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May 29, 2008

Is it really almost June?  Could it be that the warmer weather is actually here to stay?  Summer - the absolute best as people's spirits soar and people's dispositions seem ... sunny!  Mark your calendars for (and what a great Father's Day gift!) the Diary of Black Men at the Sony Centre on Friday, June 20th and Saturday, June 21st. 

Lots of great Canadian news below mixed with lots of global entertainment news! 

Scroll down and find out what interests you - take your time and take a walk into your weekly entertainment news!



The Diary Of Black Men: “How Do You Love A Black Woman?” Friday, June 20th and Saturday, June 21st

Profile Entertainment presents Thomas Meloncon’s The Diary of Black Men on Friday, June 20th and Saturday June 21st  at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.  The shows start at 8:00 p.m.

The Diary of Black Men
delivers a strong emotive message about the relationships between black men and women.   The play provides an opportunity for both men and women to see the other’s side of the relationship issues.   

Six male actors portray the different characters: The Working Man, The Black Muslim, The Player, The Black Revolutionary, the Professional and “Slick.”  There is one woman in the play who plays a representative role and does not have any speaking lines.

Audiences will experience side-splitting humour, anger and déjà as they relate to the different vignettes played out on stage.

Billed as a “must see” for the black community, the play has had successful box office records and is considered a phenomenon by theatre audiences across the world. Since 1983, the play has been touring and entertaining audiences in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and the Caribbean.

Not only is The Diary of Black Men an entertaining theatrical performance but it is informative, educational and worthy of the many accolades it has received over the years,

Following the highly successful run of Umoja, Profile Entertainment now brings Toronto theatre audiences the longest touring play in African-American history, The Diary of Black Men.

Makes a Great Fathers Day Gift!

Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
1 Front St. E. (corner of Yonge & Front St.)
Prices are: $67.50, 57.50, $47.50 and $37.50.
Tickets: (416) 872-2262 or CLICK HERE

For Group rates call 416.751.1717


Nelly Furtado’s Manager Chris Smith Is A Man On A Mission

www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(May 22, 2008) *Jamaican-born artiste manager and producer Chris Smith is a man on a mission. Smith currently manages international pop star Nelly Furtado as well as Canada-based reggae/pop artiste Jarvis Church; rhythm and blues singer Tamia; Courtney John formerly known as Yogie; and sister duo Brick and Lace.

Smith has taken the expertise from his business background into running a full-fledged management firm and production entity Chris Smith Management. The company is based in Canada.  Smith has a lot of plans for Jamaican music including a variety show which will be syndicated overseas. This column caught up with Smith recently where he spoke about the future for Brick and Lace and Courtney John, the television variety show, and the working with a major pop star such as Nelly Furtado.

Kevin Jackson: What projects are you currently working on?
Chris Smith: I'm getting set to launch Brick and Lace, Courtney John and Jarvis Church. I am also in the midst of producing a music variety show. In all my global travels, I see a void in the music. The world needs more Jamaican music on a consistent basis. The variety show will be having auditions for dancers. It will be filled with performances and dancing. It's going to be over the top.

KJ: Speaking of the variety show, which television station will it air in Jamaica?
CS: We haven't finalised that as yet, but it will be syndicated globally.

KJ: Fill us in on this charity venture that you will be pursuing.
CS: I saw that there was a gap in music education, and I am establishing a non profit organisation to gather funds for music education. This country's natural resource is music. We need to develop and create more wicked musicians like the next Sly and Robbie.

KJ: What are some of your plans where Brick and Lace are concerned?
CS: There's two dimensions to them. It was important for the girls to establish themselves in Jamaica. We didn't want to go too far on the pop end without the Jamaican side being established. They have won most of the major awards in Jamaica and their video for Love Is Wicked is averaging 4.7 million hits on youtube. In April they will be touring the UK and Europe. A lot of people aren't aware how popular Brick and Lace are globally. I don't want to cross them over too quick and forget their roots.

KJ: How difficult or challenging has it been to manage an international pop star like Nelly Furtado?
CS: It's a challenge to maintain her business structure. She is a diamond seller and she has outsold a lot of artistes. She is really big globally and we have a massive team of people who work with her. We have a dedicated stylist, make-up person, security, road manager, tour manager and production manager. She even has a favourite pilot for her private jet.

KJ: What do you think about the current state of the music industry where records aren't really selling like once?
CS: The music industry is sort of reshuffling. I think it's exciting times. When there is a shift in mediums the way consumers receive music, people get nervous. I believe that once people understand what the digital era is about to bring to us and how efficient it is, we'll settle down. People will always need music. In Jamaica we need to train more. We have an abundance of talent here and we need more business people to get involved.

KJ: Have you seen any new talent here in Jamaica that you would want to work with?
CS: Attitude is the most important thing when working with an artiste. Attitude is everything. I've seen a few videos since I have been here and we plan to check out some of the artistes.

KJ: How did you get your start in the industry?
CS: I used to be in the financial sector and I decided to transfer that skill into the music industry. I went to college for marketing and when I felt I was seasoned enough, I started dabbling on the music front. I played the trumpet when I was in high school.

KJ: What's your Jamaican connection?
CS: I am originally from Annotto Bay in St. Mary. I moved to Canada many years ago.

KJ: Tell us about this upcoming concert you plan to have here in Jamaica with Nelly Furtado
CS: Nelly will be coming down for a concert to raise funds for music education here in Jamaica. She's been wanting to come to perform in Jamaica for sometime now. She 's also right in the mix because she has done her dub plates for Swatch International, she has done reggae remixes of most of her hits, and she has worked with Courtney John.


Madonna To Show Film At Moore's Festival

www.thestar.com - John Flesher, The Associated Press

(May 23, 2008) TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.–Madonna's new film on the impoverished nation of Malawi has wowed another maker of documentaries: Michael Moore.

Moore announced Thursday that Madonna, like himself a Michigan native, will appear for a screening of "I Am Because We Are'' during the Traverse City Film Festival on Aug. 2.

"She's sort of entered my realm," Moore said. "When I saw it, I thought, 'Wow, it's like she's been making these films for years.'''

Madonna produced and narrated the documentary after traveling to Malawi, where she met the toddler David Banda. She and husband Guy Ritchie are adopting the child.

"I Am Because We Are" illustrates the poverty that children of the southern African country face, how the AIDS crisis is claiming lives, and the conditions that cause disease and other misery there. But the film urges people to volunteer and tries to offer hope.

"She takes the viewer through a very personal journey and tries to connect us, living here in the U.S., giving us a window into the way it is for other people in the world," Moore said. "You're extremely moved when you watch it. You understand very clearly why she's devoted so much of her life to the people of Malawi.''

Moore said he was "outraged" by the criticism Madonna received for her efforts to adopt David. Some children's rights groups said it would be better to provide more resources so children could remain in their native countries. Others accused her of using her celebrity status to circumvent Malawian adoption laws, which she denied.

"As one who has seen what the yellow press can and does do, all of that was just one more reminder to me of just how dishonest so much of the media is in this country," Moore said.

An e-mail message seeking comment was sent to a publicist for Madonna.

Moore, who won the Academy Award in 2002 for "Bowling for Columbine," said he saw an early version of Madonna's film in London while shooting scenes for his latest documentary, "Sicko.''

After watching the finished product about a month ago, he asked Madonna for permission to screen it during the festival in Traverse City, his adopted hometown about 250 miles northwest of Detroit. Moore established the festival in 2005 with local author Doug Stanton and photographer John Robert Williams.

"She said she'd be thrilled to come here and be part of the film festival," Moore said. "We were pleasantly surprised.''

Madonna, born in Bay City and raised to the south near Detroit, recently released a new album, "Hard Candy," and is preparing for a worldwide tour that begins in August. She'll take a one-day break from rehearsals to visit Traverse City.

The film will be shown in a downtown theatre that seats 540. After the film is shown, Madonna will take questions from the audience, Moore said.

Bruce McDonald’s Pontypool

Sasha Stoltz

(May 20, 2008 - Toronto, Canada) – Director Bruce McDonald begins production on his first horror, the psychological thriller Pontypool.  Hot off US release of  "The Tracy Fragrements" starring Oscar Nominated Ellen Page and previous hits  "Hard Core Logo," "Dance Me Outside," and "Highway 61," Genie award winner and winner of Berlin Film Festival's coveted Manfred Salzgeber Award, McDonald promises to deliver  the unexpected with his new film Pontypool.  

Pontypool's plot is being kept under wraps and begins filming today in a discreet location in Toronto's West end.

Sydney Pollack, 73: Oscar-Winning Director

Source:  Raquel Maria Dillon, The Associated Press

(May 27, 2008) LOS ANGELES—Sydney Pollack was remembered by some of the elite actors he directed in films such as Out of Africa, Tootsie, and Absence of Malice, not only for his Academy Award-winning direction, but also for his acting talents.

Pollack, diagnosed with cancer about nine months ago, died Monday afternoon, surrounded by family, at his home in Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles, said his publicist, Leslee Dart. He was 73.

Unlike many other top directors of his era, Pollack was also a film and television actor himself, and he used this unique position to forge a relationship with Hollywood’s elite stars and create some of the most successful films of the 1970s and ’80s.

“I sort of straddle the line ... between personal movies and mainstream Hollywood,” he told The Associated Press in 1993.

In 1970, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, about Depression-era marathon dancers, received nine Oscar nominations, including one for Pollack’s direction. He was nominated again for best director for 1982’s Tootsie, starring Dustin Hoffman as a cross-dressing actor and Pollack as his exasperated agent.

As director and producer, he won Academy Awards for the 1986 romantic epic Out of Africa, starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, which captured seven Oscars in all.

Last fall, Pollack played law firm boss Marty Bach opposite George Clooney in Michael Clayton, which he also co-produced. It received seven Oscar nominations.

“Sydney made the world a little better, movies a little better and even dinner a little better. A tip of the hat to a class act,’’ Clooney said in a statement. “He’ll be missed terribly."

Other A-listers Pollack directed include Sally Field and Paul Newman in Absence of Malice, Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn in The Interpreter, Robert Mitchum in The Yakuza, Tom Cruise in The Firm, and Redford in seven films: This Property Is Condemned, Jeremiah Johnson, Three Days of the Condor, The Way We Were with Barbra Streisand, The Electric Horseman, Out of Africa and Havana.

In later years, Pollack, who stood over six feet tall and had a striking presence on screen, devoted more time to acting, appearing in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives, Robert Altman’s The Player, Robert Zemeckis’ Death Becomes Her and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut.

On television, Pollack had an occasional recurring role on the NBC sitcom Will & Grace playing Will’s (Eric McCormack) father, and appeared in the Sopranos, Frasier and Mad About You.

His last screen appearance was in Made of Honor, a romantic comedy currently in theatres, where he played the oft-married father of star Patrick Dempsey’s character.

“Most of the great directors that I know of were not actors, so I can’t tell you it’s a requirement,” Pollack said at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. “On the other hand, it’s an enormous help.’’

Pollack first met Redford when they acted in 1962’s low-budget War Hunt, and would go on to play a major role in making Redford a star. “It’s easy working with Bob; I don’t have to be diplomatic with him,” Pollack once told The Associated Press. “I know what he can and cannot do; I know all the colors he has. I’ve always felt he was a character actor in the body of a leading man."

Pollack produced many independent films with the late Anthony Minghella and the production company Mirage Enterprises. His producing credits include The Talented Mr. Ripley; Cold Mountain; Sketches of Frank Gehry, a documentary that was the final film directed by Pollack; and the new HBO film Recount, about the 2000 presidential election.

Sidney Irwin Pollack was born in Lafayette, Ind., to first-generation Russian-Americans. In high school in South Bend, he fell in love with theatre a passion that prompted him to forgo college, move to New York and enrol in the Neighbourhood Playhouse School of the Theater.

Studying under the renowned Sanford Meisner, Pollack spent several years cutting his teeth in various areas of theatre, eventually becoming Meisner’s assistant.

“We started together in New York and he always excelled at everything he set out to do, his friendships and his humanity as much as his talents,” Martin Landau, a long-time close friend and associate in the Actors Studio, said in a statement.

After appearing in a handful of Broadway productions in the 1950s, Pollack turned to directing. He began on TV series such as Naked City and The Fugitive, then moved to film. His first full-length feature was The Slender Thread, about a suicide help line.

The film was scored by Quincy Jones. “Sydney Pollack’s immense talents as a director were only surpassed by the compassion that he carried in his soul for his fellow man,” Jones said Monday.

Pollack said in 2005 that for Tootsie, Hoffman pushed him into playing the agent role, repeatedly sending him roses with a note reading, “Please be my agent. Love, Dorothy.” At that point, Pollack hadn’t acted in a movie in 20 years — since The War Hunt with Redford.

The love soon frayed as Pollack and Hoffman differed over whether the film should lean toward comedy or drama, and the tension spilled into the public arena. But the result was a hit at the box office and received 10 Oscar nominations, with Jessica Lange winning for best supporting actress.

“Stars are like thoroughbreds,” Pollack once told The New York Times. “Yes, it’s a little more dangerous with them. They are more temperamental. You have to be careful because you can be thrown. But when they do what they do best — whatever it is that’s made them a star — it’s really exciting."

Pollack is survived by his wife, Claire; two daughters, Rebecca and Rachel; his brother Bernie; and six grandchildren.

Damon Allen Packs It In After 23 Seasons In CFL

Source:  www.thestar.com - Rick Matsumoto, Sports Reporter

(May 28, 2008) Damon Allen is finally ready to hang up his helmet.

 The 44-year-old Argonaut quarterback and future hall of famer is expected to announce his much-anticipated retirement at a press conference today.

 For weeks now pro football's all-time leading passer has been telling anyone who cared to ask that he might suit up for a 24th CFL season to add to the 72,381 yards he's already tossed the oval ball.

 But always, as he said that, there was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and a sly smile on the corner of his mouth.

 Even as recently as last Saturday, as he hosted his third annual Quarterback Challenge in Hamilton which brought together most of the CFL's top quarterbacks for a charity event, Allen was telling questioners that he might be at training camp.

 But today as the quarterbacks and rookies check in at the Argos' Mississauga practice facilities, Allen will announce that he's done after an outstanding career. He is expected to remain with the Argos but not likely as part of the coaching staff.

 Allen leaves having played for six CFL teams beginning in 1985 with the Edmonton Eskimos. Then it was on to the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, back to Edmonton and then a year with the expansion Memphis Mad Dogs before joining the B.C. Lions, where he had his longest tenure – seven seasons.

 In 2003, when Lions signed Dave Dickenson, Allen, who was approaching 40, became expendable and the Argos wasted no time in signing him.

 "He may be approaching 40 but physically he's a lot younger than that," Argo general manager Adam Rita said at the time. "I think he's still got a Grey Cup left in him."

 Rita was right.

 A year later, the Argos were crowned Grey Cup champions, with a 27-19 victory over the Lions in Ottawa's Frank Clair Stadium, and the 41-year-old Allen was named the game's MVP.

 While the Argos were unable to repeat as champions the following season, when they stumbled in the East final against Montreal after finishing in first place, Allen was named the CFL's most outstanding player for the first time in his career.

 In 2006, despite missing four weeks with a broken finger, he became pro football's all-time leading passer when he surpassed CFL/NFL great Warren Moon's yardage total.

 The end of his career came into sight last year when he lost the Argos' starting quarterback job to Michael Bishop. Then, after replacing the injured Bishop, he suffered a season-ending toe injury.

 The anticipation grew this off-season when the Argos obtained Kerry Joseph, last year's winner of the CFL's outstanding player award and the Grey Cup game MVP, from the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

 Joseph and Bishop are expected to battle for the No. 1 job at training camp, which begins this Sunday. Argos also have two highly regarded young quarterbacks in Cody Pickett and Reggie McNeal.

Developing Bigger Cojonas – Getting Ahead in the Music Business

by Daylle Deanna Schwartz

Often when I ask musicians why they haven't put together a tour yet or pushed to get their music out, or why they turned down a last minute opportunity, the response is, "I'm scared." It's okay to be scared. But getting past your fears by getting up the nerve to ask for what you want, or say yes to opportunities, works better if you want to get further than you are. You MUST take risks if you want to be happier. You MUST take risks if you want to be really successful. You MUST take risks if you want to live to the fullest extent of life. You MUST take risks if you want to build confidence in yourself. And you MUST take risks if you want to have the career you say you want. Saying and doing are two very different things. People say what they want, and what they hope for, and what they dream of. That's the easy part! "I want a national tour" but he never plays out of his hometown. "I want to license my music" but she never sends it to anyone. Actually becoming pro-active about making it happen takes BALLS! Guts! Brazenness! Cojones!

 People say I'm lucky to have done so much and had so much success. Hello! You make your own luck by not running from opportunities and taking risks. My rule in the last many years is if a good opportunity is offered, say YES and then figure out how to make it work. Even if it scares you a lot. Do you think I wasn't terrified to go on the Howard Stern show? But I did it, and it helped sell a lot of books.

You must say YES to any opportunity that's offered that can help your careers, no matter how scared you are or how many excuses you come up with. Then do what's necessary to work out the logistics. If someone offers you the opportunity to open for a large name act at the last minute, there's only one answer. It doesn't matter if you haven't rehearsed in a while or your guitar player is sick or you're flat out scared. Say YES! Then hustle to make it work.

I advocate developing a bigger set of BALLS in order to say YES to taking more risks. That means developing a personal level of courage. Here are some things that might help you:

* Become more spontaneous. Accept more things on a spur of the moment basis and occasionally make plans at the last minute. Often being a bit too rigid keeps us in the habit of turning down everything if there isn't lots of time to plan for it. Take a deep breath and just do it! Initiate something you've never done before. Call a venue you've never tried to get booked in. Do things fast, without time to second-guess.

* Squash the excuses. It's easy to find reasons for not saying YES. List your excuses for avoiding what you're afraid of failing at. Put an X next to any you can catch yourself and don't use it-each time. Applaud yourself each time. When you have 10 X's by an excuse, cross it out and give yourself a thumb's up!

 * Ask yourself what you're really scared of and what's the worst that can happen. What specifically scares you? Looking silly? Most people don't notice the things that make you feel silly. Asking for a higher percentage of the door from a venue? The promoter saying "no" won't kill you. Performing in front of a larger than usual group? The worst that could happen is you get a note wrong or go a little off key. Laugh and the moment. It will pass.

 * Practice acting confident. You don't have to be confident to act it. Take deep breaths, put on a smile, and assure yourself that you'll be okay. Hold your head high, speak slowly, and think self-assured. That helps create confidence.

 * Become pro-active in situations where you lack confidence. Try something new, even if it doesn't work, instead of complaining, indulging in self-pity, or convincing yourself you can't. No matter what their facade, intimidating people are human. No one is better than you are, unless you make them so. And most situations can be conquered!

 * Talk to yourself in the mirror. Tell yourself you can do it and that you plan to do what's necessary to achieve your goals. Over and over and over until it starts to sink in.

 * Applaud ever effort you make, even if you don't get the results you hoped for. There is still success in having tried. You made the call, even if you were turned down. You sent the music files, even if they weren't chosen. So be proud of every baby step you take and each little fear you conquer, even for the moment. It does get easier.

 * Tap into your spiritual support. You have support getting the gig or any other opportunity and you'll have support on the other end too-when opportunities materialize. When you get nervous or have self-defeating thoughts, keep saying "thank you" for what you want, even if you haven't received yet. If you're saying thanks, you can't think the negatives at the same time. Let the Law of Attraction manifest the positives!

Ask yourself, "Would I prefer to feel safe or be happy?" Safe isn't happy. I was very safe before I got my career going. Miserably safe! I thought security was more important than happiness. But happiness and getting your career going feels great, while striving for safety by avoiding risks is just passing time. Plus, avoiding risks doesn't really create security. It just keeps you stuck. If I hadn't said YES to the dare from my students who said a white woman couldn't rap, I'd still be a bored, unhappy teacher. CHOOSE to take more risks and see what happens. You can make your own miracles when you begin to say YES to things that scare you. That to me is also saying YES to life!

Daylle Deanna Schwartz Biography

Daylle Deanna Schwartz is the best-selling author of 9 books, including, I Don’t Need a Record Deal, published by Billboard. She also presents music industry seminars, does phone coaching/consulting for musicians and record labels, publishes a free e-zine, Daylle’s News & Resources (music industry) and writes the self-empowerment blog, Lessons from a Recovering DoorMat.



Wii Workout Is A Hit

Source: www.thestar.com - Heather Greenwood Davis, Special To The Star

(May 24, 2008) NEW YORK–The words coming out of Dorothy Evan's mouth are meant to be encouraging, but the look on her face suggests she expected more from me.

We are standing across from each other in what, on most days, is the squash court of Gravity Fitness – the hip health club below Le Parker Meridien hotel.

But today, instead of me being led through typical personal training paces, we're planning to play a video game.

Only at the Parker would this make sense. The swanky digs just off of Central Park are known for their oxymoronic offerings.

The gut-busting breakfasts at Norma's restaurant are in stark contrast to the svelte and sexy who's who of guests and international celebs who wander the halls.

Or take the award-winning $7 burgers at its 1950s-style (and aptly named) Burger Joint that sits behind a red velvet curtain, has walls coated in celebrity-authored graffiti and causes a mix of tailored suits and cut-up jeans to line up in the vaulted ceiling lobby every Friday for lunch.

And now they've adapted the couch potato's sport into an actual workout.

The new Wii fitness program at Gravity is a one hour-personal training session ($120 U.S.) that may trick you out of your inactive lifestyle.

Sign up and you'll spend part of the session doing the appropriate fitness drills for the sport of your choice (bowling, boxing, tennis and golf are among the options) and during what would normally be down time, between reps, you'll use the video game for active recovery.

The innovative Wii system allows you to reproduce the real skills you've just learned (how to jab, cross, duck and punch) against an onscreen opponent.

I opted for boxing and Evans set to work teaching me how to wrap my hands in bright yellow tape before slipping my lethal weapons into soft pink boxing gloves.

But here we are less than 10 minutes later and both of us seem a bit surprised by the outcome of my punches. Turns out I hit like a girl.

She tries to help: "Imagine that this is someone that makes you mad," she suggests.

Wop. Wop.

"I mean someone who has really ticked you off. See their face here. Get MAD!" she says demonstrating by punching the target herself.

Suddenly someone pops to mind.


The smile on her face suggests improvement.

"Time to drop the gloves," she says handing me two Nintendo Wii controllers.

Suddenly a boxing ring, complete with computerized opponent and surround sound, takes over the 20-foot wall in front of me.

As I assume the stance and begin to box, I find my inner Ali and begin punching and jabbing as though my life were in jeopardy.

Dorothy estimates you can burn anywhere from 300 to 800 calories in a session.

So far (pardon the pun) it's a hit – and not just with the gaming crowd.

"We've had an equal number of men and women sign up," says Evans.

"The women really like it. It's fun and a little different than a standard workout. You get all the benefits of the sport."

The number of women participants is expected to grow even further when the hotel brings in Wii Fit – a balance board being launched later this month.

The board will measure your Body Mass Index (BMI) and have programs that encourage you to do everything from yoga to hula-hoop practice.

The system at Gravity isn't an ordinary Wii.

The club worked with Nintendo to develop an industrial- strength version that requires no cartridges or game discs and allows them to project the game onto the wall without distortion.

And while you could get a Wii and use it on your own at home, by combining the gaming system with a personal trainer you're ensured of getting a more fulsome workout.

There's also the motivation factor.

While Dorothy has me ducking and punching, doing step-ups with a bench and generally sweating the pounds away, the knowledge that I'll get another shot on the video game in a few minutes keeps it interesting.

And when the time comes to take the controllers in hand, the hand-eye co-ordination necessary to play the game means I'm not thinking about the muscles that are working (and hurting!) or how many reps are left to be done.

As the session wears on I feel my arms turning to mush but Dorothy continues to bark commands at me as I try to work my way football player-style through a series of hoops placed on the floor.

Despite my reminders that I'm "just a writer" and there's no need to do a "full workout," she insists.

I'm weary but no less enthusiastic when it's time to play the Wii again.

When I punch my onscreen trainer in the head a few times ... by accident.

Dorothy smiles.

"It's funny," she says. "You don't get any points but people do seem to like hitting the trainer from time to time."

Can't imagine why.

Heather Greenwood Davis is a freelance columnist. Her visit was subsidized by the Parker Meridien Hotel.


Two Divas Reflect On One Another

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(May 25, 2008) Louise Pitre and Jackie Richardson are two of Toronto's most beloved talents. Pitre is known for her stint in Mamma Mia! as well as her fabulous performance in Piaf, while Richardson became a superstar with Cookin' at the Cookery and went on to even greater heights in Ain't Misbehavin'.

But they've never sung together ... until tonight, for one performance only, in a show called Heart and Soul at the Diesel Playhouse, 56 Blue Jays Way. 416-971-5656.

We asked these dynamic divas what they thought of each other.

What's your favourite memory of hearing Jackie/Louise sing?

LOUISE: I saw Jackie do Cookin' at the Cookery a few years ago. I had heard her before but never for an entire evening. I just wanted to hear it again and again.

JACKIE: Louise and I were involved in a show that was supporting women's causes quite some years ago. She came on and sang "La Vie En Rose" and completely mesmerized us all. Not a dry eye in the house. I have never forgotten that rapture.

What quality of Jackie's/Louise's singing touches you the most?

LOUISE: The immensely liquid quality of her singing and facial expressions. The way her eyes tell you what her heart is thinking. It's a personality coming through. That's what I look for in any performance – honesty.

JACKIE: Her passion. She's for real. She connects to what she's saying on a deep level and as a listener you respond and sometimes it's almost physical.

Is there one particular aspect of Jackie's/Louise's style you wish you could do yourself?

LOUISE: The low-down, bluesy style with a twinkle in her eye. She does that better than anyone.

JACKIE: I wish I could sing in French and with her passion, so I could do justice to Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf and Gilbert Bécaud.

What song that Jackie/Louise hasn't sung already would you like to hear her perform?

LOUISE: "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables. I bet she'd do a hell of a job of it.

JACKIE: I'd love to hear her sing my favourite Judy Garland song, "The Man that Got Away." Maybe she has sung it, but I haven't heard it and I'd love to.

If you had to describe the sound of Jackie's/Louise's voice, what would you compare it to?

LOUISE: It's like a big bowl of bread pudding with a lot of hot rum sauce all over it.

JACKIE: I love the sound of the wind, and Louise can do everything from a gentle rustling of the leaves to a full typhoon roar.

The Regina Belle Interview: Baby Come To Christ

Source:  www.eurweb.com -
By Mona Austin / msmona@lachurchscene.com

(May 23, 2008) In the late eighties every "Quiet Storm" DJ on the planet was playing "Baby Come to Me," the bellowing slow jam by Regina Belle that seemingly seduced the charts overnight. 

Into the nineties, Belle manufactured numerous hit love songs -- "Is This Love?," "Make It Like It Was," "Show Me the Way," and "All I Want Is Forever" (with JT Taylor of Kool & The Gang) -- all well written and colored by her feminine tenor tones.

Whether in a duet or alone, Regina was the embodiment of soulful grown folks music and one of the most recognizable and celebrated R&B vocalists of that period.  

She has four Grammys and an Oscar to her credit for "A Whole New World" (with Peabo Bryson for the Alladin soundtrack), a song that broadened her appeal to a pop audience. 

With formal college training at the Manhattan School of Music and Rutgers in Opera and Jazz, there are few genres she hasn't touched.  Next stop: gospel.

It has been the songstress' career-long wish to record a gospel album.  With the recent release of "Love Forever Shines" - her first gospel recording - Belle, 44, has now joined the fray of mainstream artists who at some point return to their musical beginning, the church.

In her case, she pulls from her days in the choir at Mt. Calvary Baptist church in Englewood, New Jersey where she was raised and from her family's deep roots in North and South Carolina.

Her contemporary and good friend Shirley Murdock who has walked a parallel path personally and professionally (both were leading ladies in R&B and are now first ladies in their husbands' churches), appears on the album in a duet entitled "I Call on Jesus." 

Backed by the rare partnership of two record labels, Pendulum Records and Walker Davis Entertainment, Belle and Gospel are a winning combination. The first single, "God is Good" charted as the number one Most Active Record and the number one Most Added Record at Gospel Radio during its first week of release.  Her brother and only sibling, Bernard Belle arranged and produced several songs on the 14-track album.

As Belle returns to her musical roots, love abides.

Mona Austin: You've had an opportunity to sing before various audiences including The President.  When you play to a church audience how different is it from when you perform before your R&B fans?

Regina Belle:  Actually when I did the thing at the White House it was a tribute to Shirley Caesar so that was pretty much the same.  But, in terms of it being different than when I'm on the road, the thing that I try to concentrate on mostly when I'm performing is that I do the very best I can so they can forget about what's going on at home and I can take them some place else and bring some peace into their lives. . .When I'm ministering that's totally different because that's a responsibility and liability that God holds me to.  I think I have a bigger responsibility on my shoulders when I'm singing gospel because now it's about letting people know God is available to you.  When you start talking like that you gotta go some other places..  Sometimes you have to expose some things about yourself.  It's totally different.

MA: I noticed you have Shirley Murdock on the project.  Both of you were prominent in R&B around the same time, now you're both in gospel.  What's it like having a friend on common ground?

RB:  It's wonderful being able to talk to her about different things.  She's been there and understands when you say, 'I'm not sure.' Things that we may question about this aspect of music.  Shirley's real easy to talk to.  She's always willing to lend her ear and myself back to her with anything she wants to talk about.

MA: Not everyone understands when you have a calling to minister to both "the world" and the Body (of Christ).  Have you received any resistance since you decided to do both R&B and gospel?

RB: No, not much actually. I think that's because when people listened to my music there was standard of integrity that has always been upheld.  My grandmother is almost a hundred years old, she's 98.  My mother and father are still living and they are getting ready to celebrate 60 years in marriage.  I come from a long line of marriages in my family. So the things that I sing about--love, people staying together--  I talk about all these different things that hold families together.  I think because of that it's easier for people to "swallow" what I'm doing, as opposed to maybe some other folks (not to be judgmental), but like R. Kelly.  That might be difficult for them.  God can do all things.  Just like he changed Paul who was a killer of Christians, he can work on R. Kelly.  He can work on whomever, but the point of the matter is that God can use whomever and whenever he pleases.  I hope that people understand that when God does something he doesn't always do it in the conventional way.

MA: You definitely have always projected a nice image, but I can't say that I've thought of it as a family image.  I know I'm not alone in recalling that you were thought of as very sexy and sultry.

RB: (Laughter) Wow! Really?

MA: Ms. Belle come on.

RB:  I've known that people have been very pleased with my music and that's what I've tried to concentrate on.  Sexy and sultry?  I don't know.  When they introduced me they used to say 'sultry', but I just thought of that as a title.

MA:  But there is a meaning behind that title.  "Baby Come to Me" -- that is one of the most sexual, sensual songs that I've ever heard. And we are adults.

RB:  But even with "Baby Come to Me" I'm talking about monogamous love.  I ain't talkin' about a spare and a pair.

MA: A what?

RB:  A spare and a pair.  Girl, I heard that and I thought I would lose my mind. I was like "a spare and a pair"?

MA:  What does that mean?

RB: In other words: one man ain't enough. I was actually at a Luther Vandross and Anita Baker concert and I heard a woman say that years and years ago. I thought to myself gosh, I have issues just trying to deal with my husband, I can't imagine dealing with two or three men at one time.  That would drive me nuts.  So even with "Baby Come to Me" and the songs that I sing I've always tried to make sure that I've tried to maintain the integrity behind the music.  Even if I talk about love I've gotta be careful that I'm talking about monogamous love or not talking about seeing someone else's man because that's just not my thing.

MA: Understood.  Speaking of pure music, true love will never die, long after love has lost its shine (a line from "Love Has Lost Its Shine").  That is where your new album gets its title, "Love Forever Shines."  Talk about why you decided to extend that theme to your gospel album's message.

RB:  Actually "Love Has Lost Its Shine" was done by Gladys Knight prior to me and it was called "Glitter."  Basically the song is saying after that first kiss or after your "representative" wears off-because you know when a man first meets a woman he don't really let out all of the bad stuff, she kinda gets eased into it-it takes some time to know who you're dealing with so I always say when you first meet someone you meet their representative.  "After Love Has Lost Its Shine" is saying that after that person wears off, I still love you and I'll still be in love with you because the longer I know you the more in love I'm gonna be with you.  That song was dedicated to my grandparents because before my grandfather passed away they had been married for 61 years.  They didn't just talk the talk.  They was about real love.

"Love Forever Shines" is talking about love in a whole 'nother aspect.  It talks about that there is a place in God that despite the fact all hell may be breaking loose in your life, when you build that relationship with God there's a place of peace, despite what's going on. . .

MA: Which of your songs encourages you when you're going through difficult times?

RB: "I'll Never Leave You Alone"

MA: Why so?

RB:  Because I wrote that song about 8 years ago when I was going through something kinda heavy.  I remember just beginning to pray and cryin' out to the Lord and while I was praying I just heard a voice say 'I'll never leave you alone.' I began to write that song down in the hotel.  That song inspires me and motivates me.  That song inspires me and lifts me up because even in my darkest times, God embraces me and lets me know I'm not alone.

MA: You got to sing with Melvin Williams.  I know that had to have been a whole lot of fun.

RB: It was a whole lot of fun. "It's Good to Be Loved" is the duet that Melvin and I do together and that's a song that takes me back to North Carolina to my grandparents' farm when I used to sit on the back porch on a swing ... me and my brother and drink lemonade and watch the sun go down.  Everything was just fine. There was no worries about anything.  That song takes me back to that special place.  Different songs have special meaning for me so they're kinda all my favourite.

MA: What overall message do you hope your fans will take away from the album?

RB: One-We serve a risen Saviour.  He's not dead in a grave somewhere.  He got up and he's very much alive. . .There are some things that make you wanna lose your mind, but the thing that stabilizes you and keeps you is Jesus Christ.  I try to look at it like insurance.  If you have an accident in your car and you pay for it, it was a waste of insurance. Coverage is only good when you acknowledge it.

Regina Belle, her five children and husband of seventeen years, former Cleveland Cavalier, Pastor John Battle reside in suburban Atlanta. She serves as the praise and worship leader at her husband's church in Atlanta, New Shield of Faith Ministries.

Al Green's Classics Revitalized When He's Backed Up By The Young And Hip

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
J.D. Considine

Blue Note

(May 27, 2008) Like garage rock and electric blues, soul music is a pop evergreen, a sound players and listeners alike continually return to - albeit with varying results. Retro is a tricky aesthetic, after all. Copy too closely, and your music seems second-hand; stray too far from the formula and you risk sounding like a pale imitation.

That conundrum is as true for aging originals as for those they have influenced. When
Al Green made his return to soul singing with I Can't Stop, about 27 years after he had traded the carnal allure of R&B for the sanctified safety of gospel music, he reunited with many of the same Memphis musicians who played on his great recordings of the seventies, including producer Willie Mitchell, guitarist Teenie Hodges and bassist Leroy Hodges. The rock press raved, but it felt more like a historical re-enactment than a classic soul album. The sound was perfect, but everything else seemed second-hand.

Lay It Down takes a totally different tack, dumping the old guys and teaming Green with a younger, hipper crowd: drummer/producer Amir (Questlove) Thompson (the Roots), the Dap King horns (Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones), and singers John Legend, Anthony Hamilton and Corinne Bailey Rae. These are performers who grew up on the music Green made, and whose own recordings have worked to recontextualize classic soul within a contemporary market.

At almost any other record company, the temptation would have been to use those young lions to remake Green's sound, something that would have undoubtedly wound up as an expensive exercise in dressing mutton as lamb. Fortunately, the suits at Blue Note decided to take things in a different direction, and let the kids make a classic Al Green album, which, incredibly, is exactly what they did.

It's easy to hear hallmarks of Green's seventies cannon throughout Lay It Down, from the sweet, thin sound of a smallish string section to the raw, throaty punch of the horns. However much they might evoke half-remembered hits, the songs never come across as retreads. Instead, Green and company use that old, familiar vocabulary to say something new.

You've Got the Love I Need is typical. It starts with a simple, throbbing pulse, heavy on the bass and tom-toms, and deftly parlays that into a dreamy, soulful verse, something that seems as much Philly soul as Memphis groove as Green warbles, "I got to have you in my life." But the chorus is dark and driving, with an immediacy that sweeps away any suggestion of the good ol' days. Green is singing about the here and now and sounds like it, bringing such passion to the music that when Hamilton joins in - it's the younger man who ends up sounding like the old-time soul singer.

Historically, Green has never been much for duets, and before this project had shared the mike only with Annie Lennox, for a one-off cover of Put a Little Love in Your Heart (recorded for the otherwise-forgotten soundtrack to Scrooged). Clearly, though, the old dog is more than happy to learn a few new tricks. His singing with Hamilton is sparked by the uplifting interplay of great gospel singing, while the slow, sweet Take Your Time, his duet with Rae, recalls the pillow-talk intimacy of Tammi Terrell's work with Marvin Gaye. And if Legend's falsetto cameo in Stay with Me (By the Sea) doesn't shine as brightly as the others, it at least has the advantage of being on one of the album's best songs.

In the end, perhaps the most miraculous thing about Lay It Down is that it manages to give listeners today a sense of what it was like to hear Green's classic albums when they were new. To make him sound any fresher would probably take a time machine.

Silky Soulful Gina Green Is Someone You Should Know About

Source: LaMarr Blackmon – CEO, B.E. Advertising & Promotions, 818.766.6125 - ilblackk@adelphia.net

(May 27, 2008) *(Los Angeles) - Over the years, many people have compared singer, songwriter Gina Green's silky, smooth & rich sounding voice to the 1980's R&B / POP diva Stephanie Mills; however, she has a unique and fresh sound for today's generation.

Going a step further as far as her voice is concerned, EURweb/RadioScope's Lee Bailey is excited about Gina's voice too.

"Yes Gina's voice reminds me of Stephanie Mills, but I also hear a tinge of some Jean Carne in her voice as well," said the media mogul. "A combination like that is pure vocal dynamite as far as I'm concerned."

Combining truth & real life experiences, Gina Green has been able to write songs that connect with people of all ages & ethnicities.

Her Debut CD" In His Time" shot up the European charts and topped out at #2 in the summer of 1996. Sales exceeded 10,000 units worldwide. Later she went on to record two more independently released neo gospel albums "Changes" and "Tell Um" which were also a success.

On August 13, 2006, she performed at the LAS VEGAS SOUNDS OF SOUL MUSIC AWARDS located inside the prestigious 'Cashman Theater" In Las Vegas, Nevada.

Gina was nominated by the "Black Music Academy Association of America (BMA'S)" in a total of two categories: "Best Gospel Performer - Female" and "Gospel Rising Star Award." And won "Best Gospel Performer - Female".

The nominations were determined by a selection committee of music executives, radio station programmers, music journalists, fellow musicians and entertainers.

In 2007, Gina auditioned for the Hit TV show "Showtime at the Apollo" and impressed the judges so much that she was invited twice to be a guest on the show filmed in Harlem, New York.

Over the years, she has performed all over the United States and has shared the stage and opened for many well established celebrities; such as The Lakers, Jane Kennedy, The boys, Tonex, J Moss, TBN's Bill & Rene Morris, The Gospel Gangsters, two-time dove award nominees The GOGZ, Brent Jones & The TP Mob and many others.

Her latest CD "My Journey" produced by First Mile Productions, is a combination of neo soul, spoken word, jazz, and R&B grooves with a very tasteful & poetic presentation.

Gina's new project not only appeals to those who love inspirational music, but has reached the neo soul R&B clubs and has a greatly impacted the Chicago Steppin' community. Gina Green is destined for success and she has that long awaited voice that your ears have been longing for.

Check out Gina's soulful rendition of 'True Love':

For more music from Gina Green, visit her Myspace page:  www.myspace.com/ginagreenmusic 

Kanye Delivers Substance Along With Spectacle

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

(May 23, 2008) Kanye West kicked off the Molson Amphitheatre's concert season Wednesday night with a conceptual show that surely ranks as one of hip hop's greatest spectacles.

Though he took the stage an hour later than scheduled and cut his set by 30 minutes, the capacity crowd of mostly teens that turned out in the cold, wind and rain, in winter coats and gloves, as well as short shorts and 4-inch heels, didn't seem to feel shortchanged.

They stood for the entire 90-minute set, cheering West, dancing and spitting his rhymes back to him.

The 30-year-old Chicago native opened the show lying on his back on a wavy grey turf meant to portray an unknown planet on which his spaceship crash-landed.

He began with Late Registration's third person entreaty "Wake up, Mr. West" and segued into Graduation's "Good Morning."

From there his performance unfolded as a sort of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz meets Star Trek with our hero trying to find his way back home, through fog and before a backdrop flashing intergalactic images, via gems from his respectable catalogue.

West's talents as a clever, introspective lyricist and social commentator are often overlooked in the clamour around his respect-demanding tantrums; his music is the soundtrack for his own underdog tale: the producer who couldn't land a record deal as an MC ("Last Call"); the on-the-verge rapper who breaks his jaw in a near fatal accident ("Through the Wire"); the superstar whose manager mom dies suddenly and controversially ("Dear Mama").

Despite the elaborate design of the Glow in the Dark Tour, which opened with entertaining sets by Rihanna, N.E.R.D and Lupe Fiasco, it was West's honest and passionate delivery that resonated.

Casually clad in jeans, runners, one-armed sweater and black leather gloves, with band and back-up singers tucked out of sight, he delivered a sweaty, no-frills performance that seemed cathartic.

Rhyming exhaustively (and singing quite a bit) West stomped, bounded and shadow-boxed every which way across the stage. Anything like dancing was limited to college fraternity-type stepping.

And he barely cracked a smile, even when cozying up to a busty hologram during "Goldigger."

And just when you thought ``Why so serious, Kanye?'' he recited, "I've been waiting for this my whole life" (from "I Wonder") and you couldn't help but remember seeing him debut at what was then The Docks four years ago with a mission to "change the game."

Now here he is, a mainstream icon, moving hip hop further from its two turntables and a microphone origins with a groundbreaking production that has earned comparison to U2 and Flaming Lips' best stagings.

And the unrepentant narcissist is consistent, ensuring that animated shooting stars reminded the audience that he was "the biggest star in the universe."

Lalah Hathaway Back With 'Self Portrait'

Source: Tynicka Battle, ThinkTank Marketing, tynicka@thinktankmktg.com, www.thinktankmktg.com

(May 23, 2008) Scroll down to check out the fun video from everyone's favourite soulstress, Lalah Hathaway. "Let Go" is the first single from Lalah's forthcoming set, SELF PORTRAIT in stores June 3rd.

*Ask her to describe her voice and she might say it feels like, sounds like, soul. But when it comes to defining the essence of music, itself, Lalah Hathaway can go on and on…

"Music is so textured and layered," she says, "and it is an absolute entity in my life. It's three-dimensional, it's tangible, and when I die, I'll say goodbye to it, just as I will to everyone standing around my bed."

In the four years since she's blessed the people with a set of songs, she's been "working, writing music and living a very, simple life. Many people think that you're just lounging between albums, but that time for me was about trying to find a place to land that will give you the opportunity to create something artful, something mindful," Lalah notes.

With SELF PORTRAIT, (Stax Records/Concord Music Group), her fifth studio album, including the Joe Sample duet, and on which she co-wrote and co-produced, Hathaway is poised to express who she is, where she is, today, at this very moment. For starters, she is an artist, of course, but she's also a devoted daughter, culture junkie and a good friend, even. But not necessarily in that order.

"This album is like a movie of my life over the last couple of years," she says. "The portrait I see of myself is of a very confident, smart woman who is extremely funny, independently wealthy and well-traveled - all things that I am to a small degree, she laughs. "Every day, I realize that I'm walking toward the woman I'm going to be. She's there. I can see her. "

Leading the 12-song collection is "Let Go," a dance-oriented, up-tempo number she produced with Rex Rideout and wrote alongside Rahsaan Patterson. And just as the title suggests, the song is about acknowledging and releasing whatever's not working to make room for the next experience. "I've had to let go of quite a few things, quite a few situations and a couple of mindsets," she admits about the origins of her first single. "Every so often, I have to remind myself to just let some stuff go - from people and relationships to an old pair of jeans."

While it might seem that "On Your Own," which re-teams her with Rideout and Patterson, is inspired by a past heartbreak, in fact, the idea for the song came to her in a dream. "My father was singing to me and telling me that I could make it on my own," she reflects. Keeping in step with the theme of family, she journeys back to her childhood with "Little Girl," which she co-produced with Rideout and penned with Patterson and Sandra St. Victor. When she reminisces about growing up under the watchful eye of her mother, she's always felt the presence of her father in her life.

On "That Was Then," which she produced with Rideout and written with St. Victor, Hathaway recalls her former self and how much she didn't know way back then. "I called Sandra in Amsterdam on a Tuesday and said, 'I don't know what to write,'" she says. "She was there, helping me craft the melody, by Friday. She's a baaad girl." Closing out the album is the Hathaway-produced, "Tragic Inevitability," a song that stands out for her because of its fluidity. "My friend told me that she got some love while listening to this song, which horrified me and made me happy at the same time," she remembers. "The track was sent to me by two cats from Amsterdam, Wiboud Burkens and Manuel Hugas, whom I met with Sandra. I just wrote the words that came to me." As she sings about the things that will no longer be, you might actually feel soothed because, after all, the only constant is change. Life is funny that way.

Born to Donny Hathaway, one of the most influential soul artists of the seventies, and Eulaulah Hathaway, an accomplished musician in her own right, the Chicago native first put pen to paper, "with the music," as a 10th grader. Later, as a student at Berklee College of Music, she recorded her self-titled debut in 1990, which spawned the hits "Baby Don't Cry," "Heaven Only Knows" and "I'm Coming Back." She returned four years later with A Moment, followed by the much-lauded The Song Lives On, her duet album with Joe Sample in 1999, the same year she began growing her now-signature, cinnamon-hued 'locs. By 2004, she'd deliver her fourth album, Outrun the Sky, garnering Hathaway her first number one single, the Rex Rideout-produced cover of Luther Vandross' Forever, For Always, For Love, which was also featured on the critically-acclaimed Vandross tribute album of the same name.

Although she has created a space for herself, it's not surprising that Hathaway remains connected to her late, great father and his classic sound. "I am his daughter," she says, softly, "and that's the truth of who I am, every day. When I was 15, and then, 20, I didn't get why people were asking me how I felt about him and his music. But when I turned 25, I began to understand. Like my father, I want to leave a legacy of music that makes people really feel something, whether it be happiness, sadness, grief or heartache. I also want them to appreciate my humour which I know can be difficult to interpret in a song."

In the meantime and between album projects, Hathaway - who's recorded collaborations with Marcus Miller, Meshell Ndegéocello and Mary J. Blige, among them - keeps her creativity nourished by taking to the global stage and contributing her voice to Daughters of Soul, a musical mélange founded by comrade, Sandra St. Victor, and featuring Nona Hendryx, Joyce Kennedy as well as Indira and Simone, daughters of Chaka Khan and Nina Simone, respectively.

So, how does she hope her latest offering will be received?

"I don't necessarily want to fit into what's happening now," she says of today's marketplace, "but I want to stand with it, on my own thing. I would really love it if people need the record. I put a lot of myself into this album, so I hope people can hear me and understand who I am."

Musideum Offers Array Of Musical Goods

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

(May 24, 2008) One customer was so inspired by the movie Kill Bill that he had to go out and get himself a Chinese bamboo flute.

Until now, finding an ethnic folk instrument from a culture not one's own would have meant hours of research and asking if someone knows someone who knows someone who sells Chinese bamboo flutes.

But the mix of world cultures in Toronto has finally reached a point where an enterprising local musician thinks it worthwhile to open a store that offers musical instruments from several cultures from around the globe.

Musideum, the brainchild of composer/performer/arranger/producer Donald Quan, brims with the products of thousands of years of musical craft – from Chinese guzheng to small wooden sculptures not much bigger than a robin's egg, created by a Finnish craftsman, that can be used as bird calls.

From funky-painted cardboard guitars to those bamboo Chinese flutes, the ground-floor retail space at artist-friendly 401 Richmond St. W. is one of a kind. Although the doors have been open since last December, the official public opening party doesn't get underway until next Saturday.

All afternoon on the 31st, Musideum, the hallway leading to it, and the picturesque courtyard just outside, will become a living showcase of the diversity of world-music being practised every day in the GTA.

Quan and associate Anne Bourne hope that all levels and types of musicians and non-musicians will be able to come and feel respected. Along the way, they also want to help break down barriers between classical and folk approaches to music.

Bourne describes the store as a "point of access," where people who may have various levels of curiosity about world music can come and explore how the sounds of that music can become a part of their life.

"I'm not focusing on music. I'm not focusing on musicians. I'm not focusing on culture ... my focus is on the instruments," says Quan emphatically, summing up his retail project as a "look at music through the eyes of musical instruments."

Based on the city's changing demographics, and his own experience working with a wide spectrum of musicians from different cultural backgrounds, Quan says he "knew on a certain level that I couldn't go wrong in opening this."

The four-plus months since he first opened the doors on his shop have confirmed his gut feeling. "The musicians always have to ask my `why,'" says Quan of his rationale. "The non-musicians immediately start telling me why this is special."

The multi-talented Quan says he first thought of his eclectic store eight years ago.

With a sprawling office, theatre and recording studio complex in the basement of 401 Richmond, Quan knew he wanted to locate a shop close by. He decided on a ground-floor spot that was occupied by a carpet store, let the landlord know he wanted the space, and waited for the right moment.

"I take a very karmic, spiritual approach to it. It's a journey," Quan explains. "You know you're going to get there. ... The point is, how do you get from here to there."

In keeping with an instrument selection that emphasizes authenticity and accessibility, the store doesn't have anything priced higher than $1,500, and all the instruments come from craftspeople with an authentic background with that culture or craft.

There is no way the relatively tight space can hold even a cross-section of all the world's instruments, so Quan has been choosy in what to display on the shelves.

He likens himself to something like an interior designer.

"Picking the right combination of things to fit in that space. ... I'm not creating a world that's all inclusive, but I'm creating a world that works together and my talent as a buyer comes from years of collecting instruments and being a live musician and composer."

Although Quan says he isn't doing anything that any savvy retailer wouldn't try, he does promise something novel for next Saturday's public party: a "magic carpet."

He describes a small area of floor that will be surrounded by microphones and speakers rigged to make the person standing on it feel that he or she is playing an instrument inside a large, reverberant space, like a church.

"It's the kind of situation where everyone can sound perfect," says Bourne, Quan's eager accomplice.

Usher: Still 'Stand'ing


(May 23, 2008) *It’s not rare that a superstar makes a few confessions to tantalize fans. But four years ago, pop star Usher did the same and the fans went ridiculously wild.

His 2004 disc “Confessions” gave up the super hit “Yeah,” which helped catapult the album to become a nine-time platinum-selling disc. Now, Usher preps his follow-up, “Here I Stand,” which hits shelves May 27.

“I'm really happy now that after four years I'm back on the scene and ready to do it all over again,” Usher told reporters.  “As you know, I like number ones.  I like touring.  I like wins.  I love W's.  So I’m looking forward to that.”

Though he didn’t get last week’s needed “W” from his defending Eastern Conference Cleveland Cavaliers – of which he’s part owner, Usher is looking to score quite a few wins from the new disc. After all, it’s already fuelled by the first single, “Love in This Club,” featuring Young Jeezy. The track has garnered hot success on radio and did the amazing and jumped from its Billboard Chart debut of #51 to #1 in the fastest time.

“We started with a very successful single,” Usher said. We made some history with it.” 

Still, the hot lead track isn’t Usher’s favourite on the new project. He revealed that he’s quite proud of the interludes laced on the album. In particular, one dedicated to his new baby boy.

“I know it sounds cliché to say that all of [the songs] equally are my favourite, but my favourite thing that I did on this album are the interludes,” he said “It’s one cohesive effort to make an album; it takes, a chapter at a time to make a great book. But the greatest thing for me was the interludes. I did an interlude to my son that I call ‘Pray for You.’”

So proud, he calls the interlude one of his greatest written pieces of work.

“It's really incredible,” he said.

Usher is no stranger to incredibility. Not only is he a platinum-selling artist, but he most recently launched a successful line of signature fragrances, actively heads up his own charity, the New Look Foundation. And don’t be surprised to see him on the big screen once again.

“I'm still trying to manage a way to bring both of them together,” he said about doing film again, though there is nothing in the works right now. “Maybe in a theatrical piece someday. But as long as I keep putting feelers like that out, I'm pretty sure somebody's going to approach me. I really did enjoy my time on Broadway.  So it kind of spoiled me. I'm really looking for that musical or that song-and-dance piece that I could put together.”

Now with some very successful years under his belt and a new project, Usher has certainly matured on wax, but with all this, a number of outside projects, and a new marriage his sex appeal stock has risen quite a bit.

“I think that wisdom is sexy. I think that growth is sexy,” he said. “I think that confidence, which is growth, and being comfortable in your skin is all, sexy.”

Usher said that he really wants to make that perspective popular – that having wisdom is connected to being sexy.

 “In time, you know, we grow older, we grow wiser, we grow smarter, we're better.  And I feel like, I'm becoming more well seasoned, although I don't have my salt-and-pepper hair.  I have that in life, and my life experiences speak to it.”

“Now, back on the scene and prepared to promote an album, there's a big difference, because I'm balancing a few things,” he said. “One, you know, my personal life, and then, two my business responsibilities. So, you know, finding the balance is going to be hard, but I love it and I'm dedicated to making sure that this project is a success no matter what.”

So all is quite well with the young star – including his marriage. Dousing rumours that he and his new wife, Tameka Foster, were separating, his camp said that they are not separating, contrary to media reports. The two married last August and already there are online news reports that Usher has filed for separation.

Usher's manager Benny Medina told Usmagazine.com. "It's 100 percent not true. This rumour is completely false”

And according to SandraRose.com, Atlanta's Hot 107.9 midday radio jock Mz Shyneka said she spoke with Foster who said, "All my haters wish that on us but it's not true at all. We are happy!"

So there you have it.

For more on Usher’s music, check out the office Usher website at www.usherworld.com.

Hurtin' Music But A Fun Time Was Had By All

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

(May 26, 2008) BLYTH–An elderly woman and a girl freshly into her teens showed the faces of old and new country music on the weekend at an unprecedented rural hoedown.

Camper vehicles from across Ontario and beyond formed neat lines stretching to the arena, and bringing 1,000 people to an old-fashioned jamboree and barn dance.

Two blocks away at the community hall, several hundred other visitors helped to more than double the population of this farming community near Lake Huron to cheer competitors at the annual
Ontario Open Country Singing Contest.

The two events were being held together for the first time. And in their different ways, Martha Heywood, 84, and Carly Schnurr, 13, each proved to be a highlight.

Heywood, recently recovered from a stroke, led the singing Saturday night of "I Never Knew Anyone Like You," one of 500 songs written by her late husband, Earl Heywood, "Canada's No. 1 Singing Cowboy."

Son Grant and daughter Patricia joined her in the salute to the man known – with Hank Snow and Wilf Carter – as one of Canada's old-time country greats. He died two years ago at the age of 89.

"His era was the 1940s and '50s," Grant Heywood said afterward. "Dad liked to write songs while driving a tractor out in the field."

Schnurr's big number the same night was "A Broken Wing," by American country-pop star Martina McBride, sung to the contest audience in the "teen" category.

"She'd tell him about her dreams/He'd just shoot 'em down," sang Schnurr of Milton, belting out the high notes and abruptly descending into deep pools of spine-tingling country-style emotion.

"They say a 13-year-old is not supposed to have developed their ear as well as she has," said sister Amy Schnurr, 19, a contestant in the female open category.

"I guess that's why she's so entertaining – to see someone so young, and petite as well, have such a big voice come out of her."

Barn Dance originated in 1937 as a travelling radio show for CKNX in nearby Wingham.

The show, broadcast from towns across southwestern Ontario, went off the air in 1963, but Earl Heywood revived the idea in 1996 as one of Canadian country music's foremost annual gatherings. It's still billed as "Canada's largest barn dance," although fans now travel to it, not the other way around.

Events range from an actual dance to a gospel singalong. But the main event is the Saturday night stage show featuring an unhurried pace, simple rhythms, the occasional cowboy hat and not a little heartache. "If you're trying to break my heart, you don't have very far to go," one typical line went.

"My grandson knows 1,000 songs but show him a 78 (vinyl record) and he wouldn't know what it was," said emcee Jim Swan adding a touch of nostalgia before a receptive crowd, most members old enough to have heard the original Barn Dance radio broadcast.

The Ontario Open Country Singing Contest began in the 1980s at the Canadian National Exhibition. It moved to Wingham for 2003-2005, briefly suspended activity, and reconvened in Blyth last year.

Unquestionably, the weekend's hardest working musicians made up the contest's house band – guitarist Steve Miller, bassist Ron Cameron and drummer Scott McQuaig, all from Brampton. They learned 150 songs and played them over three days in semi-final and final rounds for each of 75 contestants singing two songs each.

Their main break came when the under-13 group sang to a karaoke machine.

"These are complicated songs," Miller said. "Compared to the older (classic country) songs, there are more chord changes, different rhythms, different arrangements with key changes ...

"If you have a fiddle on your record, it's called country, but there are pop influences, alternative rock influences, hip hop – it pretty much runs the gamut."

Carly Schnurr said she first discovered she had a singing voice at 6.

"I used to sing a lot of pop ballads – Celine Dion, that kind of music," she said. "I got interested in country when I heard the fast-paced songs, like `Sun Wagon,' by the Dixie Chicks(her second contest selection)."

She is recording songs with Oshawa's Wellcraft Music Group with a view toward a professional career.

Eric Clapton Possessed By Love Of Guitar

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

(May 28, 2008) A couple of observations gleaned from last night's Eric Clapton show at the Molson Amphitheatre.

 One: I'm no nationalist, but every year our defiant Canadian insistence upon pretending spring has arrived when, clearly, Mother Nature has other ideas makes me wanna bray "O, Canada" from the nearest treetop.

 There are sell-outs and there are sell-outs at the amphitheatre, and this was an indisputable sell-out, with 16,000-odd fans cramming the venue right to the fences at the back of the lawn despite constant buffeting by a wind that seemed to emanate from the very maw of the Arctic. Toques and mittens were everywhere, blankets and sleeping bags clutched to the shoulders of blue-lipped concertgoers, and security forces were goodhearted enough throughout the evening to accommodate the phalanxes of shivering Clapton disciples who kept descending into the aisles on the lower levels to seek some relief from the elements. And yet still, all involved hardily clutched their $9 tallboys as long as they could in observance of a level of mass intoxication rarely witnessed in this tightly bound city. Kudos. Kudos to the lot.

 Which brings us to Point 2: It dawns that, perhaps, it isn't so much the professorial nature of Eric Clapton's tastefully "white" blues-guitar playing that has left me cold lo my 33 years, but the response it commands from stereotypically white blues fans: the sort of meatheads who air-guitared to "Roadhouse Blues" at every dreadful high-school party I ever attended, who thrilled to the "authentic blues" stylings of Blues Hammer in the film Ghost World, and who made "doo-doo-doo-dooo" noises while they bent notes out of the air when Clapton and his band finally dropped "Layla" towards the end of last night's performance.

 Clapton's an ace Strat-abuser, no argument there, and he compensates these days for the general weightlessness of everything he's written since ... well, 1970's Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs – c'mon, name a tune from Pilgrim – by larding a ton of blues classics ("Crossroads," "Hoochie Coochie Man" et al.) into the set list. All it took was a trip to the back of the amphitheatre lawn, where his pristinely overdriven fretwork and LED-close-ups of his hands at work dominated the multimedia presentation thrown at the audience, to process just what it is that's kept the dude in business all these years. At 63, Slowhand still plays like a man possessed by his love of the guitar.

 Most of it sounds exactly the same these days. But "Wonderful Tonight" still singlehandedly explains Clapton's legendary ladykilling and a wickedly grooving pre-encore attack on "Cocaine" crackled with a fire that could only be mustered by a survivor who knows he can't allow himself within 100 yards of such chemical passions ever again. Blues is where you find it, I guess.

Hysteria That Engulfs Tokio Hotel Twins At Home Follows in U.S.

Source:  www.thestar.com - Melinda Newman, Associated Press

(May 28, 2008) LOS ANGELES–Move over Jonas Brothers, the Kaulitz twins are moving in.

 The 18-year-old Kaulitz brothers comprise half of Tokio Hotel, a German glam-pop quartet that is creating Beatles-like hysteria among the teen set in their native land. They've sold close to three million CDs and DVDs in their native country, and are hoping to replicate that rabid fan base in North America.

 "They're the stepping stone between the tween stuff and My Chemical Romance," says Andrew Gyger, senior product manager for Virgin Entertainment Group, a few days after the foursome appeared at Virgin's Times Square store in New York in May to promote its English-language album Scream.

 Gyger relayed stories of at least one girl fainting and screaming teens lining up around the block for the event. "The band seems to have come out of nowhere."

 Actually, Tokio Hotel came out of the Internet. A YouTube search shows 123,000 video listings compared to 88,100 for teen heartthrobs Jonas Bros. or 21,000 for a grizzled veteran like Bruce Springsteen. For the last six months the band has produced weekly episodes of Tokio Hotel TV for its U.S. website.

 For Tokio Hotel, the visual is as vital as the vocals and is propelled by lead singer Bill Kaulitz's anime look: straightened, teased black hair; heavy eye makeup that accentuates his delicate, androgynous, doll-like features; chain necklaces and vintage rock 'n' roll T-shirts. He's so thin he appears almost one dimensional onstage, adding to the cartoon-like appeal. But to hear him tell it, his look comes by way of Transylvania, not Japan.

 When he was 10, Bill Kaulitz dressed as a vampire for Halloween and adopted the styling for good.

 "After that, I started to colour my hair and polish my nails. I started to wear makeup and stuff. I'd never heard of (anime)," Bill Kaulitz said. Tom Kaulitz, the older brother by 10 minutes, developed his hip-hop/dreads look when he was 7 or 8, in part as a way to differentiate himself from his identical twin. "When we were 6, we looked the same," Tom Kaulitz said. "We had sweatshirts with (the names) Bill and Tom so that teachers had a chance to know who's who."

 The Kaulitz brothers began playing guitar when they were 7; the instruments were gifts from their musician stepfather. By the time they were in their mid-teens, they were playing in clubs, often to less than five people.

 "We needed the support of our parents because we had no car, no money," Bill Kaulitz says.

 Mom has long since stopped driving the band to gigs; they have people who do that for them now. The group's first single, "Through the Monsoon," went No. 1 in Germany in 2005. A pair of No. 1 albums and sold-out European tours followed.

 But the band has a long way to go before they reach Backstreet or 'N Sync-like sales: since the group's CD was released in April, it has sold just over 23,000 copies. Tokio Hotel's U.S. label, Cherrytree/Interscope, has yet to take the first single, "Monsoon," to radio, but MTV senior VP Amy Doyle says the whole package is the band's selling point.

Sheryl Crow: A Change Has Done Her Good

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Brad Wheeler

At Molson Amphitheatre in Toronto on Monday

(May 28, 2008) She can see clearly now, the rain is gone, she can see all obstacles in her way. For
Sheryl Crow anyway, it's gonna be a bright, bright, sunshine-y day. As for the state of everything else, the picture is bleaker.

 Taking the stage solo to a tape of Johnny Nash's graceful pre-Paxil hit, a tanned and tone singer offers God Bless This Mess, her disparaging acoustic folk song on America's ugly condition. A black curtain drops to reveal a five-piece backing band (plus a percussionist and two background singers), who launch Shine Over Babylon, a foreboding, soaring minor-key anthem that asks, "If there's a god, where is he now?"

 With that, the Missouri-born Crow cheerily addresses her adherents, "How ya doin'?" Well, we're not so sure any more. But enough about us: How you doin', Sheryl?

 Breast cancer, a romantic breakup, toilet-paper issues and dust-ups with Karl Rove have dogged the former music-video queen whose resurgent Detours album of this year divergently presents songs of optimism and pessimism, wistfulness and growth. And although the 20-song concert at a chilly shoreline amphitheatre presents those themes, the crowd and performer grin, for the show is terrifically paced and proudly upbeat - a danceable pop-rock tonic for things that hurt.

 Crow, whose cancer is beaten and who tours with her baby boy, reconciled last year with producer Bill Bottrell, her old collaborator from the Tuesday Night Music Club days. Together, in the singer's new home in rural Tennessee, they made Crow's strongest album in years. Now, A Change Would Do You Good rings truer than ever.

 The sun-splashed star, her mezzo-soprano auburn-toned and slightly girlish, and with her band expertly at her back, runs through hits as well as new tunes that don't suffer in comparison. The All I Wanna Do singer is having fun - on the woozy Leaving Las Vegas, the single mom advertises herself as fish-eating Aquarian "a little over 32." Out of Our Heads is a Beatles-happy sing-along.

 Now That You're Gone is a gorgeous post-breakup light-soul number, with Crow exhaling both in relief - "I am free" - and with uncertainty - "free to make a mess of everything."

 The night-closing cover of Stevie Wonder's funky Higher Ground offers faith in the middle of chaos, wishing for personal rebirth and societal growth. It bookends the show's introduction perfectly: Even from the bottom, reclamation is possible. "Look all around, nothing but blue skies" is the message from an artist who is neither too jaded to fight nor Pollyannaish in her optimism.


 The goods

 Hits If It Makes You Happy, Strong Enough, Gasoline, and Crow's glaring Crest-white teeth - a smile so bright as to serve as a warning beacon for nearby aircraft.

 Misses Just one, the boring bar-rock of Real Gone. The single from 2006 is one of the reasons her current tour and album is considered a comeback.

 Crowd Women of Crow's 40-ish vintage, who offered high-pitched choruses and who would surely tack the tires of the villainous Lance Armstrong, the singer's bicycling ex-fiancé.

 Overheard "Lots has happened," said the embattled Crow, introducing the acoustic, CMT-approved title track from her new album Detours. "I got engaged. I got unengaged. I got diagnosed with breast cancer, then I got cured of breast cancer. And then I adopted a little boy, who's giving me a run for my money."

 In a Word Triumph - in a buoyant performance, and, seemingly, in Crow's own life.

 Everyday is a winding road Just-announced Ontario dates include Kingston, Sept. 23; London, Sept. 24; and Sault Ste. Marie, Sept. 25. B.W.

A Free Lunchtime Concert That's Worth Paying For

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

(May 23, 2008) There used to be a rule in marketing: if something is free, consumers will think it worthless. Fortunately, the Canadian Opera Company is there to break that rule in its free lunchtime and early-evening concerts on some weekdays at the Four Seasons Centre.

As the second season in the glass-walled Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre draws to a close on June 18, it's clear that some of these performances are among the very best of any being presented in the city – free or paid.

Yesterday's mix of new music and opera was a case in point.

Toronto-based pianist and composer Njo Kong Kie arrived with his trio A Day Off – himself at the piano, plus violinist Simon Claude and cellist Alexandre Castonguay – as well as a brace of singers.

The highlight was the first act of Knotty Together (book by Anna Chatterton, music by Njo), a comedy-romance previously seen at the Rhubarb and SummerWorks festivals and presented at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival last month.

The first gay opera ever produced in Ireland is a musical romp where a rock collector receives both a lot more and a lot less than he is expecting when a UPS delivery guy knocks on his apartment door.

Njo and Chatterton have taken a porn-reel plot and dressed it up with snappy dialogue and accessible music that swells and throbs in amiable parody of operatic cliché.

Giving the work the full kiss of life (both literally and figuratively) are tenor Keith Klassen and baritone Paul White.

If making a silly plot and overblown emotions real for every member of the audience is not the essence of great opera, then there is no point in leaving home.

We also saw a much more serious operatic work, The Futures Market, with book by Douglas Rodger. This is social criticism on human beings as commodities. Here Njo hits much more serious notes, which were well-sung by soprano Janna Pardy and baritone Neil Aronoff.

A Day Off provided three instrumental interludes written by Njo. His style hints at both minimalism and Weimar-era cabaret. It's accessible, clever enough to engage the mind and usually rooted in dance rhythms.

In that respect, Njo's music hearkens back several centuries, when dance rhythms underpinned most instrumental pieces.

The combined effect made 60 minutes feel like 15. It's this kind of quality that explains why hundreds of people continue to flock to these concerts and presentations.


Feist Recruited For Next Red Hot AIDS Album

www.globeandmail.com - James Bradshaw

(May 24, 2008) Toronto -- Former Talking Heads front man David Byrne and Canada's Feist have signed on to contribute tracks to the newest Red Hot charity album in support of AIDS research, Billboard reports. Byrne, who has previously appeared on numerous Red Hot albums, will collaborate with Dave Longstreth's Dirty Projectors to record two songs for the still-untitled album.  Feist is teaming with Death Cab for Cutie lead singer Ben Gibbard for her contribution, while TV On The Radio's Dave Sitek is also confirmed. The Red Hot organization has produced more than a dozen compilation albums in support of AIDS research since 1990. The new instalment is scheduled for release either this fall or early in 2009.

Jay-Z And Usher Record Duet About Marriage


(May 22, 2008) *Jay-Z and Usher are celebrating the joys of being married to their respective wives in a new duet titled "Best Thing." [Scroll down to listen.]  "Of course, with the talk of both of us now being newlyweds, there is a question as to why, and is it real?" Usher told MTV Base of the song, which is produced by Janet Jackson's beau Jermaine Dupri. "Well, if you hear that [song], you'll understand what [Jay-Z] meant when he says, 'Seeds becomes plants/ Boys become men/ You've got to grow up, not down.'"   The song opens with Jay-Z speaking of a bachelor who doesn't think marriage is for him: "Can't give a ring up/ I couldn't give a f---, how could I give a finger?/ Let alone half baths and closets/ So claustrophobic, in fear of close objects."    Usher, meanwhile, playing an unfaithful boyfriend, sings: "Listen, is there any chance that you remember me being any more than just a horrible man? And would you consider pullin' this trigger and taking a second shot at romance?/ Oh baby, I want the days when you were my girl and I was your man/ Know I took you for granted/ But it wasn't until now I see how much I miss you."    Jay-Z, 38, married Beyoncé Knowles, 26, in April. Usher, 29, married stylist Tameka Foster, 38, last August.

Wyclef Jean Tries To Pull Haiti 'Together'


(May 22, 2008) *Haitian-born rap musician Wyclef Jean launched a new initiative in his impoverished homeland aimed at raising $48 million over the next six months to fund expanded food distribution, job creation and assistance for farmers.  Dubbed "Together For Haiti," the program was announced Tuesday in response to last month's deadly food riots. The initiative is backed by the World Food Program, the Pan American Development Foundation and Yele Haiti, Jean's charitable foundation for Haiti.  "We have come together to launch this new initiative because I believe we can do more and better for Haiti when we act together," Jean told a Manhattan news conference. "We are not only interested in feeding people in response to the current crisis, but we want to offer them an alternative that can help them in a sustainable way."   "Together For Haiti" plans to employ 1,800 people a day in poor areas, distribute food to 1.5 million people and provide fertilizers to 55,000 farmers. Grants will also be given to 9,000 families to support the development of micro-enterprises.   "We want to give them the opportunity to set up a small business which they can live on instead of assisting them every time there is a crisis," Jean told Reuters.   At least six people were killed during a week of violent protests last month against rising food and fuel costs in Haiti, where most people scrape by on less than $2 per day.

The Return Of Dancehall Reggae Artiste Patra

www.eurweb.com - By Kevin Jackson

(May 22, 2008) *Musician and producer Paul Henton, better known as Computer Paul, whose credits include rhythm projects such as the Frog, Corduroy and the M 16, and chart hits including Jimmy Cliff's I Can See Clearly Now, Inner Circle's Sweat and Bad Boys, and George Nooks' rendition of God Is Standing By, has been working on several projects. Henton recently received a platinum plaque for his work on Hip Hop/R&B superstar Akon's multi-platinum album Konvicted. Current projects for the in-demand musician include an album with 1990s female Dancehall star Patra, who is now once again signed to a major label. Patra who rode the Billboard charts in the 1990’s with songs including Pull Up to the Bumper, Romantic Call (with Yo Yo); Think (with Lyn Collins); Scent of Attraction (with Aaron Hall); and Worker Man, hasn’t scored a hit in many years.  Henton also has production credits on several songs at the moment including Hold On by Nature for Jamaican football star Ricardo Gardner's Heart Of Love label, and Looking For Love by Patriot for Grass Roots Records.

Jazz, Blues Organist Jimmy McGriff Dies At 72

The Associated Press

(May 26, 2008) PHILADELPHIA - Longtime jazz and blues organist Jimmy McGriff, known for his 1960s recordings of "I've Got a Woman" and "All About My Girl," has died. He was 72.  McGriff's death on Saturday from multiple sclerosis was confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday by his wife, Margaret McGriff. At the time of his death, McGriff lived in the Philadelphia suburb of Voorhees, New Jersey.  According to his website, James Harrel McGriff was born in Philadelphia's Germantown neighbourhood. His parents were both pianists, but McGriff started out on bass and saxophone and later played drums, vibes, and piano.  He served as a military policeman during the Korean War and spent 2½ years as a Philadelphia policeman, moonlighting as a bass player, according to the site. He was offered a recording contract after a scout heard him play "I Got A Woman" at a small club in Trenton, New Jersey.  That song on Sue Records became one of McGriff's greatest hits, and he also recorded for Solid State, United Artists, Blue Note, Groove Merchant, Milestone, Headfirst and Telarc.  -  On the Net: http://www.jimmymcgriff.com/home


Canadian Film Icon Identifies With Newbie Collingwood Filmmakers

www.thestar.com - Peter Howell, Movie Critic

(May 23, 2008) CANNES, France–Atom Egoyan laughed yesterday when he heard the story about two Canuck neophytes attempting to sell their homegrown horror film here.

"I made that, actually!" Egoyan quipped, referring to
Scarce, a cannibal hillbilly flick by hoser horrormeisters Jesse Cook and John Geddes.

"I wrote and directed it. I paid them to pretend they were me."

Egoyan, 47, was in a bit of a giddy mood, doing breakfast interviews on scant hours of sleep after arriving in Cannes late the night before from Israel, where he received an award for his 2002 film, Ararat.

Before going to bed he had to attend a 2 a.m. technical briefing at the Palais des Festivals, to prepare for last night's world premiere screening of his film Adoration.

Egoyan can easy identify with rookie filmmakers arriving in Cannes for the first time. He feels that way himself, even though Adoration is his 12th feature and the fifth to premiere in competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

"This is a very weird experience for me. I've never come into a festival like this because I'm usually around, but I had to be away. I now have no idea of what the alchemy of this festival is, which is both a blessing and a curse."

He was alarmed to find that the press screening for Adoration would overlap with the press conference for Steven Soderbergh's Che, a four-hour, 28-minute opus about Latin revolutionary Ernesto (Che) Guevara that also kept critics up late the night before.

Egoyan was concerned his film wouldn't be viewed with fresh eyes.

"At this point of the festival, I would imagine people are kind of exhausted.

"So I'm not quite sure how attentive people can be after eight days of very intense film watching. But it's a risk you take and I'm excited to see what happens to it."

On the other hand, the sensory overload at Cannes might work in Adoration's favour.

One of the movie's themes is the proliferation of Internet chat-rooms, which Egoyan sees as developing into online substitutes for community meetings. The film also deals with hidden truths and the distortion of facts through gossip and misperception.

It stars Scott Speedman, Arsinée Khanjian, Rachel Blanchard and newcomers Devon Bostick and Katie Boland.

"What I get excited about are structures where your mind is racing and you're wondering, What is going on, what are the connections?" Egoyan said.

"There's a play between what the viewer is imagining and where the film is moving and I've always found that really exciting. I love to be in that zone, but I know some people might find it frustrating."

Adoration is a return to the more minimalist style of Egoyan's earlier work, following the grander scale of Where the Truth Lies, his Cannes competition entry from 2005.

The new movie was proudly filmed in Toronto on a budget of $6 million, which is a small sum for a filmmaker of Egoyan's stature.

But like those horror lads from Collingwood, he's excited about the freedom you get when you don't have a lot of money to account for.

"You can experiment a lot more. There's not that same set of expectations and I think it's really a question of finding that threshold where you're allowed to do what you do best."

Now if only he could get some sleep, too.

Toronto, N.Y. in B-boy Film Showdown

www.thestar.com - Susan Walker, Entertainment Reporter

(May 25, 2008) A battle of the b-boy documentaries is shaping up and it seems to call for a breakdance faceoff between Toronto and New York.

Toronto-born, New York-based filmmaker Benson Lee brought his
Planet B-Boy documentary to Hot Docs last month and got up the nose of the Toronto crew Supernaturalz when the New Yorker, accompanied by a Manhattan b-boy, tried to co-opt them into a mini-battle at Circa nightclub.

It's only natural in the very competitive landscape of b-boying, graffiti drawing, emceeing and dj-ing that Lee's documentary Planet B-Boy, opening Friday, would spark rivalry from Toronto dancers supporting a local documentary All Out War, now in post-production.

Lee's doc is the first to chronicle the contemporary b-boy world with complete coverage of the supreme international competition, Battle of the Year. He profiles champion b-boys in Las Vegas, Korea, Japan and France to give a global view of the best b-boying and the socio/political/familial context for it.

Local filmmaker and media artist Rob Pilichowski has been working on All Out War since March 2003. His documentary traces the history of breakdancing and follows four dancers based in Toronto and New York. Alien Ness, a 44-year-old, original break-boy from the Bronx, provides some background. He is featured in the film alongside Dyzee, from the Toronto crew Supernaturalz; Casper, an up-and-coming b-boy, and Machine, both of whom sometimes "repp" Zulu Kingz, a Bronx crew.

The two films are quite different in style and substance, but share a common narrative.

As the story is frequently told, breakdancing began in the late '60s and early '70s in the Bronx, where the break-boys battled on the streets and in neighbourhood clubhouses. The form is linked to martial arts and resistance-type dances such as capoeira. The breaks are the rhythmic and percussive sections of songs – interludes in the main melody. DJs would strip out the breaks and put them in a loop for the dancers.

James Brown gets credit for inspiring the dance style. The music still preferred by hardcore breakers is funk, soul or hip hop with a more positive or older vibe.

B-boy history is oral and much contested. Some observers claim breakdancing grew out of the hip hop movement. The dancers themselves say hip hop tried to usurp them. When the music and the dance moves became commercialized in the 1980s, true b-boys went underground.

Benson Lee points out the effect of the 1983 movie Flashdance on bringing breakdancing into the public realm. His chroniclers insist that beat-boys (no relation to the Doobie Brothers' song) is the right derivation for b-boys.

Most Toronto dancers would say they are break-boys or girls.

Breakdancing became associated with inner city ghettos, says Lee. He's a Korean-American who was born in Toronto and lived here until he was 9. At the University of Hawaii, he got into film and earned his first producer credit on Miss Monday, a dramatic feature that opened at the Sundance Festival.

The overriding fantasy figures were gangs and pimps, Lee says of early b-boying. "They emulated the fighting and that's how this dance started out."

Breakdancing, he says, became a way "to promote peace, love and unity. They found ways to battle without hurting each other."

There's this fantasy world associated with hip hop, says a b-boy standing amid highrises in a housing project in All Out War (alloutwar.tv). It's about "that need to be somebody. You're backed up in a corner and your dreams are really shattered. You've got nothing to inspire you, then you find something that's really going to move you to the core: you're gonna dance.

"But it's really easy for some ghetto kid to come out and say `I got bodyguards; I got two big cars.' It's that desperation. It's that need to be somebody."

One of Lee's on-screen authorities is Ken Swift, a legendary b-boy from New York City. Lee calls him "the Baryshnikov of b-boys." He's in his early 40s now.

Planet B-Boy points out the Latino influence (mainly from Puerto Ricans) on the dance styles and then goes out into the world – using some fancy graffiti art graphics to shift scenes with a moving train image – to see the cream of the crop in France (B-boy Claude), Korea (top dancers Gamblerz), Japan (Ichigeki crew) and Las Vegas (Super Crew).

The movie hints at a certain resentment among American b-boys who have lately been eclipsed in the Battle of the Year competition by crews from Japan, Korea, Germany and France. But it's all friendly, Lee insists. "Hip hop has evolved to the point where it's uniting generations."

Rivalry between filmmakers is merely picking up on the competitive spirit of the breakdance genre, Pilichowski says. "You'll get different perspectives from different artists. Having more than one film on one genre is a good thing for the culture." He hopes to have All Out War entered in film festivals by the end of this year.

Planet B-Boy, opening on college campuses and in about 25 North American cities, is out to set the record straight with some thrilling footage that spreads the gospel according to break/beat boys.

No word yet on a battle of the b-boy film crews.

Egoyan Film Wins Cannes Jury Prize For Spirituality

www.globeandmail.com - Liam Lacey

(May 24, 2008) CANNES — Two Canadian films have won prizes at the 61st Cannes film festival.

Atom Egoyan's
Adoration, a film about a teenaged boy who tells a false story to his class about his Arab father that unleashes a debate on the Internet, won the Ecumenical Jury Prize for promoting spiritual values. The jury commended Egoyan's film for encouraging viewers to “re-evaluate existing clichés about the Other or that which is foreign in our own culture and religion.”

Egoyan won the same award in 1997 for The Sweet Hereafter.

Adoration is also in competition for the festival's top prize, the Palme d'Or, which will be awarded on Sunday night.

Quebec's Denis Villeneuve, whose short film
Next Floor was shown as part of the Critics' Week short-film category, won the Canal Plus Grand Prize. The film is a surreal depiction of a party of aristocrats gorging on meat in the midst of a collapsing building.

On Saturday evening, the Un Certain Regard jury, under Turkish- German director Fatih Akim, gave prizes to five films in the 20-film sidebar to the main competition. The winning film was the Kazakstani comedy Tulpan, about a young man trying to start a new life as a shepherd after serving in the navy, but first he must marry – which proves difficult because his potential bride doesn't like his large ears.

Runner-up jury awards went to Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Tokyo Sonata; James Toback's documentary Tyson, about troubled boxer Mike Tyson; the seniors-in-love story, Cloud 9, from Germany's Andreas Dresen; and Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire's Johnny Mad Dog, a drama about child soldiers in Africa.

Another jury, the International Federation of Film Critics, gave out three awards to films in three different programs, with Kornel Mandruzco's Delta getting the nod from the Palme d'Or competition candidates; British filmmaker Steve McQueen's Hunger winning in the Un Certain Regard; and the Belgian director Bouli Lanner taking the prize in the Directors' Fortnight category for his offbeat road movie, Eldorado.

Earlier, Eldorado won two prizes in the Cannes Directors' Fortnight

Men Play Pivotal Roles In Sex And The City, Too

www.thestar.com - Linda Barnard, Toronto Star

(May 24, 2008) NEW YORK–Men are "the great unsung heroes" of Sex and the City, insists the movie's writer-director Michael Patrick King.

"They have to be significant men to challenge these women who are so smart, and who we love, so I have amazing actors to play these parts," King told a small group of journalists two weeks ago during a promotional tour for the movie, which opens Friday.

Carrie's love interest, Mr. Big (Chris Noth), and Miranda's husband Steve Brady (David Eigenberg) play pivotal, and not always likeable, roles in the new movie. The plot twists are being kept strictly under wraps, but here's a hint: personal crises and emotional upheaval aren't limited to the four SATC femmes.

"There are no villains," King pointed out. "The villain is society. The villain with the black hat is society telling you to live happily ever after, that's what your goal is. These guys are trapped in it as much as the women are. Poor Big doesn't know what to say."

As executive producer on 65 episodes of HBO's Sex and the City from 1999 to the series wrap in 2004, King was a natural to tap for writing and directing duties on the $65-million movie. So careful was he about secrecy on the set – a real challenge since much of it was shot on Manhattan streets where throngs of press and eager Sex-starved fans watched every minute – he changed how the climax of the movie was filmed.

"The ending of the movie was supposed to be outside and once I saw what was happening, I said, `We're not going anywhere near outside at this point.' So it was a little bit of a compromise, visually, to keep a secret for the audience."

As for the persistent death rumours that a character bites the dust (Mr. Big seems to be the favourite target), King just laughs.

"The first thing I heard was that (I) killed Mr. Big. And I was like, then get me out of town. In the dark of night, wrap me up and get me away from every woman in the world who will kill me for killing Mr. Big," King said. "That would be like Roy Rogers shooting Trigger. What's the point in that? He's the horse everybody rode in on."

But as much as he appreciates the heavy lifting done by the male characters, King saves his biggest praise for the four "gorgeous and vital" female leads – Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis.

"It was amazingly charming (how) the chemistry came back," he said of the first day of shooting. "They're like the emotional Rockettes. You write the scene and it's like bang, bang, bang, bang. The amount of non-discussion that we had to do about what was on the page versus what they were doing. ... (It was) my total delight in sitting there and watching them play this part that I had created for them. It was great."

Will Smith To Remake French Blockbuster


(May 21, 2008) *Will Smith has gotten his hands on some hot property from France. The actor's Overbrook Entertainment teamed with Warner Bros. to acquire rights to remake "Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis," a comedy that shattered box office records in France earlier this year.

According to Variety, the original film is a "hicks-in-the-sticks tale about a post office manager who has a nice outpost in the South of France but ends up banished to a rainy town in northern France, where he finds the local patois unintelligible." The Dany Boon-directed film grossed more than $190 million in France alone.

Smith's American version will be developed by Warner Bros. under the title "Welcome to the Sticks" and co-produced with his Overbrook partner James Lassiter and Ken Stovitz.

 "There are only 65 million people who live in France, and $191 million seemed to defy all logic. But when we saw the film, it's obvious why it works," Stovitz said. "We will probably place the character in a global corporation, and he literally gets sent to the sticks, but finds that rather than a backward place, it provides all that was missing in his life."

 Meanwhile, other films in the pipeline at Overbrook include the July 2 opener "Hancock," the Jada Pinkett Smith-directed "The Human Contract," the Sept. 19 opener "Lakeview Terrace," Oct. 17 opener "The Secret Life of Bees" and the Gabriele Muccino-directed "Seven Pounds," which stars Smith and opens Dec. 12.

In other Will Smith news, the rapper-turned-actor is reportedly paying $889,000 to lease Indian Hills High School near his home in Calabasas, Calif. after failing to find a suitable learning situation for his two youngest kids Jaden, 9, and Willow, 7.

 According to the San Francisco Chronicle's SF Gate Web site, a rep for Smith says of the school, renamed the New Village Academy of Calabasas: "Will is leasing the campus for three years, plus he'll cover all costs such as utilities. The academy will be run privately, and will include pre-kindergarten through grade six."

 The actor and his wife Jada Pinkett Smith have, until now, been home schooling their children.

French Flick Takes The Palme d'Or

Source:  www.thestar.com - Peter Howell,
Movie Critic

(May 26, 2008) CANNES, FRANCE–A French film about a teacher struggling to connect with his students took the Palme d'Or last night at the close of the 61st Cannes Film Festival.

The win by
Entre les Murs (The Class), a surprising but popular choice for the top prize at Cannes, prompted a standing ovation in the Palais des Festivals for director Laurent Cantet, actor and author François Begaudeau, and several dozen real-life students who appeared in the film.

Entre les Murs, which plays like a Gallic To Sir, With Love, is based on Begaudeau's autobiographical novel about his experiences teaching in an inner-city school in Paris.

Jury president Sean Penn said the Palme decision was one of two unanimous ones by his nine-member panel in its deliberations over 22 competing movies viewed during the 12-day festival.

(The two Canadian films in the competition, Atom Egoyan's Adoration and Fernando Meirelles' Blindness, went unrecognized by the jury.)

The other uncontested choice was the Best Actor prize for Benicio Del Toro, the title star of Che, Steven Soderbergh's 4-hour, 28-minute opus about revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

Best Actress went to Brazilian actor Sandra Corveloni, who plays a pregnant single mom with four fractious son in Linha de Passe (Passing Line), by Walter Salles and Daniela Thomas.

Special lifetime achievement awards were given to Clint Eastwood and Catherine Deneuve, who both had highly touted films in the competition that didn't garner any other prizes: Eastwood directed the kidnap drama Changeling (L'échange) and Deneuve is the star of family drama Un conte de Noël (A Christmas Tale).

Eastwood wasn't present to receive his award, but Deneuve said she was "touched" by the honour.

Penn began the evening by warning of the "ironic" title of the closing-night film, a Hollywood satire called What Just Happened?, "because when we announce the prizes, many of you will ask, `What just happened?'"

That was true in the case of the Palme winner, but in other regards, Penn and his crew proved themselves models of diplomacy by sharing the wealth.

The normally obstreperous Penn clearly enjoyed the repeated references to him as "Mr. President."

Several prizes were doled out to directors and films that journalists had tipped for the Palme:

The Grand Prix, the runner-up for best film, went to Matteo Garrone's Gomorrah, an Italian drama about organized crime, based on a bestselling novel. Best Director went to Turkey's Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Three Monkeys, a drama about a manslaughter cover-up that tears a family apart.

Best Screenplay went to Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, two-time Palme winners, for Le Silence de Lorna (Lorna's Silence), a compassionate look at the desperation of immigrants.

A special jury prize was given to another Italian movie, Paolo Sorrentino's Il Divo, which also explores mob and civic corruption.

The Palme d'Or for Best Short Film went to Megatron, by Romania's Marian Crisan.

The Camera d'Or prize for best first feature went to Britain's Steve McQueen for Hunger, a docudrama about IRA militant Bobby Sands' 1981 hunger strike.

This year's festival was notable for its large number of audience-challenging films.


Teen Actor Who Appears In Next Harry Potter Film Is Killed

www.globeandmail.com - The Associated Press

(May 24, 2008) LONDON — A British teenage actor playing a minor role in the upcoming Harry Potter film was stabbed to death during a brawl in London. Rob Knox was stabbed after he got caught up in a fight outside a bar in southwest London. Knox plays Ravenclaw student Marcus Belby in the upcoming film Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, the sixth instalment of the popular series set for release in November. Warner Brother, the studio that is producing the film, said it was shocked by the news. Knox was one of five young men taken to various hospitals after the brawl. Among them was a 21-year-old who has since been arrested on suspicion of murder. The fight did not appear to be gang-related, police added, but it puts the number of violent teenage deaths in London at 14 so far this year.

Michael J. Fox gets UBC Honorary Degree

www.globeandmail.com - The Canadian Press

(May 22, 2008) VANCOUVER — Canadian actor Michael J. Fox has received an honorary degree from the University of British Columbia for his career in television, film and, more recently, advocating for research in Parkinson's disease. The university's vice-president academic, David Farrar, noted Fox's extensive acting career including popular movies such as Back to the Future and The Secret of My Success, along with TV shows like Spin City. But Fox took on a new role in the 1990s after he was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and in 2000 set up a foundation that has raised millions of dollars for Parkinson's research. He has also been an advocate for stem cell research and other policies affecting people with Parkinson's disease. Fox, who was born in Edmonton and grew up in Burnaby, B.C., told graduating students to remember they all have the opportunity to invent the future they want. The 46-year-old says he's been blessed to be able to advocate for people around him, and he hopes the students have the same opportunity.

Kerry Washington Joins Eddie Murphy Film


(May 23, 2008) *Kerry Washington will star as Eddie Murphy's wife in the upcoming DreamWorks picture "A Thousand Words," reports Variety.  Murphy plays a savvy, money-hungry head of a literary agency who discovers he only has a thousand words left to say before he dies. His wife wants him to settle down and spend more time with her and their son. Washington's next film role is opposite Samuel L. Jackson in "Lakeview Terrace." Murphy has a number of films in the pipeline, including "Meet Dave," "NowhereLand" and "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

Sex Comedy Hottest Ticket In Ottawa

Source:  www.thestar.com -
The Canadian Press

(May 27, 2008) OTTAWA–Parliamentarians on the front lines of Canada's culture wars are girding themselves to watch Young People ... Fuddle-duddling. A special screening of the provocatively titled movie Young People F---ing is set for Thursday night in downtown Ottawa and more than 40 MPs, senators and their staff and guests have signed up for a viewing. Among an early list of RSVPs obtained by The Canadian Press are four Conservative MPs. The list included three Liberal MPs and two New Democrat MPs. Several Liberal senators are on the list, as are staff from every party on Parliament Hill. The sexual comedy-relationship film has become a lightning rod in the debate over proposed Conservative legislation, Bill C-10, that would give the federal government the power to deny tax credits to Canadian movie and TV productions it deems "contrary to public policy." While Canada's multibillion-dollar TV and movie production industry has been screaming censorship, proponents respond that taxpayers shouldn't be funding such subject matter. One prominent Conservative blogger recently posted an internal Parliament Hill memo from the office of Liberal MP Mark Holland seeking extra tickets to the event.  "Given all the attention and controversy, I think we'd be well advised to go see it," Holland said in an interview yesterday. ``Oftentimes in our society, things are condemned that nobody ever sees."  The film was the talk of the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival and played to sold-out houses. It opens in theatres June 13.

Hollywood Studios, AFTRA Agree On Contract

Source:  www.thestar.com - Ryan Nakashima, The Associated Press

(May 28, 2008) LOS ANGELES–The American Federation of Television and Radio Artists says it has agreed to a tentative deal with Hollywood studios on a new three-year contract. The union said early Wednesday that the deal establishes fees for content streamed and downloaded over the Internet and preserves actors' rights of consent on the use of their voices and images in online clips. The agreement over a handful of prime-time TV shows such as ``Curb Your Enthusiasm" will last through June 2011 if it is approved AFTRA's national board and ratified by members. The deal greatly reduces the chance of an actors strike, although larger of the two actors unions, the Screen Actors Guild, is set to resume its stalled talks with the studios Wednesday morning.


'Laugh-In' Comedian Dick Martin Dies

www.thestar.com - Bob Thomas, The Associated Press

(May 25, 2008) LOS ANGELES – Dick Martin, half of the comedy team whose ``Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" took television by storm in the 1960s, making stars of Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin and creating such national catch-phrases as "Sock it to me!" has died. He was 86.

Martin, who went on to become one of television's busiest directors after splitting with Dan Rowan in the late 1970s, died Saturday night of respiratory complications at a hospital in Santa Monica, family spokesman Barry Greenberg said.

"He had had some pretty severe respiratory problems for many years, and he had pretty much stopped breathing a week ago," Greenberg said.

He was surrounded by family and friends when he died just after 9 p.m. Eastern Time.

"Laugh-in," which debuted in January 1968, was unlike any comedy-variety show before it. Rather than relying on a series of tightly scripted song-and-dance segments, it offered up a steady, almost stream-of-consciousness run of non-sequitur jokes, political satire and madhouse antics from a cast of talented young actors and comedians that also included Ruth Buzzi, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and announcer Gary Owens.

Presiding over it all were Rowan and Martin, the veteran nightclub comics whose stand-up banter put their own distinct spin on the show.

Like all straight men, Rowan provided the voice of reason, striving to correct his partner's absurdities. Martin, meanwhile, was full of bogus, often risqué theories about life, which he appeared to hold with unwavering certainty.

Against this backdrop, audiences were taken from scene to scene by quick, sometimes psychedelic-looking visual cuts, where they might see Hawn, Worley and other women dancing in bathing suits with political slogans, or sometimes just nonsense, painted on their bodies.

"Laugh-In" astounded audiences and critics alike. For two years the show topped the Nielsen ratings, and its catchphrases – "Sock it to me," "You bet your sweet bippy" and "Look that up in your Funk and Wagnall's" – were recited across the country.

Stars such as John Wayne and Kirk Douglas were delighted to make brief appearances, and even Richard Nixon, running for president in 1968, dropped in to shout a befuddled sounding, "Sock it to me!" His opponent, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was offered equal time but declined because his handlers thought it would appear undignified.

The two were both struggling actors when they met in 1952. Rowan had sold his interest in a used car dealership to take acting lessons, and Martin, who had written gags for TV shows and comedians, was tending bar in Los Angeles to pay the rent.

Although their early gigs in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley were often performed gratis, they donned tuxedoes for them and put on an air of success.

"We were raw," Martin recalled years later, "but we looked good together and we were funny."

They gradually worked up to the top night spots in New York, Miami and Las Vegas and began to appear regularly on television.

In 1966, they provided the summer replacement for "The Dean Martin Show." Within two years, they were headlining their own show.

The novelty of "Laugh-In" diminished with each season, however, and as major players such as Hawn and Tomlin moved on to bigger careers, interest in the series faded.

After the show folded in 1973, Rowan and Martin capitalized on their fame with a series of high-paid engagements around the country. They parted amicably in 1977.

"Dan has diabetes, and his doctor advised him to cool it," Martin told The Associated Press at the time.

Rowan, a sailing enthusiast, spent his last years touring the canals of Europe on a houseboat. He died in 1987.

Martin moved onto the game-show circuit, but quickly tired of it. After he complained about the lack of challenges in his career, fellow comic Bob Newhart's agent suggested he take up directing.

Soon he was one of the industry's busiest TV directors, working on numerous episodes of "Newhart" as well as such shows as "In the Heat of the Night," "Archie Bunker's Place" and "Family Ties."

Born into a middle-class family in Battle Creek, Mich., Martin had worked in a Ford auto assembly plant after high school.

After an early failed marriage, he was for years a confirmed bachelor. He finally settled down in middle age, marrying Dolly Read, a former bunny at the Playboy Club in London. Survivors include his wife and two sons, actor Richard Martin and Cary Martin.

At Martin's request there will be no funeral, Greenberg said.

Martin lost the use of his right lung when he was 17, something that never bothered him until his final years, when he required oxygen 18 hours a day.

Arriving for a party celebrating his 80th birthday, he fainted and was treated by doctors and paramedics. The party continued, however, and he cracked, "Boy, did I make an entrance!"

The Next Star Partners With Universal Music Canada

Source: Universal Music Canada

(May 7, 2008 – Toronto, Canada) Leading Toronto-based producer and distributor Tricon Films & Television and Corus Entertainment’s YTV announces that Universal Music Canada (UMC) has become the exclusive music partner for the new original series, The Next Star premiering on Friday July 18 at 6 pm ET/PT.

The Next Star is Canada’s first youth-oriented series focused on showcasing Canadian talent. Six participants, selected from thousands of auditioners, will be trained and mentored throughout all 13 episodes of the series, striving to be named The Next Star and receive a recording contract with Canada’s leading music company Universal Music Canada. The call is open to applicants aged 15 and under as of May 1, 2008

Partnering with UMC, The Next Star will enjoy access to the country’s leading music company’s expertise and artistic vision. UMC has fostered some of the best in Canadian talent and the six-featured performers will receive the ultimate guidance in how to navigate the modern music industry.

All six featured performers will receive guidance from a panel of industry professionals on how to tackle the music industry as they are challenged in every aspect of the biz -- from vocal exercises to participating in media interviews to perfecting a signature look.

The hopefuls will get to polish their talent and eventually, the viewers at home will select one candidate to have their single released shortly after the live finale in September, which will be supported by a music video.  The appeal of The Next Star is that all of the selected candidates will have a music single that will also be included on The Next Star EP, to be released shortly after the live finale.

“We are just thrilled to be working with Universal Music Canada on this venture,” says series producer Phil Hutchins. “Universal has a proven track record for nurturing great artists and we’re excited about the mentorship they’ll give to The Next Star.”

Also announced today, The Next Star and Universal Music Canada have agreed to use the hot new single “Let’s Go” by Universal recording artist Suzie McNeil as the opening theme song. “Let’s Go” is set to be released this summer to promote McNeil’s upcoming album due out this fall.  

“Universal Music Canada is looking forward to working closely with Tricon & YTV to find and nurture another a new music star”, said Randy Lennox, President & CEO Universal Music Canada. “Canada has a rich musical tradition and The Next Star will help bring new talent to our nation’s music lovers.”

Universal Music is the country’s largest music company and is home to some of Canada’s biggest recording artists such as:  Bryan Adams, Shania Twain, Diana Krall, Nelly Furtado, Sam Roberts, Jann Arden, The Tragically Hip, Paul Anka, Jully Black, Hawksley Workman, Hedley and Kardinal Offishall.

The search for participants will include open casting calls starting in Halifax on Saturday, May 17 followed by Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Calgary. For further information about the audition process check out YTV.com.


Universal Music Canada, a unit of Universal Music Group, is Canada's leading music organization maintaining an overall 38.5% year-to-date market share.  For further information on Universal Music Canada, please visit www.umusic.ca.


Tricon Films & Television is a full-service production and distribution company focused on producing and representing contemporary, progressive and internationally viable television programming. Tricon represents an extensive catalogue of lifestyle, reality and magazine series - as well as shorts, documentaries, and dramatic programs. We continue to acquire third-party material for international distribution. Tricon’s successes over the years have included distribution of popular in-house shows such as Matchmaker and Restaurant Makeover.


YTV, now in its 20th year, is a leading entertainment brand for kids in Canada. The network is seen in over eight million homes. As a major force in kids’ entertainment, YTV has triggered over $1 billion in Canadian independent production; has a highly interactive website that averages over 90 million monthly page views; publishes a successful kids’ magazine, Whoa!; and conducts a highly respected annual survey, The YTV Tween Report.

YTV is owned by Corus Entertainment, a Canadian-based media and entertainment company. Corus is a market leader in specialty television and radio with additional assets in pay television, advertising and digital audio services, television broadcasting, children’s book publishing and children’s animation. The company’s multimedia entertainment brands include YTV, Treehouse, W Network, Movie Central, Nelvana, Kids Can Press and radio stations including CKNW, CKOI and Q107. Corus creates engaging branded entertainment experiences for its audiences across multiple platforms. A publicly traded company, Corus is listed on the Toronto (CJR.B) and New York (CJR) exchanges. Experience Corus on the web at www.corusent.com.

Oprah launches born-in-T.O. Initiative

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

(May 27, 2008) Call it the power of O. Television icon Oprah Winfrey devoted her one-hour show yesterday to a new initiative, started in Toronto, that will seek to engage 1 million young people across North America in helping their peers in developing countries.

"I am proud to unveil one of the best ideas we've ever had," said the talk show titan, in launching the O Ambassadors program in conjunction with Toronto-based Free the Children, a group founded 13 years ago by global child poverty activist Craig Kielburger.

The broadcast featured 12 young people – including Monarch Park Collegiate student Shannon Stevens – who, after signing up last year and raising funds, travelled to a remote part of Kenya and helped build a new school in three weeks. Upon their return to North America, the students raised another $5,000 to give the village a new well.

Yesterday, the 12 described their firsthand experiences with a combination of pride and squeamishness (watching a goat being sacrificed, for example).

Kielburger and brother Marc joined the Monarch Park group for the show, which was taped several weeks ago.

Winfrey's support will be invaluable in persuading schools across North America to get involved, Kielburger said.

"We couldn't imagine partnering with a more extraordinary group than Oprah's group, the Angel Network, with her reach globally and the credibility that she brings," Kielburger said last night, adding it was Winfrey who proposed joining forces with his organization.

O Ambassadors received what Kielburger called a "soft launch" last September, including a short item on Winfrey's website. Since then, more than 1,000 schools across North America have signed year-long commitments to teach global issues, as well as fundraise and partner with "sister villages" in developing countries.

Some students will also be given scholarships to travel to and work in those places, Kielburger said.

With yesterday's show, Kielburger hopes the O Ambassadors will in turn improve the lives of millions of others through projects such as new schools, water, sanitation and public health projects.

"The idea behind (it) is that if we're going to truly end poverty it's more than just writing a cheque. It's shifting how young people look at the world, how they shop, how they vote, how they give of their time," added Kielburger, who writes a weekly column on global issues with his brother in the Star.

"It's (a way) to really establish a movement so that young people in schools will learn about global issues, get excited about global issues and have very tangible ways to take action to help," he added.

Free the Children has been working with school boards across the GTA since its foundation, and its work formed "the basis and the inspiration" for the O Ambassadors program, Kielburger said.

As Winfrey said yesterday: "You're never too young to change the world."

Winfrey, Kielburger Launch Youth Initiative

Source:  www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar

(May 26, 2008) Craig Kielburger can easily remember the first time that he was on The Oprah Winfrey Show. The Canadian founder of Free the Children, the non-profit child-advocacy organization, was featured about 10 years ago on an episode about kids who are changing the world. Little did he know how Winfrey would change his.

"The thing about that first time was that she had arranged for each young person to get a surprise, so the young boy before me, President Clinton phoned and spoke with him," says Kielburger. "So my surprise was a young boy holding a cheque that he had fundraised to build a school overseas. But everyone was surprised because when Oprah saw this, she pledged to build 100 schools with us, because she was so moved by it.

"And I do mean everybody was surprised, to the extent that we overheard her team take her aside saying, 'We can edit that out,' and she said, `No I want to do this. I want to start working on international issues around education,' and she made this commitment and it has continued to grow."

Kielburger says that since that time, his organization, along with Oprah's Angel Network, has built 59 schools around the world, and he's been on the show a few times to do updates on the initiative.

That should be good preparation for today's episode, where Free the Children and Winfrey are going to launch the O Ambassadors program. It's meant to build links between students in North America and those in developing countries, addressing issues such as poverty, hunger and access to education.

"The point is to try and create a generation of children that care about these issues," Kielburger says.


Bow Wow To Join HBO's 'Entourage'

Source:  www.eurweb.com

(May 27, 2008) *Bow Wow will become a regular on HBO's "Entourage" when the show returns for its fifth season this fall, according to reports.  The rapper takes on the role of Charlie, a stand-up comic who becomes the latest client of Eric, played by Kevin Connolly. "After 16 years in the music industry and six successful albums, I've decided to shift my energy to something else I'm passionate about, acting," said the artist, according to E! Online. "I'm going to try to be the next Will Smith." The 21-year-old rapper, whose real name is Shad Moss, is currently filming the New Orleans-based sports drama "Patriots" opposite Forest Whitaker and Isaiah Washington. His movie resume also includes "Roll Bounce" and "The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift."


McAnuff's Journey to Stratford

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(May 24, 2008) To tell the story of Des McAnuff, the new artistic director of the Stratford Festival, you actually have to begin three months before he was born, on Dec. 15, 1951.

That was the night his father William died at the age of 26 on an ice-slicked highway just outside of Princeton, Ill.

For years, that's all that McAnuff knew, and he assumed it was one of those unfortunate coincidences of bad weather and careless driving that could happen to anyone.

But, in his 40s, he went back to Princeton and discovered the truth. His father had been drinking that night and was drag-racing.

"There's a very good chance," says McAnuff, "that one of the kids he was racing knocked him off the road.

"That kid was the mayor's son; that's why there wasn't any investigation."

Speed, danger and going against the odds. Three things that may have killed his father, but three things upon which McAnuff has built a successful career.

It's a few weeks before the opening of his first season as artistic director of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and McAnuff is taking a journey into his past to examine how he got to the exalted position he holds today.

But he's not exploring the years at California's La Jolla Festival, where he took a sleepy suburban theatre to international glory, nor is he bathing in the bright lights of Las Vegas or Broadway, where his mega-hit Jersey Boys is breaking box-office records each week.

In recent months, the press have been anxious to paint him as a Lamborghini-racing playboy with money to burn.

In actuality, he drives a hybrid and labours with a puritan fervour that puts work ahead of pleasure at all times.

And, on this humid Tuesday night, McAnuff is creeping through the rush-hour traffic on the Don Valley Parkway to get back to where it all began for him: in Scarborough.

Sure, there were a few tricky steps along the way, but he relates them with nostalgia devoid of sentimentality.

"Right after my father died, my mother came back to Canada to bury him. But then she had this notion that the doctor who had tried to save his life should deliver me, so I was born in Illinois.

"When I was 6 weeks old, they moved me back to Canada to live with my grandparents in Buttonville, where I stayed till I was 3. It was a great place to be a toddler, watching those Tiger Moths."

But by then, McAnuff's mother had remarried, to "a modest man," as McAnuff recalls him, named John Nelson Boyd. His father's passion for the French horn matched his mother's for amateur dramatics and they lived happily in Guelph till McAnuff was 10.

Then they moved to Scarborough to improve their status. McAnuff recalls it as "a mixed bag," with upper-middle-class families like theirs rubbing shoulders with families who were "just scraping by."

What united all the young people during that period was their love of music and McAnuff recalls "seeing Bob Dylan at Massey Hall when I was 11 and having that shape my entire consciousness. It was music that got me up every morning in my teens."

Young McAnuff moved around a varied circle of friends, although, as he wisely puts it, "Who knows how they're perceived in high school?"

Some of his buddies were "terribly smart and funny, but not very popular," while others "definitely spent a lot of their time doing pot. I joined them for a while, but then I stopped because I saw how vacant and empty-headed they were getting and feared that would happen to me."

He admitted he had some friends on the rough end "who were arrested for breaking and entering" and others "who got sent away to reform school for selling LSD," but in the end it was theatre that would save him from a similar fate.

"Because I played guitar and sang, I became a candidate for the school musicals, and Woburn Collegiate, where I was by this time, had just built a new auditorium."

A triumvirate of enlightened teachers – Ken Schultz, John Wilcox and Anne Alexander – saw a place for McAnuff in their theatre and he began by playing Kurt in The Sound of Music.

But then the barrier-breaking rock musical Hair came to town and, like every young rocker, McAnuff auditioned. He didn't get a part in that school play, but he was inspired to write his own show.

An older faculty member wanted them to present Mame, but once the staff heard McAnuff's new musical called Urbania, it was game over. After a successful run at the school, which garnered national press attention, they moved it down to the Poor Alex for a commercial run, and McAnuff was the hot ticket in Toronto.

He entered the theatre program at Ryerson and wrote a play called Leave It to Beaver is Dead, which he now describes as "a lament about the death of the '60s and all they stood for."

Respected director Paul Bettis picked it as "Best Play Written by a Student" for a competition sponsored by the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews. McAnuff recalls the $150 in prize money as "a lifesaver – three months' rent."

The only problem was that once members of the organization read the script, they refused to have anything to do with it because they found its cynicism so horrifying.

Bettis came to McAnuff's rescue and found it a place in the burgeoning alternative Toronto theatre scene.

"Things were exploding then," McAnuff recalls. Every theatre had a distinct personality with people like Martin Kinch, John Palmer and Paul Thompson all putting work out there.

"It's mind-blowing now to recall it. I remember the period when you could get applause just by mentioning Yonge St. And then I remember the period when that stopped, which was even more significant."

Shortly after all this, McAnuff moved to America, although he claims "there was never a master plan." The music he had written for Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid took him to Washington, D.C., before esteemed Canadian director John Hirsch recommended him to the Chelsea Theater Center in New York, where he directed The Crazy Locomotive and formed a partnership with Michael David (head of The Dodgers), which exists to this day.

Within a year, Joe Papp's Public Theatre was staging Leave it To Beaver is Dead in a production that starred Dianne Wiest and Mandy Patinkin; since then, McAnuff has never looked back.

His career from then on has seemed drenched in glory, with Tony Award-winning hits like Big River: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Tommy, 700 Sundays and Jersey Boys, but he has never forgotten his origins as the kid who got lucky at Woburn Collegiate.

On this particular night, as a photographer poses him for a picture, a young student comes out of the school, watches and then asks, "Are you famous?"

McAnuff pauses, thinking of his own daughter Julia, who's about to start college this fall.

He thinks carefully about his response before he smiles at the girl and says, "No, but if you work hard, you can be."

It's Wonderful Life for Lisa Horner

www.thestar.com - Richard Ouzounian, Theatre Critic

(May 24, 2008) Lisa Horner lights up every stage she appears on – and it's been that way for years.

A sparkly blond who carries her own fireworks display around with her, she's always been that knockout supporting player who makes you open your program and ask, "Who is she?"

But she's never been the over-the-title, no-questions-asked, star of a giant musical at a major theatre.

Until tonight.

That's when the curtain goes up on Wonderful Town at the Shaw Festival. In this brassily affectionate valentine to New York in the 1930s, Horner plays aspiring newspaperwoman Ruth Sherwood, a role that the likes of Rosalind Russell, Elaine Stritch, Donna Murphy and Brooke Shields have all triumphed in before.

How does that make her feel?

"I try not to think about it, to be perfectly honest," she says, just before one of the final preview performances. "Once the curtain's up, all you can do is put one foot in front of the other when you're out there."

It's a pretty good philosophy for surviving in life as well as the theatre. It's one the level-headed Horner has been following for 39 years.

She was born in Montreal, the daughter of a husband-wife team who both worked for the Bank of Commerce. She has one sibling, brother David, who is production manager at the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton.

It seems a certain showbiz gene must have been lurking in the family because Horner's mother was a regular on the semi-pro circuit in Montreal, performing Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

"That's what got the ball rolling for me," admits Horner. "I auditioned when I was 11 and the first time I spoke on the stage was kind of like the first time I felt anyone ever really heard me.

"I was a big, shy, awkward kid who never thought that people really liked me. Theatre changed all that."

When she was 12, her family moved to Toronto and she started studies at what was then called the Peel School of the Arts.

"Every day was about theatre," she glows, "and it was like a dream to me."

She followed that up by attending Ryerson Theatre School, where she discovered musicals, which proved to be her métier.

"And then, when Les Misérables came out," she recalls, "that really opened my eyes. To discover that you could have a marriage of strong characters, great songs and fantastic scripts ... that was the diamond I'd been searching for."

She also started watching all the old movie musicals she could and found she had what she called "an almost chemical attraction" to the 1930s. And she's right. Look at Depression-era film star Joan Blondell in action and you might suspect she's Horner's long-lost grandmother.

Horner has had a lot of solid jobs over the years, including two seasons at Stratford, work at The Grand Theatre, Talk Is Free Theatre, Theatre Aquarius, the Canadian Stage Company, Neptune Theatre ... but always as the girl you discovered on your own, not the one who was thrust at you on a silver platter.

This is her fifth season at Shaw and it's finally the moment when the miracle has happened.

"When I found out I was cast as Ruth," she says a bit shyly, "I hoped it wouldn't change me as a performer.

"I know it may sound corny, but I just want to be happy in my life. I've never really cared about stardom. I love the work I do, sure, but knowing I can go home to my husband and family is really the best part of my day."

But for the moment, nothing can contain her excitement about Wonderful Town. Based on a series of comic short stories by Ruth McKenney called My Sister Eileen, published in 1938, they tell the story of how Ruth and her gorgeous (but hopelessly naive) younger sister Eileen move to Greenwich Village from the Midwest, seeking fame and fortune.

They're spun in that hard-boiled yet soft-centred style America loved in the period. The book spawned a hit Broadway comedy in 1940 as well as a popular film in 1942. No wonder it seemed like a tempting musical property in 1953, by which time it was called Wonderful Town.

Successfully televised and revived several times, it's now accepted as a classic of the modern musical.

But there's a dark thread underneath it that Horner has used to give some resonance to her work.

"Ruth actually tried to kill herself when she was 14 and Eileen saved her life," she says, "and that was just the beginning."

Because despite the happy-go-lucky air of the musical, the real-life Eileen was killed in a car crash with her husband, author Nathanael West, when she was only 26.

And Ruth married a writer just like she does in the play, but they suffered persecution from their youthful involvement with the Communist Party and he killed himself on her 44th birthday. Ruth never wrote again.

But the shadowy background is far in the distance. Wonderful Town itself is 100 per cent sunshine, all the way through.

"This show kicks your ass," laughs Horner, "but in a good way. It seems like everything I've ever had to do before in any show, I get to do here ... and more."

Like any good fighter, Horner's waiting in her corner for tonight's bell to ring.

"What's given is what's meant to be done," is her motto.

But she still confesses that, "This is everything I dreamt of coming true."

The Prairies' Instant Star

Source:  www.globeandmail.com -
Simon Houpt

(May 26, 2008) NEW YORK — At about 8:07 p.m. last Friday evening, as Saskatoon's Kyle Riabko watched the opening scene of the Tony-winning rock musical Spring Awakening unfold all around him on the stage of the Eugene O'Neill Theater, he had a little trouble focusing on the task at hand.

Here he was, making his professional stage debut - on Broadway, no less - by replacing the young man who had originated the lead role, and Riabko had never even run through the whole show. It had been less than three weeks since he'd arrived in town, and rehearsals had amounted to one long cram session of dialogue, songs, blocking and choreography. He needed to collect his thoughts, fast.

"I started saying the first lines to myself, and then I realized, Well, that's not the most important thing, the most important thing is the movement," he recalled later. "And then I went, 'Oh, no, [the most important thing is] the first song.' And then I realized, you can't practise it ... it's all-encompassing. So I went out there with that scatterbrained thing, and halfway through the first act I realized, 'All right, I know how to do this, let's just relax.' "

It's been a while since Riabko, 20, has been so far out of his comfort zone. He's a creature of the stage, a magnetic singer-songwriter who tears up small venues with his sharp blues guitar and sometimes gruff vocals. But in the last couple of years, he's gotten a little burned out on music, while the impulse to act has grown. He has a role in the current CTV series Instant Star.

And in those 20 days of rehearsal on Spring Awakening, he had been picking the brains of director Michael Mayer and others in the company for acting advice.

"When I started doing music, I remember that wide-eyed feeling of ambition and the desire to get better," he said. "I haven't felt that for a long time, in music. And now I feel that intensely with acting."

"I know that I'm wrong on so many things, and there's so much room for improvement. It's great to know there's this upward climb. That's just something that really helps me to wake up in the morning."

Riabko may have a lot to learn, but he's already proving himself convincingly. In Spring Awakening, based on Frank Wedekind's controversial late-nineteenth-century work, he plays Melchior Gabor, a self-taught philosopher and budding libertine who challenges the hypocrisy of adult society.

During Friday evening's debut performance, as he acknowledged later, Riabko did seem tightly wound at first. His Melchior was more immediately petulant and had fewer emotional gradations than that of Jonathan Groff, 23, who departed the show a week ago for other work after originating the character on Broadway in December, 2006. But Riabko speaks with impressive clarity, and both his focus and his singing voice settled down by the middle of the first act.

Both Riabko and Alexandra Socha, 18, who has taken over the lead role of the doomed Wendla Bergmann, look much younger than the actors they replace, making the show's storyline of fumbling, budding teen sexuality darker and more believable. And they play the concluding scene of Act One, in which their characters lose their virginity to each other in a hayloft, as a sexual assault by Melchior which turns consensual: a darker choice than the smoother scene of seduction between the original stars Groff and Lea Michele, 21.

"Yea," Riabko chuckled self-mockingly. "They made me do things differently from Jonathan just because of how I look. If I were to try to be sexy in that scene, I think it would be too One Tree Hill."

True, his sideburns had been shaved off that afternoon and his onstage hairdo is a sixties mop. But he is being modest about his sex appeal. If Groff will be missed by Spring Awakening's most passionate audience niche of squealing young women, the first girls to witness Riabko on-stage pronounced themselves impressed as they waited by the stage door after the show. "I thought he was really good," said Lee Ben-Ze'ev, 14. She added, "He was insanely gorgeous." (She actually sang the word "insanely.").

Ella Lemos, a giddy 18-year-old who was practically febrile with excitement as she waited for Riabko to emerge, agreed. "He's really cute," she said. Having seen Groff in the show five times in the last year despite living a six-hour bus ride away in New Hampshire, Lemos was well qualified to appraise Riabko's debut. "It's cool, because this is a rock musical, and you could really tell tonight that he has a rock background."

A few feet away, a camera crew interviewed fans for a documentary that Riabko's manager is selling to Bravo! Canada about the young singer's journey from Saskatoon to Broadway.

Riabko said he still can't grasp the fact that he's made it to Broadway. "That's kind of surreal to me. I don't think I'll ever realize what that actually means," he said. "The coolest part, honestly - it sounds really cheesy - is I love the piece so much, I really think it means a lot, and it will continue to change the way people think for years and years and years, and decades. So for the history books to include me - they're writing a book on the making of the play right now, and they have a picture of me in it, and when I signed off on the picture, I thought, 'This is so cool.' "

He might also be helping to put Saskatoon on the map. Asked if she knew the name of Riabko's hometown, Ella Lemos giggled and said, "I just know he's from some place I can't pronounce."

Start-Crossed Lovers Foil Stratford Opener

Source:  www.thestar.com

Romeo and Juliet
http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=4860_38504068_1754557_1383_169372_0_252148_310680_2355035080&bodyPart=3&YY=98848&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=1http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=4860_38504068_1754557_1383_169372_0_252148_310680_2355035080&bodyPart=4&YY=98848&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=1http://ca.f881.mail.yahoo.com/ya/download/ca/ShowLetter?box=Inbox&MsgId=4860_38504068_1754557_1383_169372_0_252148_310680_2355035080&bodyPart=5&YY=98848&y5beta=yes&y5beta=yes&order=down&sort=date&pos=0&view=a&head=b&Idx=1(out of four)
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Des McAnuff. Until Nov. 8 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford.

(May 27, 2008) Stratford–There are so many good things about Des McAnuff's production of
Romeo and Juliet, which opened the Stratford Shakespeare Festival season last night, that it's a shame it doesn't ultimately work.

The reasons for that are simple: Romeo and Juliet.

We'll get to them later, but first let's deal with all the praiseworthy elements on display.

There's definitely a new and exciting look onstage at the Festival Theatre, with McAnuff serving notice that without destroying the basic shape and form of the original design, it's possible to break away from the dreary sameness that's been plaguing it in recent years.

Robert Thomson's lighting is the first cue, using colour and focus differently than they have been in years and making it possible to combine atmosphere and illumination successfully.

Heidi Ettinger's set is similarly bold, with a floor of multileveled terra cotta tiles, a moving bridge that does amazing things and the most thorough use on the centre trap I've seen in years.

Michael Roth's music is also much more of a cinematic underscoring than the customary trumpet flourishes in between scenes we've gotten all too used to.

I have some doubts about Paul Tazewell's costumes, which are frequently just too colourful for their own good and have Romeo running around most of the night in a peacock blue that really wouldn't look good on any male older than 6.

The major joy of the evening is watching McAnuff move the crowds around, in bold swirling flourishes that push the story forward energetically through all of the first act and the end of the second.

The ball scene is magic, the street fights look dangerous and the deathly final scene inside the crypt is handled with finesse.

One could quibble with McAnuff's concept, which begins the show in modern dress with a gimmicky use of Uzis and motor scooters that makes you start to cringe.

But once the company get dressed up in Renaissance gear for the ball, they stay that way, which is a clever conceit.

However, we could do without them all reappearing in modern clothes for the final tableau, which kind of reduces the show's theme to "Don't be hatin'!"

Another major strength of the evening are the supporting performances from three of the cast in particular.

Evan Buliung is such a dashing, charismatic Mercutio that it leaves the play feeling empty after he dies. McAnuff has perhaps included one too many of the man's numerous sexual jokes, but Buliung knows how to carry them off with panache.

Lucy Peacock is also probably the best Nurse I've ever seen, knowing how to make this long-winded lady humorous, instead of boring. One giant speech which she seemingly takes at a single breath is a tribute to her technique as well as her timing.

And Peter Donaldson is, similarly, the best Friar Laurence in my memory, acting with that stern but understanding quality he plays so well and giving us a man of power instead of a dottering, desiccated relic. McAnuff also lets him speak the show's Prologue and Epilogue – a wise and resonant choice.

But when all is said and done, the show is called Romeo and Juliet and that's where this production, alas, falls down.

Granted, these are two of the hardest roles to play in dramatic literature, since you have start with the naïveté of teenagers, mature into adult tragedy and speak some of the most glorious verse Shakespeare ever wrote.

Gareth Potter comes the closest of the two and his scenes of mooncalf madness in Act I are endearing. But when the going gets tough, so does he and that's the one note he plays the rest of the night.

Nikki M. James is a sweet young woman and it's obvious that she understands all the changes Juliet should go through, but her thin voice, with its lack of variety, ultimately lets her (and us) down.

The main stage of the Stratford Shakespeare Festival is not the place to learn how to perform Shakespeare for the first time, especially not in the leading role in a flagship production.

When the play is about the whole world of the Montagues and the Capulets, McAnuff delivers an exciting piece of theatre. But when it's time to zero in on the two young lovers, there's no bells and whistles left. They just can't carry the text.

Let there be joy for a lot of the bold new physical steps that have been taken, but let's hope the new kids on the block remember that there has to be solid acting going on in front of it all.


Video Games Based On Food Heating Up The Industry

www.thestar.com - Raju Mudhar, Entertainment Reporter

(May 24, 2008) The virtual world of food games is heating up and, like most things that cross over into the video-game world, it's being sliced, diced and served up in a number of different ways.

Just as food culture has exploded with celebrity chefs and food fads to satisfy an increasingly sophisticated palate, food games are following suit. New food games currently in production include a Hell's Kitchen Web game (we think a virtual Gordon Ramsay will still be much easier to swallow than the caustic real one),
Get Cookin', a new game for cellphones from Glu Interactive, and Major League Eating, a new WiiWare game that features characters from the International Federation of Championship Eating. All are slated to be released soon.

Of course, the kernel from which this has all sprung is Nintendo's Cooking Mama series. Created in Japan, the games were licensed for the North American market by Majesco, and feature a wide-eyed character named Mama who talks you through various recipes. Cooking Mama was originally created for the DS, and has spawned a sequel and Wii version. It also spurred the company to bring over Cake Mania, a similar virtual baking game.

"At last count, the official number across all lines is 1.7 million games sold, which we are far beyond at this point," says Liz Buckley, director of marketing at Majesco, who admits the success of the title was a surprise.

"We realized there was a lot of market potential there, but we were a little caught off-guard by how well it did after the original success. And the first game is still selling, even with the sequel out there."

Buckley chalks up its success to the fact the game was the first of its kind, and that it made good use of the Nintendo DS's unique stylus-based design and gameplay. She adds that it has spawned several similar titles, which makes sense because of the universal appeal of the subject matter.

"Cooking is really approachable to a wide audience," she says. "It's not just a game for 8- to 10-year-old girls. There's a lot of feedback we've received that says there are a lot of guys who enjoy this type of game."

She adds, "And Mama is just so likeable. She has a kitschy Japanese appeal, which I think that had a lot to do with it."

While other aspects surrounding cooking have been turned into successful games, the other approach is to use food as the backdrop for other types of games. For example, the new Major League Eating Game is, at its heart, a fighting game.

"You're not hitting the other guy with your fists, but you're trying to knock him out," explains Bill Schwartz, CEO of Mastiff Games. "And by that I mean, force him to go into a reversal of fortune (in other words, puke) with the weapons you have. Those are things like farts, burps, belches, blue-flame attack – you know, food-related items.

"About 60 per cent is a fighting game and the other 30 or 40 per cent is an eating game, where you are using the Wiimote to pick up different kinds of food and put them in your mouth and chew them as quickly as possible."

Since food and eating have so many basic motions involved, it allows these games to take advantage of the new growth in motion sensor technologies. The recently announced cellphone game Get Cookin' uses motion sensors in the device to simulate actions, such as turning the cellphone over to mimic a spatula flipping over a pancake.

But there's one area these games can't help you yet: Actually learning how to cook – although that might not be too far off.

"I've had that question before regarding Cooking Mama," Buckley says. "The specifics of ingredient amounts aren't realistic in the game. However, the steps involved in the recipes and the majority of the ingredients are accurate, so in a sense you kind of can learn how to cook in a general way.

"Although, if you're trying to take the game and translate it wholesale to the kitchen, that's obviously not going to work. But we think it's kind of an inspiring title in that way."

Wii Fit Buyers Can Also Hit Slopes With We Ski Game

www.thestar.com - Marc Saltzman, Special To The Star

(May 24, 2008) Those geniuses at Nintendo didn't just sell you a Wii Fit last week, that collection of fitness routines and mini-games for the Nintendo Wii console. The Wii Balance Board included with the disc can also be used with some video games.

For example, Namco Bandai's just-released
We Ski ($29.99; rated "Everyone") is a simple yet fun skiing game for the Nintendo Wii that supports the Wii Balance Board peripheral, which looks like a bathroom scale.

In the single-player modes, players can stand on the wireless doohickey and use their body to shift weight as they navigate down the hill. Up to four players can hit the virtual slopes on the same television as well, though gamers will need to use the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controllers to slalom down the mountain.

We Ski includes more than a dozen runs ranging from the simple bunny slopes to the most challenging Black Diamonds cliffs. Other activities include freestyle challenges, race modes, moguls and a ski school for beginners.

Last week in San Francisco, Electronic Arts demonstrated how the Wii Balance Board will be used in the upcoming Skate It skateboarding game, due out this fall for the Nintendo Wii.

Penny for your thoughts: Seasoned gamers who miss point-and-click adventures with humorous dialogue will find plenty of both in Hothead Games' Penny Arcade Adventures Episode 1: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness (rated "Mature"), created by Mike "Gabe" Krahulik and Jerry "Tycho" Holkins, and veteran designer Ron Gilbert (The Secret of Monkey Island).

In this Vancouver-made first instalment, players set out in the pulpy 1920s world of New Arcadia to solve puzzles, interact with wacky characters (many of whom will be familiar to devoted Penny Arcade followers) and fight baddies in turn-based role-playing game-like fashion.

Available for $21, the first episode can be downloaded from playgreenhouse.com (to play on the PC) or via the Xbox Live Arcade service (to play on the Xbox 360) for 1,600 Microsoft Points.

Good times roll for Rock Band: One of the finest debut albums in rock history will soon be available to play in MTV Games' Rock Band.

Available Tuesday, The Cars' 1978 self-titled album can be downloaded in its entirety, which includes a handful of new-wave classics like "Good Times Roll," "My Best Friend's Girl," "Moving in Stereo," "Just What I Needed" and "You're All I've Got Tonight."

Each track will be available for $1.99 per track (160 Microsoft Points for Xbox 360) or $14.99 (1,200 Microsoft Points for Xbox 360) for the album.

This is the second full-length album available for download in Rock Band, after Judas Priest's Screaming for Vengeance. With the addition of The Cars album, Rock Band now offers more than 170 songs included with the game or as downloadable add-ons. More info is at www.rockband.com/dlc.


A Bookstore Closes And Toronto Loses So Much More

www.thestar.com - Shawn Micallef, Special To The Star

(May 24, 2008) Two months ago Ballenford Books closed after 29 years in business as Toronto's only architectural bookstore. While it is always sad to lose an independent bookstore, Toronto was doubly hit because Ballenford dedicated a portion of its small Mirvish Village retail space to regular, Toronto-focused architectural and photographic exhibitions. Even when not shopping for a particular book, you knew you could pop into the store and see something exciting up on the walls – something that might generate thoughts about city life and city building in Toronto.

With Ballenford gone, the city has lost a small version of an important civic institution that other cities enjoy: an "urban centre." An urban centre is a place where the city itself is the focus: One day you might see something that makes you angry, the next you might fall a little more in love with the metropolis. It's a place where you can go to see what's happening in the city, where you can take the pulse of current developments and participate in public conversations. A resource centre for the general public to get information and find its place in city development, it's also a place for policy wonks, architects, planners and students who want and need to have deeper discussions about city development.

Apart from the small but dedicated role Ballenford played in Toronto, other institutions serve as small urban centres at times. The Toronto Archives on Spadina Rd. has a large exhibition hall that runs excellent year-long exhibitions where its deep collection is mined, curated, and made public. On the west side, recently moving into their new Bloor and Lansdowne location, the Toronto Free Gallery routinely shows critical, Toronto-based artwork that looks at urban issues. Though devoted to all design fields, the Design Exchange holds urban-themed charettes and events periodically. Even the giant panorama model of central Toronto in the lobby of City Hall is a popular example of how much latent need there is for an urban centre in Toronto. Linger there for a while and you'll see a steady stream of people looking and pointing at it: It's one of the few places in Toronto where strangers regularly speak to each other, so powerful is this simple exhibit. Even without any interpretation, the city itself can hold people's attention.

Some of the world's great cities have urban centres that have become as important civic and cultural attractions as their traditional museums and landmarks are. The Chicago Architecture Foundation runs more than 7,800 tours of that city each year, including the exceptional riverboat tours of its famous buildings and development history. Since 1988, visitors and residents of Paris have been able to visit the Pavillon de L'Arsenal, a "centre for information, documentation and exhibition for urban planning."

Toronto is particularly well suited for an urban centre. Despite the abundance of cynicism here, this city has a long and robust history of civic activism and engagement. A large part of our civic mythology revolves around Jane Jacobs' move here from New York City in the 1960s and the related halt of the Spadina Expressway project. Victories like this gave resident associations and ad hoc groups the confidence needed to mount similar battles over the past 40 years.

Yet so many of these struggles become amplified, polarized and shrill because debate only occurs in later stages of development, at contentious meetings or at the dreaded Ontario Municipal Board. What if there was a place for all parties to meet in advance to talk about what's coming and debate what is best for the city before all sides are too entrenched. Toronto could be a YIMBY city ("Yes in my backyard" – to borrow the Active 18 neighbourhood group's "intelligent development" term) instead of a NIMBY one.

City-building debates are happening all over Toronto, in newspapers, on blogs, in community meetings and on sidewalks. It's healthy, but it's decentralized, and the institutions listed above that are doing good urban work also have other mandates to serve. An urban centre could focus all this thought and energy in one place.

Shawn Micallef is an Associate Editor at Spacing Magazine. Along with ERA Architects and the Toronto Society of Architects, Spacing is hosting the annual Toronto the Good party during the Festival of Architecture and Design on Tuesday, May 27 in the Distillery District. More information at www.torontothegood.org.

Jimmy Fallon at Toronto Just for Laughs

Source:  www.globeandmail.com - Michael Posner

(May 28, 2008) Building on a successful debut last year, the Toronto version of Montreal's Just for Laughs Comedy Festival is returning July 23 to 27 for five days, with six galas, several club shows, a sketch evening at Second City and a number of free outdoor events.

The galas will be hosted by Emmy Award-winning, SCTV alumnus Martin Short (July 25), Seinfeld star Jason Alexander (July 26) and future Late Night on NBC host
Jimmy Fallon (July 27), with two shows each night. Popular American ventriloquist Jeff Dunham will stage his own one-man show, also at Massey Hall.

 An ethnic series will be mounted at the Elgin/Wintergarden theatres, including the Asian Invasion hosted by Canadian stand-up Sugar Sammy, and featuring Jo Koy; the Wiseguys, an all-Italian night hosted by the Doo-Wops and featuring Joey Kola and Dom Irrera.

Hooking up with local comedy clubs, Just for Laughs will use Mark Breslin's Yuk Yuks venue to host Headliners, in which comics such as Wendy Liebman, Kevin Hart, Gerry Dee, Al Madrigal, Adam Hills, Jeff Ross and Elon Gold perform extended 30-minute sets. Debra DiGiovanni will host a line-up of nine aspiring Canadian comics - the Best of Homegrown Comic Competition 2008. At Second City, Craig Robinson (The Office) will host an evening of sketch comedy.

 Free street theatre on July 25-26 includes Toronto's Corpus performance troupe; the living statuary of Unity Productions; stilt walkers from Italy's Teatro Pavana; the interactive comedy of England's Plungeboom; a Spanish clown act and the aerial routines of France's Transe Express Circus, accompanied by 40 Toronto percussionists. For details: http://www.hahaha.com/toronto. Tickets go on sale June 2.


Canadian Captures High Jump

www.thestar.com - Star Wire Services

(May 25, 2008) Canada's Nicole Forrester won the women's high jump title yesterday at the FBK Games in Hengelo, Netherlands.

The veteran jumper from Toronto cleared 1.93 metres for the victory, her best jump of the season. Marina Aitova of Kazakhstan was second and Tia Hellebaut of Belgium third.

Haile Gebrselassie discovered his old legs still carry him well in the 10,000 metres, while Irving Saladino of Panama found a new spring in his step and marked it with the best long jump in 14 years.

American Christian Cantwell threw 20.88 metres to win the shot put, ahead of Germany's Peter Sack at 20.60 and Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., 20.24.

Gebrselassie ran his fastest 10,000 metres in four years, well within the 27-minute mark he sought to push his case to be included on the Ethiopian Olympic team for the Beijing Games.

Gebrselassie, 35, finished second in blustery winds in 26 minutes 51.20 seconds, only .67 seconds behind compatriot and Olympic silver medallist Sileshi Sihine.

As Gebrselassie was circling the track during his race, Saladino leaped 8.73 metres.

LIU VICTORIOUS: Liu Xiang won a gold medal yesterday in his first final at Beijing's 91,000-seat Bird's Nest stadium, the site of track and field events at the Olympics.

"I'm happy I won, but even if I had lost I would be happy because the most important thing is August and the Olympics," said Liu, who ran the 110-metre hurdles in 13.18 seconds at the China Open, the first full-scale event at the new stadium.

HAMM DETERMINED: Never, ever count U.S. gymnast Paul Hamm out. Not even when he appears to be out of the running for an Olympic medal, not when he has taken 2 1/2 years off.

Not even with a broken hand.

The Olympic gold medallist said yesterday he believes there is a "definite opportunity" for him to be on the U.S. team at the Beijing Games, despite breaking the fourth metacarpal in his right hand.

"There's no guarantees, no matter what," Hamm said, his right hand and wrist encased in a blue cast. "The only thing I can do at this point is make an attempt, try and see what happens. I don't really even know exactly what the game plan is going to be until I talk to the doctors.

"It's going to be a push," he added. "But if anybody can do it, I can pull it off."

Hamm, who broke the bone in his right hand Thursday night, could have surgery as early as Tuesday. Recovery time is four weeks.

DIVING PRODIGY: A 14-year-old Olympic-bound diver helped Britain win its first FINA Diving World Series gold medal yesterday at Sheffield, England.

Tom Daley, who will compete in Beijing, and Blake Aldridge earned the competition's first maximum score of 10 for their second dive in the 10-metre platform synchronized event.