Monday, October 17, 2005

The Art of William McElcheran

The late William McElcheran is a reknowned Canadian sculptor, best known for his "Businessman" sculpture series. These bronze statues depict one or more portly business men dressed in 1950s style trench coats and fedora hats, shown in various poses and situations. Their faces are usually bland and expressionless, but there is something about oddly compelling about them. Maybe it's because they represent the white-collared corporate common man, and therefore are easy to relate to.

I saw my first McElcheran statue in Yorkville in front of the Kinsman Robinson Gallery and was immediately fascinated by it. It was a life-sized statue of the business man looking at his watch. Entering the art gallery, I found that it represented the estatate of William McElcheran, and therefore had multiple articles of his work on display and for sale. It was very interesting speaking to the curator, who was rather an expert on the subject.

After this first sighting, I began noticing more Businessman statutes scattered throughout Toronto. There is actually a small one of the business man in full stride, at the corner of Yonge and St. Clair, just a block from my home. There is another lifesized one of a pair of businessman bumping into each other, on the grounds of Commerce Court. There is also supposed to be one at Water Park Place, at 10 Bay Street. I have not seen this one yet, but plan to go look at it. Apparently McElcheran was commissioned to create pieces that now reside across Canada, United States, Italy, Germany and Japan. Maybe one day I will see statutes from other cities and countries.

From October 15 through November 20, there will be an exhibit of McElcheran's Businessman statues on display at the Burlington Art Centre. A Curator talk and tour will take place on Sunday October 30 at 2pm. I will be going to this and will report more on this subject as I learn more from this tour.

Burlington Art Centre
1333 Lakeshore Road
Burlington, On L7S 1A9
(905) 632-7796 Mon-Thu 9am-10pm; Fri/Sat 9am-5pm; Sun 12-5pm

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Theatre: Billy Crystal - 700 Sundays

Last weekend, I saw the last showing of Billy Crystal's Tony Award Winning One Man autobiography called 700 Sundays, playing at the Canon Theatre. What an amazing performer he is, standing on stage and pouring his soul out for almost 3 hours as he relayed story after story about his years growing up in New York. His tales made you roar with laughter at one moment, and then choke back tears of emotion the next.

Billy Crystal's childhood was absolutely amazing as he got to grow up interacting with some of the Jazz legends of the times including Billy Holiday and Oscar Peterson, because of his father, uncle and grandfather's work in the music industry.
Surprisingly and perhaps admirably, the show focuses very little on Billy Crystal's own rise to fame in the entertainment industry. He glosses over that accomplishment in a mere sentence as he goes on to regale one anecdote after another about his beloved extended family, sometimes taking on their personnas to hilarious results.

The title "700 Sundays" refers to the early death of Billy's father when he was only 15, and reflects the approximate number of Sundays he got to spend with his dad before he died. His father worked hard during the week, but Sunday was the special day reserved for Billy and his brothers. His mother died a few years ago, which is probably what triggered him to write this show, as a cathartic tribute to those who are now gone.

Perhaps because it was the last show, Billy waited out the seemingly endless standing ovation so that he could make a final speech at the end. He talked about how how he purposely made Toronto his first stop in a continent-wide tour. He mentioned playing in the past at Massey Hall and how he felt the floor boards creak with ghosts of past Jazz greats and how he felt an affinity to Toronto.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Fueling My Love of Musicals in Toronto

I’ve had a love affair with musicals ever since I was young. When I was ten, my sister took me to see my very first theatre musical.  We took the bus from Toronto to the Stratford Festival to watch The Man of La Mancha.  I was fascinated with the story within the story … where the imprisoned playwright/actor Miguel de Cervantes relates the story of Don Quixote de la Mancha, a madman who believes he is a knight on a mission to “right all wrongs” and “dream the impossible dream”.   Back at home, I would reenact the scenes from the play.  I'd sing “The Impossible Dream” at the top of my lungs as I climbed from my sofa onto the top of a dresser until I could touch the ceiling to “Reach the unreachable star”.  Ok, so I was a geek … still am when it comes to loving musicals.

That first experience watching a live musical has led to a life-long obsession.  Luckily in Toronto, there are ample opportunities ranging from the mega-blockbuster shows, to smaller professional theatres, to semi-pro and community theatres. 

We can thank the Mirvish family for bringing so many great musicals to Toronto, including some of the latest from London or New York.  On a few occasions, Toronto has even presented the world premiere for a new musical before it heads to Broadway or goes on the road.  The latest example of this will be The Lord Of the Rings, coming in February 2006.  (See my previous blog entry titled Epic Musical Les Miserables is Back in Town for more details about the Mirvish subscription series). 

Having seen so many musicals including all the blockbusters, I’ve recently found that some of the smaller shows playing at smaller theatres are more unique, innovative and entertaining.  A few of my recent favorites include The Last Five Years and Urinetown at the CanStage Theatres, and Tick Tick Boom at the Poor Alexandra Theatre.

The Last Five Years depicts 5 years of courtship and marriage that ends in divorce.  The unique twist is that the woman sings of the relationship from the day of divorce remembering back to the day they met, while the man sings from the day they met moving forward.  The only time they are on stage at the same time is when they meet in time and space together on their wedding day.  Urinetown is a hilarious musical comedy about a futuristic town where water rationing has made peeing a luxury for the wealthy.  It is extremely witty and spoofs the musical genre while it revels in it.

I love musicals so much that I watch as many as I can afford.  A nice inexpensive way to get a “musical fix” is to watch semi-pro or community shows, with average ticket prices ranging from $20 to $25.  The two that I go to on a regular basis are the Etobicoke Musical Productions ( and Curtain Call Players (www.curtaincallplayers .com)

Feeling “musical withdrawal” after seeing a play, I’ve found that if I listen to the music again on CD, I can actually see the show replaying in my head.  In fact, when I can, I prefer to listen to the music before I go a show, so that I can familiarize myself with the lyrics.  This way I don’t miss any of the storyline by being unable to make out what words are being sung.

Through the years I have developed an impressive collection of over 100 musical soundtracks, many times buying CDs of musicals that I have never even heard of.  Sometimes this leads to a few duds but most are winners.  I especially like musicals where the songs string together to tell a comprehensive story.  Since I already own all the common CDs that you can get from the local HMV, I have to look harder for the more obscure or newer musicals including the latest ones coming from Broadway in New York or London’s West End.  I’ve found a gem of a store called Song and Script, located the corner of Bay and Bloor, that has just about anything I might be looking for.  I’ve also recently discovered that carries an impressive collection of musical CDs, sometimes at a significantly discounted price.

My husband has threatened to limit me to storing my CD collection within a single drawer within our wall unit so in desperation, I've been replacing all the full sized CD cases with the thin ones. He makes up my birthday and Christmas lists by checking out the Tony nominations for best musical each year.

So there are many opportunities to feed a musical addiction in Toronto. If you want a review about a musical, ask me .. I've probably seen it, or at very least I probably own the CD!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Epic Musical Les Miserables is Back in Town

Les Miserables, the epic musical based on Victor Hugo’s novel has returned to Toronto after an absence of  15 years.  I love this musical and saw it three times when it was originally playing at the Royal Alexandra Theatre back in 1989.  It is part of the 2005/2006 Mirvish subscription series, so I went to see it for the 4th time.

I’ve had a subscription to the Royal Alex for over 10 years now; although you can’t really call that anymore since these days, very few of the shows are actually shown at the Royal Alexandra Theatre.  Most of the shows are playing either at the Canon or the Elgin/Winter Garden Theatres (one of the few “double-decker” theatres in the world).  

Personally, I’m quite happy that the shows are not at the Royal Alexandra Theatre anymore because my subscription seats are in the upper balcony of the theatre.  If you’ve ever been to the Royal Alex, you would know that the seats in the balcony are built for midgets.  I am only 5 feet tall and even for me, there is not enough leg room and my knees protrude into the air space of the seat in front of me.  Imagine the suffering that my 6ft tall husband Rich endures … he is even happier than I am about the change of venues.  The stairs are so steep in the upper balcony that I always imagine I will trip and tumble down to the bottom of the balcony where my stomach will smack against the balcony railing and belly-flop me right over the edge, down onto the wealthy people sitting in the orchestra dress circle.

My subscription seats for rear upper balcony are one of the best deals in town.  This year, for $145, I get to see 7 shows including 4 musicals(Les Miserables, Lord of the Rings, Moving Out, The Boyfriend), 2 comedies (Wingfield’s Inferno, The Innocent Eye Test) and a Circus Show.  This means that I watched Les Miserables for $16 a ticket!  Before I was able to get a subscription ticket for Rich (then my boyfriend), I used by buy him an extra ticket to go see a show with me.  My subscription seat cost me $10 while his seat next to me cost $60!  Just like Elaine from Seinfeld evaluated men for sponge-worthiness, I had to consider whether he was “seat-worthy”.

The cost for the next higher price range (the seat immediately in front of mine) goes for over $250.  It’s almost too much for me to resist tapping the guy in front of me on the shoulder and asking “Do you know how much more you are paying to sit 2 inches in front of me?”  In my mind, my subscription tickets are like Leafs seasons tickets – something to hang onto for dear life, and pass on from generation to generation.

This time around, Les Miserables was playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre.  Here, the seats are plush and leg room aplenty.  Although I can nearly recite all the words to every song and know exactly what to expect, I found I was still crying at all the same moments as before (pretty much the entire second half!)  Since I also get misty watching Coffee commercials, I guess this should not be that much of a surprise.  However you would think I would be smart enough to bring Kleenex but I forgot.  So there I was trying to discretely sniffle, whipping my eyes on Rich’s sleeve while he not too discretely was whacking me on the head.  Finally the person next to me took pity on me (or maybe she actually took pity on Rich) and passed me a pack of tissues.

While the female leads did not measure up to my memory of the original showing, the male leads who played Jean Valjean and Javert more than did justice to their infamous roles.  Their voices were rich and powerful when required, but also sweet and soulful in the quieter songs.  Because this is a traveling show, the set for the barricade was not as spectacular as the original.  All in all, this was still a very enjoyable show of a magnificent musical.

Les Miserables is playing at the Princess of Wales until Oct 22 and then will move to the Canon Theatre from Oct 25-Nov 5. It might not come back again for another 15 years, so catch this show while you can. Too bad you can't see if for $16 like I did.