A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene,, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.

EDITION #128 - WEEK OF MARCH 27-APRIL 2, 2017

Epic stage musical exiles itself

Sousatzka (Garth Drabinsky/Teatro Proscenium Limited/Sousatzka Broadway Limited/Two Headed Productions)

Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge Street

Thursday, March 23; 6 p.m.

Theatre Review

To pour such a massive collection of talent and energy into an original musical for the stage, it’s almost a shame to say that Sousatzka, under the guidance of producer Garth Drabinsky; gives it the old college try and struggles to become a production ready to tackle on a bigger audience, but in fairness is a noble attempt at doing so even when it doesn’t aim at the high mark.

Two souls come together in 1983 London as talented teenaged piano prodigy Themba Khenketha (Jordan Barrow) is sent to study under Madame Sousatzka(Victoria Clark), whose patronage from her benefactor, the Countess (Judy Kaye) and her other oddball boarders Mr. Cordle (Nick Wyman), a actor-turned-doctor and the sensually flirty Jenny (Sara Jean Ford) try to encourage him to see his fullest potential, although his slightly eccentric piano teacher subconsciously tries to hold him back.

As if the young man doesn’t already have his own problems, what with dealing with his family of activists, starting with his overprotective mother Xholiswa (Montego Glover) trying to supersede anything from pursuing his career and torn in trying to find his own voice in the world, plus courting a possible crush (Virginia Preston) at school he has a eye on.

Mainly, the musical tries to tell the story of two exile families in Thatcherite England both brought together by their own personal tragedies – Sousatzka in her early days in her native Warsaw prior to World War II and escaping the impending Holocaust and Themba growing up without his activist father (Ryan Allen) locked away in a South African prison for opposing the apartheid government during the 1976 Soweto uprising – and finding commonality is not altogether a new idea done in theatre, as Craig Lucas’ book adaptation of Bernice Rubens’ novel tries to do.

The things going for it are some of the songs by David Shire and lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. like “Music Is In You,” the disco-pulsing “All I Wanna Do (Is Go Dancin’),” teen meet-cute awkwardness personified in “I Don’t Know Anything,” the poignantly moving “Let Go/Diaspora Memories” and “So Sing” are among the brighter tunes, as opposed to overly done if inspirational anthems like “Rainbow Nation” and “Song of the Child” to the underwhelming “Brand New Family.” And while the performances by Barrow, Clark, Glover, Kaye and Fuschia! as Themba’s effervescent singer-activist aunt are stellar,the whole premise of these two worlds coming together is clunky in places that director Adrian Noble knows where he wants to take it, but feels just as lost as the concept is.

Set designer Anthony Ward over-relies on too many of Jon Driscoll’s visual projections in lieu of physical set pieces that clash with the vibrant costuming of Paul Tazewell and Howell Binkley’s lighting designs. There’s a lot of ideas being kicked around on identity and what it means to be a political refugee in a cold, unforgiving world has potential, yet the pacing is rushed, dialogue is somewhat talky and the songs need more polish to go along with Graciela Daniele’s cohesive choreography in the two-and-a-half hour run of Sousatzka that deserved a bit better. If it truly wants to take Broadway by storm as they plan to this fall, hopefully it’ll learn a lot from here first.

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Sousatzka continues through April 9. For tickets/information, call 416-323-0431 or visit sousatzkamusical.com.

Multimedia artist takes the helm of b current’s ship

Alt-theatre company b current anoints Catherine Hernandez to Artistic Director

Arts Feature

b current, Toronto’s culturally-rooted alternative performance arts company of feminist and gay theatre, announced the appointment of a new Artistic Director on March 15, writer/performer/producer Catherine Hernandez, an artist with a ten-year association with the company; replacing its two departing artistic directors Jajube Mandiela and Alison Wong after working for the company for four years together.

“The Board of Directors is happy to announce the appointment of Catherine Hernandez as the new Artistic Director. A staple in Toronto’s theatre community, Catherine joins b current bringing with her a wealth of knowledge from her work as an accomplished artist, writer, producer, educator, and administrator. Her zeal and creative exuberance will undoubtedly serve the organization immensely during its transition of leadership and into the future. Please join us in welcoming Catherine Hernandez,” said Chair of the Board of Directors Karim Morgan.

Mandiela and Wong worked for four years together culminating in the company’s 25th anniversary season which included the re-visioning of dark diaspora ... in dub into the epic diaspora Dub, and the launch of the company’s first Canadian and international tours with Brotherhood: The Hip Hopera, currently touring across Canada and in India. With years of performance work under her belt, Mandiela now craves to deepen her own artistic voice and will pursue solo projects in theatre and on-screen.

During her tenure as Artistic Director she helped raise the company’s profile and proudly developed bcHub, b current’s new training program. And after seven years with b current, Wong will continue her ongoing work in theatre and opera as a director and performer, as well as a producer with Small Wooden Shoe with Jacob Zimmer. She looks forward to bringing the spirit of advocacy and culturally-rooted arts practice as she had fostered at b current into her future work.

Catherine Hernandez is a proud queer woman of colour, twice-published playwright, performer and award-winning author. Her one-woman show, The Femme Playlist, premiered at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre back in October 2014 as part of b current’s afterRock Plays series co-produced by b current, Eventual Ashes and Sulong Theatre. She has served playwright residencies at b current, Theatre Passe Muraille, Carlos Bulosan Theatre, Shaw Festival Theatre, Blyth Festival Theatre and Nightswimming Theatre and her skills in producing, arts administration, marketing and education have been put to use at Native Earth Performing Arts, Theatre Passe Muraille, Aluna Theatre, Cahoots Theatre Projects and countless other companies.

Hernandez is currently the Thinker in Residence at Buddies in Bad Times Theatre; plus being an accomplished author, her children’s book, M is for Mustache: A Pride ABC Book, was published by Flamingo Rampant Press in 2015 and her award-winning novel, Scarborough, is set to be published by Arsenal Pulp Press this coming April.

“My political activism in the areas of uplifting and amplifying the voices of black, indigenous, of-colour and LGBTQ2S communities through arts education and production is a lifetime journey for me” said Hernandez, “and I am excited to continue this allyship as Artistic Director of b current.”

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For more information on b current, visit bcurrent.ca.

Turtle Island gets a double spotlight at the Junos

Canada’s folk-rock veteran and globally-recognized Native Rights activist star Buffy Sainte-Marie gets honoured with a humanitarian award at the 2017 Juno Awards this weekend.

Music Feature

In rethinking our relationship with the indigenous community for Canada’s 150th birthday, the Juno Awards do a double ceremony in honouring the First Nations with a renaming of the music category honouring aboriginal music by the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science (CARAS) and awarding one of our best-known and beloved singer/songwriters, Buffy Sainte-Marie, with the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award this coming Saturday (April 1) at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa.

Given out annually at the Junos, the Allan Waters Humanitarian Award celebrates and recognizes the philanthropic efforts made by Canadian musicians that have created a positive impact on the social welfare of society as whole. Named after CHUM Ltd. founder Allan Waters, the award is made possible by funding from BCE-Bell Media Benefits which will be given to the iconic (and previous Juno winner) performer who pioneered “powwow rock” and protest rock in her fifty-year career, including “Starwalker,” “The Big Ones Get Away,” “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee” and her 1964 antiwar classic hit “Universal Soldier.”

“It’s our privilege to present the legendary Buffy Sainte-Marie with the 2017 Allan Waters Humanitarian Award,” said Randy Lennox, President of Broadcasting and Content at Bell Media. “Her dedication to improving the lives of Indigenous people is truly humbling. We look forward to celebrating this iconic artist and her inspiring philanthropic work at this year’s Juno Awards.”

“I’ve had some great partners in mobilizing my ideas in art, education and technology, especially the W.K. Kellogg Foundation who taught me that there’s a difference between an administrator and a visionary,” said Sainte-Marie, in her acceptance of the award. “Both are important but visionaries are seldom pushy in that business way that administrators learn; and visionaries don't think in corporate pecking order terms so often get squashed out in normal business systems. I’ve been lucky enough to work in both worlds, and although my timing has sometimes been off and gotten my big mouth into trouble, other times, with the help of other people, I’ve been effective beyond my expectations. So I thank all my colleagues in and out of the music business for helping put my songs to work.”

Also the award previously known as Best Aboriginal Album of the Year will be renamed as Indigenous Music Album of the Year that covers the First Nations experience and culture in Canada through words and/or music. The category accepts all traditional Indigenous music including: traditional Aboriginal music: Iroquois, Social Pow Wow Drum (Sioux, Assiniboine, Cree, Ojibwe, Blackfoot, etc.); all Hand Drums (Inuit, Dene, Cree, Mi’kmaq, West Coast, etc.), Inuit Throat Singing; Traditional Flutes; Métis, Cree and Mi’kmaq Fiddling. In addition, fusions of all genres of contemporary music that incorporate the above and/or reflect the unique Indigenous experience in Canada, by virtue of words or music, with this year’s nominees including Ojibwe country-blueswoman Crystal Shawanda’s Fish Out of Water, Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie of Nova Scotia’s Round Dance & Beats (Powwow) and Inuit groups Quantum Tangle’s Tiny Hands and Silla+Rise’s Debut to be awarded on April 2nd.

“The renaming of this award to Indigenous Music Album of the Year aims to honour, respect and acknowledge the Indigenous peoples of Canada and their long standing contributions to the Canadian music industry and their rich history in this country,” said Allan Reid, President and CEO of CARAS/The Juno Awards and MusiCounts. “At CARAS we always strive to provide equal celebration for all of Canada’s diverse musical specialities.”

Clockwise: Crystal Shawanda, Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie, Silla+Rise and Quantum Tangle are the nominees in the newly-recategorized Indigenous Music Album of The Year for this year’s Juno Awards.

“Our committee asked CARAS to consider the change because we felt that the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People provided a stronger foundation for our collective movement than what had been established around the term ‘Aboriginal,’” explains Alan Greyeyes, Chair of the Juno Awards Indigenous Music Album of the Year Music Advisory. “Our music community is made up of artists from many Nations who bring their own languages, perspectives, truths, and styles to the table and I'm glad that CARAS is committed to helping us share these gifts with audiences and media here on Turtle Island and beyond.”

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2017 Juno Awards will be broadcast on CTV this Sunday (April 2). For more information, visit junoawards.ca.