle Starr. "Betty Grable was a lovely woman," recalls Petty, "but she had no idea what kind of a piece of s--t she was in."

When it closed, Petty went on to Paris, where he found himself at the Lido, "once again, singing in front of a line of beautiful dancing girls."

You see a pattern emerging? Something involving beautiful women who dance?

He finally got to New York, where his roles included Goulet's part in a revival of The Happy Time, a serious turn as a doctor opposite Tony Award-winning Constance Cummings in Arthur Kopit's drama, Wings, and two years on the iconic soap opera All My Children.

"I played Eddie Dorrance," he remembers, giving the patented Petty sneer. "I was a bad guy who kept a nightclub singer on drugs so she'd pay all my bills."

But next up was the most fateful job in his life, playing the title role in the touring company of Sweeney Todd, opposite June Havoc.

"We came to Toronto and the Royal Alex was our last stop. I had met Karen briefly at a party the year before when I was up here shooting a movie called Escape from Iran. I got word to her that I'd like her to be my guest at Sweeney Todd.

"A couple of days later, she phoned and said she'd love to come, but she couldn't because she was leaving the next day to dance in Spoleto. But we kept talking and by the end of the conversation she agreed to come to the show."

Petty smiles. "She later said there was something about my voice that made her want to meet me again."

Kain came to the show, they went out for a drink afterward and when Sweeney Todd closed that weekend, Petty remained in Toronto, waiting for Kain to return. When she did, he invited her out to dinner "and we were married eight months later."

The next major theme of Petty's life was introduced the following year, when British producer Paul Elliott decided to bring one of his legendary "pantos" to Canada.

The show was Dick Whittington and His Cat. Petty appeared as the villainous King Rat and Kain was the Good Fairy, setting up a pattern that would continue through 1989, by which time Petty was co-producing the shows with Elliott.

Petty wanted to enter the panto world on his own, but the economy of the early 1990s prevented that until 1996, when he was able to launch his new series of holiday entertainments at the Elgin Theatre with Robin Hood.

Although the shows have become increasingly hipper in recent years, thanks to director Ted Dykstra and choreographer Tracey Flye, the formula is still the same: take a classic story, jive it up, add some Stratford/Shaw actors for class, some kid-friendly TV stars for glitter and a media name or two for hype. And keep the villainous Petty front and centre for everyone to hiss at.

It's a formula that still works. Last year's Peter Pan was Petty's most successful show ever, in his opinion, "because of the superstar presence of Kurt Browning."

For many of us, Petty is the secret ingredient: the man you love to hate. But now, we'll have to be conflicted, since we've found out he's such a devoted husband and generally nice guy.

Maybe he's also the man you hate to love.

Getting Personal with Ross Petty

What was your first job?

I was in the chorus of The Student Prince at Rainbow Stage in Winnipeg when I was 15.

What would you be if you weren't a performer?

I love to spend what little spare time I have in my garden, so I'd probably be a landscape architect.

What's on your iPod?

A lot of Brazilian music. And I love the sound of Renée Fleming's voice.

What TV show must you watch every week?

I try never to miss Jon Stewart. He's so brilliant and irreverent.

What's the last good movie you saw?

I think Kristin Scott Thomas is so fantastic, I'd see her in anything, but she was especially good in her two latest films: The Other Boleyn Girl and I've Loved You So Long.

Excellent Cast Blesses Soulpepper Show

Source: www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian,
Theatre Critic

A Christmas Carol
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
By Charles Dickens. Adapted and directed by Michael Shamata. Until Dec. 24 at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St. 416-866-8666

(November 28, 2008) Are you looking for the true holiday spirit? Friend, your search is over. Just head to the Young Centre where Soulpepper Theatre opened a revival of its production of
A Christmas Carol last night.

This totally beguiling show is presented in the round, with inventive staging (by Michael Shamata) and superlative lighting (by Alan Brodie) eliminating the need for any cumbersome scenery.

It also allows the beauty of the Dickensian language and the sheer joy of being in the theatre to triumph over the world of technical bells and whistles, which is just as it should be.

We're in a world of candlelight and shadows: the perfect setting for this story of the skinflint Ebenezer Scrooge and the ghosts who transform his life one magical Christmas Eve. Actors wheel tables on and off, or steer ladders across the stage and we believe that we're wherever they want to take us.

Of course, you don't accomplish such marvels without first-rate actors and there are a lot of them here.

Joseph Ziegler couldn't be better as Scrooge.

We see the crusty tyrant, the wounded young man, the cynical miser, the despairing old man and the redeemed new spirit. Ziegler feels all of these deeply and, even more importantly, he makes us feel them as well.

You also couldn't find a more perfect Bob Cratchit than Oliver Dennis. With humanity simply shining in his eyes, Scrooge's employee helps us understand the complexity of goodness as he deals with the cards fate has dealt him.

And as Scrooge's nephew, Fred, the splendid Patrick Galligan seems to have rediscovered all the charm and warmth he temporarily mislaid this summer at the Shaw Festival. Galligan is so vibrant in the role, the moment when he welcomes his uncle in for Christmas dinner was when my eyes started welling up, considerably ahead of schedule.

Kevin Bundy is an ebullient Mr. Fezziwig and Deborah Drakeford a refreshingly snappy Mrs. Cratchit.

The production does have one problem. John Jarvis again plays all the ghosts, wearing the overdone costumes of Julie Fox, a combination that results in a certain shallow sameness throughout.

But it's not enough to damage an otherwise luminous experience, which is a fine show in its own right. It's the perfect piece of entertainment to remind us in this economically troubled season that there is more to life than making money.

God bless us, every one!

This is an edited version of the review which first appeared in the Star on Dec. 7, 2006.


Obama: Not A Stereotypical Brother, But Funny Nonetheless

Source: www.thestar.com - Kenny Robinson,
Special To The Star

(November 30, 2008) When Barack Obama became the first black to be elected president of the United States, he changed the history of America, and hopefully the level of comedy that is performed by both black and white comedians.

I am excited that many black comics will become more political in nature now that Obama is in office. The office of president has always been a target for political humour, and Obama's race should not exempt him from ridicule should he stumble, stagger or fall.

Hopefully he will do for political humour what Tiger Woods did for golf; he will show that politics is just not for white men any more.

I look forward to the work of black comics such as Paul Mooney, Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Kat Williams and David Allen Grier's Chocolate News taking on Obama's detractors, or calling him on his missteps.

I shed a tear like Jesse Jackson's on election night that we'll never get to hear the late Richard Pryor's or Bernie Mac's take on everything that will go down in the next four years.

During the campaign Bill Maher mused that Obama was "too perfect" a candidate. That means that comedians will have to be smarter and work harder to find the funny.

So what kind of comedy will Obama inspire in the next four years?

When Jesse Jackson ran for president, Eddie Murphy led the pack with assassination jokes. No doubt they will be recycled for Obama, and with the high number of death threats already reported by the Secret Service. There will be jokes about his ears, jokes about his bluish lips and jokes about his whiteness as opposed to his blackness.

There will be jokes that Oprah may become the new Lewinsky, that Obama is a pimp and working Hilary too hard. There will be jokes about first lady Michelle, her clothes, hair, and whether she wears the pants in the family. There will be jokes, unfortunately, about the Obamas' two little girls – and jokes about the president's mother-in-law living in the White House.

The Obamas as America's First Family will be closer to that of Vaughn Monroe's Kennedys than George Jefferson's "Movin' on Up." They are more Huxtables than Good Times.

But jokes that rely on black stereotypes will be lame and hack. Obama is not your stereotypical brother, despite his plans to replace W.'s bowling alley with a basketball court.

At left are samples of some of the Obama bits that can be heard on Toronto comedy stages.

Kenny Robinson is a Toronto comedy institution.


It's been said that U.S. president-elect Barack Obama is hard to make fun of, but there are those who make a living off such things. We asked four local comedians to submit the best Obama material they've come up with; vote for your favourite by emailing his name to entertain@thestar.ca and the winner gets $200. Yes, we can afford that. (Kenny Robinson and Rodney Ramsey perform tonight at the downtown Yuk Yuk's black comedy night.)


Barack Obama is a smoker, which brings me joy. The media has asked whether America was ready to have a black man in the White House. I ask the question, will they allow him to smoke?

I hope so. Being president is a very stressful job. I don't want to see Obama chewing nicotine gum. If Barack has to decide whether he is going to vaporize North Korea, I don't want the brother to be on the patch ... I want a big, dirty ashtray filled with butts right next to "The Button."

I want to be able to go through the ashtray and find a roach, knowing that Obama is cool with his decision. "Enjoy the light show."

Al-Qaeda's second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, recently referred to Obama as a "house Negro." Silly terrorist, why didn't he use the proper slur and use the N-word? It isn't as if the world would think less of him.


Has anyone else noticed that the number of black correspondents on CNN has quadrupled since Barack Obama began campaigning for presidency?

Many thought black political analysts were a myth, like hobbits, unicorns and heterosexual male hairdressers. It would seem as though blacks have suddenly been catapulted into positions of authority because of Obama's exceptional achievements, which is unfortunate for those of us who enjoyed being lazy.

One finds it interesting that Africans have claimed racial ownership of Obama. With a smile like Will Smith's and a layup similar to Scotty Pippen's, it's easy to forget that Obama is actually Halfrican American (the other half being able to get to work on time and possessing good credit).


A lot of people are excited that the U.S. finally has a black president. But some people like to say that technically he's half white. I would like to say that technically he's biracial. I say that because I'm biracial and that's how I like to be described, not because I'm super politically correct or anything. I just find the term "half black" sounds like I'm still working on it.

I just don't think four years is enough time to fix the mess that George W. Bush left. I think no one knows just how bad it is. I think Barack Obama will show up at the White House on his first day saying: "Okay, time to fix the count. WHAT THE F---? Oh my god, it looks like monkeys have been living in here. Get me the Al-Qaeda file. Why is there a Lite-Brite in this thing?! I've made a huge mistake."


Election night in America was very emotional; even Oprah was jumping on her couch.

In Chicago, I saw black people and white people crying and hugging each other. White people were crying in the southern states, too, for different reasons. "I guess it's all over now, huh, Earl? All right, I want everyone to put your pointy white hoods in one pile and your crosses and your kerosene in this pile and we'll have a bonfire. Maybe we can roast marshmallows: you know what that's like – when something white turns golden brown."

I'm still paranoid about assassination, though; that's not a race thing, that's a change thing. They kill white people who try to change things in the U.S., too: bring that up at the next Kennedy family reunion. I want to see Barack Obama on Inauguration Day decked out like Iron Man!

Amid The Intoxicating, Drawn To The Forbidden

Source: www.thestar.com - Donna Bailey Nurse

Valmiki's Daughter
by Shani Mootoo
House of Anansi,
391 pages, $29.95

(November 30, 2008) If the premise of Shani Mootoo's latest novel wasn't so sad it might easily read as farce: A handful of gay spouses in a conservative community pretend to be straight, while their partners pretend not to know.

The action of Valmiki's Daughter unfolds in Trinidad among members of the urban, affluent Indian class whose ancestors climbed out of indentured service in the cane and cacao fields. With such dark memories coursing through their veins, it's no wonder they are prepared to sacrifice personal contentment to maintain their elite status.

Valmiki – the name of Mootoo's eponymous character is also the name of the Hindu sage who wrote the ancient Indian epic Ramayana – is married with two daughters. He is a respected physician, despite his well-known habit of using his medical offices for sexual dalliances with numerous women.

Valmiki's reputation as a philanderer serves a crucial purpose: it camouflages his socially unacceptable passion for men.

Years ago, as a student, he fell in love with a young man named Tony. They hoped to spend their lives together, but in the end Valmiki could not stomach the idea of devastating his parents. He opted for involvement with a local girl and married her. He has not slept with his wife in years. Now he regularly visits a mixed-race male lover who has introduced him to hunting in the forests outside the city.

Valmiki's eldest daughter, Viveka, is a student at the University of the West Indies. The truculent 20-year-old has taken to interrogating her parents about their lifestyle, which she dismisses as snobby and racist. She'd love to invite her mixed-race boyfriend, Elliot, to one of her parents' frequent parties, just to irritate them. Yet Viveka does not wish to encourage Elliott's romantic interest, as she is increasingly uncertain about her own sexuality.

Mootoo is best known as the author of the Giller Prize-nominated Cereus Blooms at Night. She is one of a number of notable Indo-Canadian writers of Trinidadian descent. Partly because of the island's unique history, born of the proximity of African, Indian and European peoples, these writers (most prominently Neil Bissoondath, Robin Maharaj, Ramabai Espinet and, most recently, David Chariandy) excel at articulating the dynamics of class and race.

But in this novel, Mootoo's attempts to address race and class mostly flounder, although she does make a valiant effort in the figure of Nayan Prakash, a friend of Viveka's whose family owns a chocolate factory. Nayan has recently returned from Canada with a degree and a beautiful French wife. He explains to Viveka the sly manner with which he successfully insinuated himself into the "right" Canadian circles:

"I found I had to pull out my credit cards to get noticed and respect ... Once you're in you start to show you are just like they are, perhaps you even have better manners and nicer ways. They take you home. Their parents like you because there is something vaguely old-fashioned about you, something reminiscent of themselves, and before you know it, you're in."

His discussion of the social advantages of a coloured man having a white wife is equally off-putting: "And I know that marrying Anick, or rather Anick marrying me, is an indication of my worth."

Nayan may be calculating and vulgar, but we might have more feeling for him if Mootoo had taken the time to dramatize his experience, rather than conveying it in straight dialogue.

To be fair, race is difficult material to work with, particularly when many writers, of whatever colour, feel implicated in the same racial conflicts they struggle to define. As it turns out, race and class do not emerge as Mootoo's primary concerns in Valmiki's Daughter.

Instead, her central preoccupations include gender expectations, sexual orientation and social acceptance. Viveka turns out to be drawn to Nayan's wife, leaving her to face, unknowingly, the same dilemma her father faced years ago.

This novel takes off on some interesting tangents. We encounter aspects of the island's French history. Nayan's family's chocolate company originally belonged to a French planter. Is it coincidence or fate that the new mistress of the house turns out to be a French woman?

We encounter literary history as well: Valmiki's excursions into the forest further evoke passages of his namesake's Ramayana.

Finally, Mootoo's delineation of the dense mystery of the forest is haunting. Her portraits of the island's intoxicating flowers in all their profusion and blistering colours are utterly surreal. This is where the Toronto author's true powers lie.

Donna Bailey Nurse is a Toronto reviewer and anthologist.

Toni, Interrupted

www.globeandmail.com - Simon Houpt

(November 28, 2008) Princeton, N.J. - “No one talks about the book,” sighs
Toni Morrison, and while she's mildly irked by this turn of events, she understands these are exceptional times. She was in England a few weeks ago, there to do press and public appearances for her exquisite new novel, A Mercy, and all they wanted to hear was a dissection of U.S. racial and presidential politics. But she gave them what they wanted, because she knows this is what it means to be Toni Morrison: to be always and forever the first African-American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, to be the rare writer of novels who receives standing ovations from audiences seeking to be transformed by their encounters with the word made flesh, to be not just an author but an ambassador.

And, this afternoon, being Toni Morrison means to be anchored behind her desk on the Princeton University campus, where she has taught writing for almost 20 years, sipping cold coffee and picking at a crumbly cookie. It is just hours after Barack Obama became president-elect of the United States, and Morrison, 77 years old and operating on little sleep, began the day with a Good Morning America satellite hit and still has another couple of interviews before she can take a breather. Even Nobel laureates have publicity obligations.

But even if people only want to talk about the election, A Mercy is still perfectly positioned to become part of the dialogue. Because, while Barack Obama will soon be America's first “post-racial” president, the novel is what Morrison calls “pre-racial,” and they are, in a way, the same thing.

Set in the last couple of decades of the 17th century, when the U.S. was a half-lawless land of unbound desires whose bounty was being parcelled up according to whims of various foreign kings, A Mercy is an intimate story with epic implications, sung in notes of deep ambivalence.

It begins with Jacob Vaark, a Dutch orphan who lives a primeval version of the American Dream, having scrambling hard enough in the New World to claim a small patch of land. For a time, the dream tentatively blossoms, even after Vaark and Rebekka, his 16-year-old mail-order bride from London, lose all of their natural-born children to illness. They form an ad hoc polyglot family with two indentured male servants and three young women who are also, in their way, orphans: Lina, a native Indian girl who lost her entire village to disease; Sorrow, the sole survivor of a shipwreck; and Florens, an eight-year-old black girl given away by her mother, a slave whose owner cannot meet his financial obligations to Jacob. While Florens sees her transfer to Jacob's care as an act of maternal abandonment, her mother views it as one of terrible, costly mercy.

“For me, the most devastating thing about slavery is – in addition to all the other little horrors – the separation of the family. Breakdown. You don't know where your children are,” notes Morrison.

When Jacob dies of smallpox eight years later, the tenuousness of the family structure is laid bare. And while only one of the young women is black, Jacob's death leaves them all at risk of being de-legitimized.

“These are women, understand: in most cases, illegal without a man,” Morrison explains. “I wanted to separate slavery from race. It's not difference that matters – there are differences that are profound – it's hierarchy. One is ‘better' or ‘lower than.'” She speaks slowly in honeyed tones, emphasizing each word, like a patient professor. “The hierarchy is planted. Sustained. And who does that serve?”

Even on a drizzly day, Morrison's office is a warm space, made brighter by double-height ceilings. A large table to her right is weighed down with manuscripts sent by publishers and students in hopes of feedback. To the left is a black-and-white picture of Morrison as a solemn-faced young girl of about 8, the same age as Florens when her mother gives her away in A Mercy. A clutch of family pictures sits in frames, and a commemorative Nobel poster hangs on the wall behind Morrison, where visitors are reminded of her rare achievement but she is not. The pictures she prefers to see are two striking portraits of disfigured men by the cult photographer Robert Bergman. “They look Renaissance,” says Morrison approvingly. “I wrote a preface for one of his books [ A Kind of Rapture, 1998] and finally got up the courage to say, ‘Could you send me a print?' And he did, and I hung it up, but it's too powerful [on its own], you can't have that eating up a room. So I asked him for another.”

The seminar she teaches, called The Foreigners' Home: The Literature of Dispossession, includes novels, “about people who are feeling dispossessed or exiled.” She has three residences: a pied-à-terre in lower Manhattan; a larger home overlooking the Hudson River; and a place here in Princeton, near one of her sons and her grandchildren. And though she jokes about being rootless, shuttling among the homes – “Oh, I have bags! All I do is carry bags! I have a bedroom bag, I have a linen bag – Morrison spends most of the school year in Princeton, where she has been a fixture since 1989.

Mostly, she does her writing up by the Hudson and has it entered into a computer here, where she works on printouts, revising ad nauseam. “I can tell when creative-writing students compose on the computer,” she says with a sly smile. Writing that way is “deceptive because you have this print and you think: That sentence makes sense because it's in this [professional-grade] font! But if you're writing” – by which she means actually writing by hand – “first of all, you may not like the act of writing, so you're not gonna waste time.” Morrison mimes typing. “I'm a very good typist, I can do this forever.” She throws her head back and rolls her eyes to the heavens, while her fingers move with abandon. (If her books aren't known for their humour, she has a comic wit that often flashes in person.) “Each sentence looks great! ‘Oh yeah, I meant that!' No! Writing is revising. If you don't like that ” – she stops herself and unleashes the sort of large, breathy laugh she seems to deploy as a stopgap measure against chastising people.

A Mercy took about five years to write, half of which was taken up by research into the time period. “I got this great book, called Changes in the Land,” about the landscape before the arrival of Europeans. “It has all this stuff! I didn't know: Were there dandelions? What were the fauna, birds, fowl, everything? And how the Europeans changed it. Just knowing what the grasses were!” Only once she knew about the setting could she let her imagination roam freely.

Morrison is often asked about why she sets her books in the past. “Many people complain, almost like [the past] is over there somewhere,” she waves a hand to the middle distance. “But there is no book in the world that doesn't include the past. The detective story starts with a murder and then you have to go back.” (She loves mystery author P.D. James.) Another breathy laugh that suggests she is impatient with this question, but she forges ahead with a deeper answer: She is interested in periods that strike her as being unarticulated. “I keep finding these gaps and silences, and ask: Well, what about this? And suppose this?” She cites two of her novels as examples: “Black towns, who ever heard of those? Paradise, you know? Jazz – that belongs to Mr. Fitzgerald? I don't think so! That's the way it coalesces for me.”

Right now, she's rooting around in the 1950s. “Do you know how many people died in the Korean War? Sixty-eight-thousand – and it's like disappeared from the face of the Earth.” She emits another breathy laugh, then spins out a vivid tableau she's been turning over in her brain lately. It is a simple image, deeply troubling, and encapsulated by a phrase that's only four words long. But after describing the image, she insists it stay off the record; she doesn't know yet if anything will come of it. Though she is, certainly, relieved to have the seed of an idea in her head. “When I have had periods when I didn't have another idea, the melancholy and dread is very deep. Very deep. I'm not … happy.”

There is another reason to keep writing. “My life is so ordinary. I don't ski and swim and stuff. But the real world for me, the exciting world for me, the free world for me, the place I don't have to do anything anybody says – nobody tells me what to do – is in those books. Everything else I do is for my children, my sister, my students, somebody else's expectations.

“In my work, there are only my expectations” – she thumps the desk with her hand – “and I can't let anybody in, even though I am writing for you, hoping that you come in and help me with this book. That's the only way I can do it. It's the liberation for me, it's the freest place I know. You know, the freedom of the mind.”


Piece's Moving Parts Summon Wonder

Source: www.thestar.com - Susan Walker,
Dance Writer

Lost Action
http://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gifhttp://www.thestar.com/images/misc/sb_star10.gif(out of 4)
Choreography by Crystal Pite
Until Saturday at Fleck Dance Theatre, 207 Queens Quay W.

(November 27, 2008) Kidd Pivot lives up to its name with
Lost Action. Crystal Pite's Vancouver company performs this rather overwhelming work with the recklessness and irreverence implied in the word Kidd and the precision of a well-executed pivot.

The narrative is not explicit. It is for the audience to interpret from the body language. It's enough to know that this dance, which premiered in March 2006, alludes to the conditions of soldiers in combat. But Lost Action depicts intimate interaction, intense co-operation, camaraderie and group reaction to loss that could apply to many situations. Performing a dance, for instance.

It is an intensely physical piece, built on incredibly intricate and innovative choreography.

The dance begins with chaos and a mood of panic, over the clicking sounds of a Morse code transmission, as seven shadowy figures scramble helter-skelter under a blue light. The lights come up on a red dance mat, backed with a full-length finely corrugated red curtain – blood and guts, maybe.

Eric Beauchesne, Malcolm Low, Yannick Matthon and Jermaine Spivey marshal themselves into a row that keeps breaking down and reforming as they dash from one corner of the stage to another. Laughter and broken bits of conversation are overhead: "I don't understand"; "It's funny now"; "No, it's not." It's very loud, disorienting.

Pite, dressed like the men and the other women in pants and T-shirt, performs an astonishing solo in which she appears to have more movable parts than the standard human body. Pite moves with extraordinary articulation, a mobile illustration of Hamlet's "what a piece of work is man."

Recurrent images establish a theme of loss and mourning. Spivey lies inert on the floor, the unknown soldier. Another dancer slowly walks between the still figures solemnly bearing the parka of a lost one. Hands cover eyes and mouths in gestures of helplessness.

The wonder of the piece is in the assemblages of bodies like buildings, quickly erected and just as quickly collapsed on themselves. A stunning sequence has four men manipulating a female dancer into many positions so it looks as if she's dancing in the air. Pite's ballet background shows in duets, trios and quartets involving impossibly complex holds and lifts.

Owen Belton's soundscape and thundering percussive score create a sense of relentlessness. Beauchesne's repeated words, "I'm going to start from the beginning ..." apply to some mechanical routine he's learning. But it's easily understood as a statement of renewal.


Burke Takes Helm Of Maple Leafs

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(November 29, 2008) The Brian Burke era has arrived for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

He was handed the reins of the NHL club during a news conference this afternoon, officially taking over as president and general manager.

He gets a six-year deal worth a reported $3 million annually.

The move comes after months of speculation about Burke's future.

He replaces Cliff Fletcher, who was hired as interim general manager following the firing of John Ferguson in January.

Burke spent the past three-plus seasons managing the Anaheim Ducks, leading them to a Stanley Cup title in 2007.

He stepped down from the post on Nov. 13 after declining to sign a contract extension that would take him beyond this season.

Burke's track record suggests that it shouldn't take very long for him to start putting his stamp on the team.

During previous management stops in Hartford, Vancouver and Anaheim, the 53-year-old has been unafraid to make bold moves.

Luxury Living Means Little If Raptors Lose

Source: www.thestar.com - Dave Feschuk,
Basketball Columnist

(November 30, 2008) Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, in describing a three-game Western road trip that begins tonight against the L.A. Lakers, used the word “brutal.”

And considering what happened the last time the Raptors visited the Lakers on a Sunday night – after which, to refresh your recollection, they printed up commemorative T-shirts bearing the name Bryant and the number 81 – we concur with the coach’s horror. But the brutality, even Mitchell will admit, has its benefits.

In L.A. last night, for instance, the Raptors stayed at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, an ultra-luxe crash pad to pop-culture deities from John Lennon to Julia Roberts. The place is opulent enough that Jim Labumbard, Toronto’s veteran media relations guru who’s forgotten more nights in five-star hotels than most of the rest of us will ever experience, recalls bunking in a Wilshire suite lavish enough to have a bathroom on either end of its acreage.

“Two bathrooms?” said Chris Bosh, the Raptors all-star, shrugging as though he’d know exactly what to do with such extravagance. “Have two baths, man.”

If NBA players have grown blasé about their luxury lifestyle, consider that it’s been more than 20 years since the Detroit Pistons led the move to now-universal private-charter air travel. And even Mitchell, the 43-year-old former player, can scarcely recall the days when a veteran had to pay a premium to secure his own room on the road. In this every-man’s-an-island league, a spacious room of one’s own is now an inalienable right written into the collective bargaining agreement.

But NBA-style luxury is relatively new to a handful of Raptors. For Roko Ukic, the 23-year-old rookie who honed his game in Croatia’s lower-pro rungs, life wasn’t always thus.

“We stayed in some bad places. It just was terrible, terrible. You cannot imagine,” Ukic was saying last month. “No TV. Cockroaches. No curtains on the windows, so you wake up at 5 a.m. …”

The continental crossover of talent has pro players comparing notes. Josh Childress, last year’s Atlanta Hawk turned this year’s Greek-team showpiece, was telling the New York Times a while back that, while his new squad doesn’t fly private jets to all their games – and while a 6 a.m. commercial flight to Israel was “rough” – things are awfully good for pro athletes on the Continent.

Still, road-tripping European-based players, in lieu of pocketing the NBA-standard per diem of $114 (U.S.) for food and incidentals, typically eat three meals a day as a squad (depending on the coach, they may or may not have to ask permission to order a glass of vino). And they almost always share a hotel room with a teammate. The mandatory-roommate policy is not necessarily a financial concern. It endures, says Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors Italian senior executive, “because that’s the principle of creating team spirit.”

Anthony Parker, the Raptors shooting guard who grew up in the Chicago area but made his name in the Israeli league, shakes his head at the memory.

“Most of the beds were single beds, small single beds,” said Parker. “And you come into the room and they’re separated by, like, three inches. All the American guys would slide their beds to the opposite ends of the room.”

Parker said he doesn’t miss the only English channel being CNN. And he doesn’t miss Europe’s economy-class air travel. (“If you’ve got enough seven-footers on your team, sometimes you had to sit in the middle,” he said). But he acknowledges he didn’t have it so bad.

Sherman Hamilton, the Raptors TV broadcaster, certainly had it worse. “This was in the Ukraine. The window’s busted. There’s cold air coming in. I literally slept in a sweatsuit, winter jacket, gloves, a hat and my boots,” Hamilton said, speaking of days employed by a not-quite-prime-time Finnish club. “I’m not joking. We left the hot water running to steam the room. We came back, the room was flooded.”

That kind of hardship, to be clear, doesn’t befall Europe’s top-flight pros; Andrea Bargnani, who came to Toronto via the elite Euroleague, said his biggest burden in Benetton Treviso was a roommate who snored like an earthquake and was eventually handed the key to a single room. But Gord Herbert, the first-year Raptors assistant coach who coached in the Euroleague, said his early impressions of the NBA road life suggest it’s far more conducive to performance.

While his overseas teams flew the occasional charter, his recollections of commercial air travel include a nine-hour layover in the Prague airport and a seven-hour sitdown in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle. Far better, Herbert figures, to pull up to the tarmac, as the Raptors can now, and fly direct on a catered jet with business-class loungers and all the other trimmings.

Perhaps this is a small reason why Ukic left money on the table overseas to test himself (and spoil himself a little) in the NBA.

“It’s easy to get used to the good things,” said Ukic, smiling. “Now, if they don’t put out the food (on the private plane) fast enough, you say, ‘Hey, where is the food?’ It becomes normal very quick.”

He smiled and glanced at the scouting report in his lap.

“I enjoy it, but I would trade all this food, all these luxury hotels, for one good game,” Ukic said. “At the end of the day, everything is about the basketball court. So you can have everything, but if you play bad, you feel bad. If you play good, you can stay in the worst hotel in the world, you can eat the worst food in the world, and it would make you happy.”


The Better Butt Diet: Super 6-Week Plan

By Raphael Calzadilla, BA, CPT, ACE, RTS1, eDiets Chief Fitness Pro

(July 30, 2008) I've designed a simple and effective six-week plan to steer you in the direction, toward a smaller and tighter butt.

I can't create miracles in six weeks, but I can provide a realistic starting point.

Let's begin with a reality check. You can't get a good-looking butt if you have excessive body fat. I'm not suggesting that you have to attain a perfect body to get a good-looking butt; after all, we need to respect different shapes, forms and genetic structures. However, don't expect to have great glutes with excessive body fat.

You need to consume fewer calories than you burn, but that doesn't mean starving yourself and eating as little as possible.

The key to manipulating nutrition is eating the correct foods in the correct amounts at the correct times. If you're an eDiets member using one of our specially designed nutrition programs, you're automatically on track with this necessary piece of the formula.

What I like about my six-week plan is that it's easy to follow and includes a schedule that calls on you to progress each week. This will help you to burn more and more calories each and every week. The pace of progress calls for in this plan exercise isn't easy, but it's also not complicated. And my simple nutrition tips are sure to make a difference if you follow them each and every week for the entire six weeks.


1. Walking Lunges -- (Watch the video below!) Stand with your feet hips-width apart, grasp a pair of dumbbells or cans with your arms straight at your sides, palms facing your body. Take a long step forward and lower your body so your front knee lines up with your ankle. The back knee is almost touching the floor. Push off with your back foot and take a long step forward with your other foot. Walk-lunge 15 steps and then turn around and return to the start (one set). You should contract your glutes on the lowering of each movement. Perform two sets on two alternate days per week.

2. Power Walking -- Power Walk for 30 minutes. Generally, a good speed is between 3.5 and 4.0 mph on a treadmill. You're walking briskly, but you should still be able to hold a conversation. Begin slowly and build to your max speed. Walk for 30 minutes four days per week.

3. Eat breakfast every morning. Eating a healthy breakfast will help to regulate blood sugar and help to prevent binge eating.


1. Walking Lunges
-- (See the video from Week 1) Use the same parameters as week 1. Perform two sets on two alternate days per week.

2. Extension Step-Ups -- Grasp a pair of dumbbells or cans by your sides with palms facing the side of the body. Stand behind a 6- to 12-inch high step or bench (normally used in aerobic step classes) and keep your arms straight. Step onto the middle of the step with your right foot and then lift your left knee high (to hip height). Step down with your left foot, and then repeat on the right side. Perform one set of 15 steps on each leg -- two alternate days of the week.

3. Power Walking -- Increase the time to 37 minutes and keep the days the same (four days per week).

4. Assess Your Pantry/Refrigerator -- Eliminate foods that you tend to binge on and that have empty calories .


1. Walking Lunges
-- Perform three sets on two alternate days per week.

2. Extension Step-Ups -- Increase to two sets but keep to two alternate days per week.

3. Power Walking -- Add a fifth walking day and keep the time the same (37 minutes).

4. Water -- Consume 64 or more ounces per day. Think that sounds like a lot? Here are 10 easy ways to get your water.


1. Squats -- (Eliminate the Walking Lunge exercise). Place a broom stick or barbell across the back of your shoulders. Be sure it's not resting on your neck. Your feet should be shoulders-width apart. Lower the weight, keeping your knees behind the toes at all times. Think of sitting back into a chair and contract the glutes on the lowering phase. Stop when the knees are at a 90-degree angle. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Inhale while lowering the weight, and exhale while returning to the starting position. Do not let the knees ride over your toes (you should be able to see your feet at all times), and don't arch your back. Perform two sets of 15 reps on two alternate days per week.

Watch the video below for a helpful guide.

2. Extensions Step-Ups -- Remain with three sets but add a third day (alternate days of the week).

3. Power Walking -- Increase the time to 40 minutes and keep the days the same (five days).

4. Junk Food -- Eliminate one junk food item from your diet this week.


1. Squats -- (Need help? Watch the video from Week 4.) Increase the sets to three and increase the reps to 20 (two alternate days per week).

2. Extensions Step-Ups -- Perform three sets but increase the reps to 20 (three alternate days per week).

3. Bent Knee Push-ups -- (Video below!) Start with your hands and knees on a mat. Your hands should be shoulder width apart and your head, neck, hips and legs should be in a straight line. Do not let your back arch and cave in. Lower your upper body by bending your elbows outward, stopping before your face touches the floor. Contracting the chest muscles, slowly return to the starting position. Perform one set of six to 10 reps or as many as you can do on two alternate days per week.

4. Power Walking -- Increase the time to 45 minutes and keep the days the same (five days).

5. Carbohydrates -- Slightly decrease the amount of starchy carbohydrates at two of your meals. For example, if you're having pasta for dinner, decrease your normal serving.


1. Squats -- Continue with three sets but increase the reps to 22 (two alternate days per week).

2. Extension Step-Ups -- Perform three sets but increase the reps to 22 (three alternate days per week).

3. Bent Knee Push-ups -- Perform two sets as many as possible. Increase to three alternate days per week.

4. Power Walking -- Add a sixth day and perform 45 minutes each day.

5. Brown Bag -- If you work outside of the home, bring a bagged, healthy lunch at least three times this week.

After six weeks you can tailor the program to your liking. My job is to help jump-start you in the right direction.

As always, check with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.


Motivational Note

Source: www.eurweb.com
 — Colin Powell

"The day people stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them."