By Mike Cohen

ONCE THE MUSICAL:  The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is kicking off the 2018-2019 theatre season with the Montreal premiere of Once. Playing in the Sylvan Adams Theatre from October 7 to October 28, this Tony award-winning musical takes audiences on the sweeping journey of star-crossed lovers accompanied by mesmerizing music.

Based on the hit 2007 film, Once has been an international success since opening on Broadway in 2012, where it won eight Tony Awards including Best Musical. With music that won an Academy Award, a Grammy Award, an Olivier Award, and a Tony Award, the musical features all the beautiful songs from the critically acclaimed film. The story takes place in Dublin and follows an Irish musician and a Czech immigrant drawn together by their shared love of music. Their unexpected friendship quickly evolves into a powerful but complicated love story. Achingly beautiful and joyously uplifting, the show strikes an unforgettable chord in audiences and speaks to the power of music to connect us all.

“We are opening the season with a musical unlike any other our audience has seen before. In this extraordinary company, actors and musicians are one and the same as they bring to life this universal story of friendship and longing that bursts through the intimacy of our stage,” said Lisa Rubin, Artistic and Executive Director of the Segal Centre.

 The cast of quadruple threat performers will be showcasing their many talents in this production as all actors also play their own instruments onstage. Taking on the lead roles of Guy and Girl are local musicians and performers Greg Halpin and Eva Foote, both making their professional theatre debuts. Greg is an established Montreal musician and songwriter who has played in bands Honheehonhee and Lakes of Canada. He toured his solo acoustic release, Notes from a Bedroom, by playing concerts in other people’s bedrooms across North America. This tour was documented in the short film, These Beds Together that premiered at the Segal Centre earlier this summer. When he’s not singing on stages or in bedrooms Greg can often be found performing on the platforms of the Montreal Metro. Eva is a recent graduate from the National Theatre School of Canada. She has appeared in the St. Lawrence Shakespeare Company’s productions of As You Like It and Taming of the Shrew. In the summer of 2016, Eva released her second EP Funeral Walking, and plans to record and release her first full-length record in 2019. Also joining them for the first time at the Segal Centre are Eric Digras (a co-founder of Automatic Vaudeville), Olivier Gervais-Courchesne (Juste pour rire’s Grease), Jon-Alex MacFarlane(Toronto and 1st U.S. National Tour of Once), Marie Mahabal (Theatre Calgary’s The Light in the Piazza), Sophie Paradis (Le p’tit monde de Laura Cadieux), Bryan Quinn (Game of Thrones), Matthew Raudsepp (Juste pour rire’s Grease), Mahalia Golnosh Tahririha (Belfry Theatre and GCTC’s The Last Wife), and Mia Czarnecki and Liv Simcha Chaimberg sharing the role of young Ivonka. The Segal Centre is also thrilled to welcome back Al Goulem and Justin Rutledge (both featured in the META-winning production of The Graduate) to the stage.

Greg Halpin and Andrew Shaver

Director Andrew Shaver is no stranger to the Segal Centre or Montreal audiences. The Montreal Gazette named him “one of Canada’s best directors” for Sherlock Holmes which won him a META. He directed the critically acclaimed production of The Graduate and the massively successful French production of Grease for Juste pour rire, and has been the artistic director of SideMart Theatrical Grocery since 2007. He will be supported by Choreographer Annie St-Pierre who is currently working on productions with Cirque du Soleil, Musical Director David Terriault whose previous Segal Centre credits include Million Dollar Quartet, Forever Plaid, and On Second Avenue, and Assistant Director Sarah Segal-Lazar whose recent Fringe creation, Don’t Read the Comments, won the Segal Centre’s award for Most Promising English Company. Bringing Dublin to the Sylvan Adams Theatre with their designs are Set Designer Ken Mackenzie, Costume Designer Amy Keith, Lighting Designer Martin Sirois, Video Designer George Allister, and Sound Designer Brian Kenny.

Tickets are on sale now at 514.739.7944 or at www.segalcentre.org.

 A BINTEL BRIEF: The Segal Centre for Performing Arts will present A Bintel Brief, a Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) production. One of the DWYT’s most beloved plays, A Bintel Brief presented in Yiddish with English and French supertitles returns to the Segal Centre Studio for eight performances from October 14 to October 21.

 A Bintel Brief (“A Bundle of Letters”) is based on letters written by Jewish immigrants to the editor of the Yiddish newspaper, Forverts (The Jewish Daily Forward), in the early 20th century. From romantic quandaries, family quarrels, and the challenges of assimilation to the hardships, tragedies, and disillusionment they faced following their arrival in the New World, these letters reflect the daily realities of Eastern European Jewish immigrants adapting to their new lives in North America. Told through comedy, drama, and song, A Bintel Brief presents the real stories of strangers in a new land and serves as a poignant reminder that the immigrant experience is universal and timeless.

 Founded in 1958 by Dora Wasserman, the DWYT celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, and to mark this milestone, they will be mounting their 15th production of A Bintel Brief. “That we wanted to pay tribute to our company’s history by presenting one of our most popular productions was worthwhile in and of itself,” said Ben Gonshor, President of the DWYT. “But in light of the reality of the times we’re living in,” he continued, “the true-life stories of how our forebears came to North America and made their way upon arriving in the new world, touched a raw nerve in all of us and lent an urgency to presenting the play.” Originally commissioned by Dora Wasserman in the 1970’s, A Bintel Brief has toured throughout Canada and the United States. While the letters included in the play were written as early as 1905, the themes of immigration, assimilation, and hope are as relevant as ever.

The multi-generational cast of both veteran and new DWYT performers bringing this story to life include:  Salomé Assor, Cheryl Blum, Danielle Buch, Mark Buch, Maia Cooper, Mia Cooperman, Jonathan Eidelman, Kinneret Finegold, Rachel Finegold, Joel Fink, Aron Gonshor, Jodi Lackman, Bram Lackman-Mincoff, Betty Kis Marer, Catherine Marmen, Veronica Schnitzer, Mikey Samra, Sam Stein, and features YAYA kids from the Segal Centre Academy. The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre is delighted that many members of this show’s creative team are a product of the DWYT.

Tickets are on sale now at 514.739.7944 or at www.segalcentre.org.

FUN RUN: On Sunday morning, October 7, 2018, Hebrew Academy will host its third annual 5K Fun Run/Walk in Côte Saint-Luc – a family-friendly event for members of the school community of all ages celebrating school pride and the start of a new academic year. About 350 people attended last year’s event – including Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein – which featured upbeat music, healthy snacks, an exciting raffle draw, and warm-up and cool-down exercises led by a certified personal fitness trainer.

The 5K run/walk will begin outside the school on Kellert Avenue, circle through Pierre Elliott Trudeau Park, continue along Mackle Road and loop around Hudson back onto Mackle. As in past years, families with young children will have the option of participating in a 1K run through the park and back along Kellert. The event will culminate with fun activities in the school playground for children of all ages.

“The enthusiasm in past years was contagious,” said Hebrew Academy Executive Director Linda Lehrer.  “It was so heartwarming to be able to reunite with all members of our Hebrew Academy family and to kick off the new school year with such a fun, spirited activity. I can’t wait until the next Fun Run!”

The event will proceed rain or shine. 

Dr.Harry Rajchgot

A UNIQUE JEWISH COOKBOOK: Local dentist Harry Rajchgot has written his second book called The Sweetness of Life: My Mother’s Jewish Cookbook. It is a tale of where his parents came from in Poland, how they arrived in Canada, the language of Yiddish. In each section, there is a storyline and one of his mom’s recipes, a unique concept to be sure.  Dr.  Rajchgot spent more than 20 years writing his first novel called Gravitational Fields, released in 2016. The writing began at the time his father became severely ill in 1994. It gives a fictional account of a family of Holocaust survivors struggling to overcome their past, based on the stories of many individuals and families who went through similar experiences.

After Dr. Rajchgot’s mother’s death, he found among her effects an invoice book from a Montreal furrier where she had worked. Many of the pages were covered in Yiddish script in his mother’s difficult handwriting. Afrer glancing at a few of these, he recognized a some” of the Yiddish words and realized that these were recipes. Similar material was also written on odd pieces of cardboard, from Kleenex boxes or the cardboard that came with shirts from the dry cleaner.

“Too busy to deal with them at that moment, I put all these aside in a box, for later examination,” he explained. “About a year ago, seven years after my mother passed away, I looked again. I had recently heard of a call for submissions of possible projects by the Foundation for Yiddish Culture, asking for material that would emphasize the role of the Yiddish language in recent Montreal history. Yiddish had been my mother tongue, although, for the most part,  I had forgotten how to speak the language. With a certain degree of curiosity, I applied, proposing to turn my mother’s Yiddish recipes into a book which would explore my family’s journey from pre-war Poland to Montreal in the recent past, and use this book to show the original recipes, in their Yiddish cursive, with translation into English, interwoven with my family history, the history of the Yiddish language, and a glossary of spicy, salty, and sweet Yiddish words, terms, and phrases. And to my surprise, I was given the approval to develop my project.”

The translation of the 70 odd recipes took a good six months. To a large extent, Dr. Rajchgot had to bring back the memories of the Yiddish he had learned as a child, and then try to read his mother’s difficult handwriting, translate the words, and give them context. “I saw that each recipe was attributed to one or other of my mother’s network of women friends who had dictated these recipes to her,” he said. “Most had a similar background as my mother, Holocaust survivors who had come to Canada after the war and made a life in this country. Interwoven with these was the theme of nourishment of young families, and the sublimated memories of past fear, deprivation, and hunger. What was remarkable was that most of the recipes were for sweet things–cakes and cookies and other desserts. This gave the book its name: The Sweetness of Life, a somewhat ironic title considering my mother’s difficult past.”

Of the recipes, Dr. Rajchgot only chose a handful for the book. The recipes, once he had translated them, were deficient in many ways compared to what one would find in a conventional recipe book: units if measurement were rudimentary and often unclear. Some Yiddish words were unreadable, and untranslatable, quantities, directions on how to mix ingredients, oven temperatures and baking times were mostly missing. There were also a number of repetitions: Mrs. G’s honhoney cakers. M’s honey cake, Mrs. L’s honey cake, and so on. And yet, after two attempts to follow one cheesecake recipe, with a bit of intuition and some guesswork, yielded a surprisingly delicious European-style cheesecake as a result.

The book was successfully launched recently at the Museum of Jewish Montreal (St. Laurent and Duluth.) and is now available on Amazon (amazon.ca) in both print and ebook formats. It’s short, only 125 pages, and has plenty of images and photos, so it’s a quick and easy read, unlike his novel. It is also available at Bonder’s Bookstore on Westminster Avenue in Montreal West, Argo Bookshop on St. Catherine Street West and the Côte Saint-Luc Public Library.

Mike Cohen can be reached at info@mikecohen.ca. Follow him on Twitter @mikecohencsl.