Montreal complètement Cirque best pick: Scotch & Soda

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If you even remotely enjoy Montreal’s uber-artsy circus scene you won’t want to miss Scotch & Soda. This  extraordinary and zany show by Company 2 is on stage until July 21 at Theatre St. Denis in collaboration with the Just For Laughs festival.

We attended opening night last night. The theatre was completely sold out and there’s no wondering why. This show was spectacular from beginning to end. Two groups of performers, one circus-artistic and the other jazz-musical intertwined for 95 minutes of pure sensation. Both artistry and musical components were outstanding.

Scotch and Soda performed at The London Wonderground. David Carberry, ©Alastair Muir 20.05.15

Scotch & Soda is the result of an exciting mixology between two groups of artists and friends. On the one hand, we have the acrobats of Company 2, an ensemble of multidimensional circus artists. On the other hand, the Uncanny Carnival band is a tight-knit group of musicians from Sydney, Australia. Each musician brings their own flavour, and like the best single malt whiskey, this creates a unique blend. Scotch & Soda is the result of this mix: circus and jazz, served straight up.

A show that is an actual cocktail of exciting backgrounds: world-class circus and heart pounding jazz. It’s a perfect blend of art, fun, and friendship. This cocktail needs just one final greeting… the audience.

The show is brilliant. Ultra-creative. Exciting. You’ve never seen anything like it. I give it a 10 out of 10. Don’t miss it.

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Behind the scenes at CSLDS Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

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Behind the scenes at CSLDS Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

By Glenn J. Nashen 

Sam Boucher, Joseph, in his coat of many colours

The recent stage production of the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society’s (CSLDS) “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was an unprecedented success. Show after show brought in crowds that filled every seat. Additional shows were added on and extra chairs were brought in. Some shows even had standing room only onlookers.

 

The reputation of the seven year old community theatre is solid. This is in large part due to the vision of its founder and the city’s current mayor Mitchell Brownstein, and to the incredibly talented and professional founding Artistic Director Anisa Cameron.

 

I caught up with the two of them since the show closed last month to ask about the wild success of Joseph, the CSLDS and what lies ahead:

Mitchell Brownstein with actor Brandon Schwartz

Nashen Notes (NN): Tell me about success of this show in terms of seat sales, revenue…?

Mitchell Brownstein (MB): The Gala brought in a lot of money to sponsor entire elementary school grades to come see the show as well as Senior Citizens from our local residences and special needs adults, many in wheelchairs.  The revenue, from the Gala and 25-plus performances, brought in a big profit to allow us to continue to improve our offering of Arts and Culture to the Community.

NN: What was it about Joseph that lead to this success?

MB: It’s a story we all know from the Bible and a show that has been around for 50 years.  It appeals to people of all ages. The cast ranged in age from 8 to 80 and the audiences ranged in age from very young children to seniors well into their 90s, one whom told me she was 98 and looking forward to next year’s show.

NN: What does this say about English community theatre in CSL and the West-End?

MB: It’s some of the best theatre you can find anywhere, professional or amateur, as it really brings joy to its audiences led by a professional team of artists: Anisa Cameron, Artistic Director, Nick Burgess, Musical Director and Alexia Gourd, Choreographer. They really make everyone shine.

NN: What about an enlarged venue in CSL?

MB: We have previously won two METAs (Montreal English Theatre Awards) and hopefully this show will win as well. Traditionally, we remount our successful shows at the Segal Centre or Centaur.

NN: What comments stand out from the feedback you’ve received?

MB: “I saw the Donny Osmond production years ago and this show was better!”

NN: What’s the likelihood of a remount?

MB: Very promising.

NN: How is the CSLDS contributing to CSL as a community?

MB: We value arts and culture as much as sport in the development of the person and in building a community.  Over 3000 people came to see this show from Cote Saint-Luc and beyond, enriching their lives and the lives of our actors and creative team.  By bringing the schools, the disabled and the seniors from residences to see the show, we are building a community where we care for each other and together we bring happiness to all.

Anisa Cameron

NN: Anisa, tell me about the success from an artistic point of view?

 

Anisa Camerson (AC): It’s overwhelming! I knew that Joseph would be a popular show, but I couldn’t believe it was so popular that we sold out our entire run. In the 7 years since Mitch Brownstein and I founded the Dramatic Society, we’ve never experienced this kind of success. We usually sell out in the final week and a half of the production, but to sell out for the full three weeks has been a lovely gift from our audiences.

 

NN: What are you most proud of in Joseph?

 

AC: I’m so proud that we were able to produce an artistically beautiful, funny and poignant piece of theatre. I’m also proud that myself, the cast, designers and production team – particularly Nick Burgess (our Musical Director)  – really pushed ourselves to the limit in terms of how challenging this show is to produce.

 

Joseph, being an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and being sung from beginning to end, is a relentless challenge for our performers (and for those of us creating the look, sound and feel of the show). There’s never any down time. Usually, you get a musical scene broken up by several straight scenes. That’s not the case with musical theatre that is sung right through. It’s constant musical staging: musical and vocal arrangements and choreography that has to flow seamlessly from the first moment the lights go down in the audience to the final bow.

 

NN: What are your thoughts on Sam Boucher’s (Joseph) performance?

 

AC: Sam Boucher is a remarkable talent that we’ve been lucky enough to work with for the past 3 years. His prowess as a performer belies his age. He is only 19! He brought a sensitivity and thoughtfulness to Joseph that was touching to see at every performance. His performance of Close Every Door was nothing short of remarkable.

 

NN: How has the CSLDS helped some of these rising stars?

 

AC: We have been fortunate to attract some of the most talented young people looking to gain performance experience in a professional environment. While we are a community theatre, our production team is made up of remarkable professionals who support our cast. Many of these young performers have this incredible talent that they need to polish and hone.

 

The CSLDS provides an education through experience in that regard. It’s very rare that a community theatre gets the opportunity to have 23-24 shows back to back over a month long run. Usually, you work on a show for anywhere from 6 months to a year and you get anywhere from 4-8 shots at performing it for an audience.

 

The stamina that it takes to perform in our summer musicals is on par with performing in a professional production. There’s a lot you learn about yourself, as a performer, when you are given the opportunity to perform… a lot!

 

Many of our cast members from the past have gone on to pursue careers in the arts, studying at Sheridan College, or Randolf Academy or Ryerson University, or Concordia Theatre. There are still other memorable performers who are already pursuing a life in the arts, but due to a lack of opportunity in the professional world, grace us with their considerable talent!

 

NN: What comments stand out from the feedback you’ve received?

AC: Our audiences are always so kind and supportive. This year they were ecstatic! I think the number one comment I always get and that sits with me heavily is “How are you going to top that?”. Honestly, I don’t know how we will be able to top this one. Joseph is a real milestone for myself and for the CSLDS.

 

NN: Were those little singers too cute? Tell me about this new add on compared to previous shows?

 

AC: Because this is Joseph, I knew we needed to add children to this show in a way we hadn’t in the past. They added so much to our unity as a cast and a sense of import to what we were doing because everyone became responsible for introducing most of these young performers to their first theatrical experience. They were as dedicated and determined to put on the best show they could as all of the adults around them. The sense of family that is created on a production was made that much stronger for having them with us.

 

On an artistic note, the intergenerational aspect of this production was particularly important to me. Joseph is a biblical story that has made its way down through countless generations to reach us here today so that it resonates on a much deeper level when you pay homage to those generations. We spoke a lot about the guardianship of this story and how our older generation hands it down to us in the present and we in the present then hand it down to the next generation. That was the intention and vision behind our choir and how they were linked to our narrators (entrancingly performed by Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage). Past, present and future all represented on stage together to ensure the story survives.

 

NN: You’re a wonderfully extraordinary artistic director. Are you not itching to move to Toronto or NYC or Vegas? What’s in the future for Anisa?

 

AC: I would love to have the opportunity to work anywhere in this wide world that will hire me, so spread the word! That doesn’t mean that I would forsake Montreal and Côte Saint-Luc. I love this island! As long as the Dramatic Society is here, I will also be here, that’s the beauty of being an artist; your schedule is flexible (to a point)!

 

NN: Anything to add?

 

AC: I’d just like to add that none of this would have been possible without the tireless vision and efforts of Mitchell Brownstein and now Mitch Kujavsky as well as Ryan Nemeroff and Emma Loerick! They are an incredible dream team that support us in all that we do and I am forever grateful to them. It is also a rare occasion when a municipal government recognizes the power of the arts in their community. I am also grateful to the City Council of Côte Saint-Luc for continuing to believe in the dream of the CSLDS.

Mitchell Brownstein and Anisa Cameron at the Montreal English Theatre awards gala (Photo credit: Mitchell Brownstein)

My full review on Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat can be read here: https://gjnashen.wordpress.com/2018/06/05/review-joseph-an-amazing-musical-entertains-all-ages/

 

Also posted to Montreal Jewish Magazine

 

Review: Joseph, an amazing musical entertains all ages

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From 9 to 90 years old and then some, my family was awestruck by the incredibly talented cast on stage in Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society’s presentation of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, now playing at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium at City Hall. Once again, director extraordinaire Anisa Cameron has assembled a team worthy of high praise.

 

As Anisa noted, “Welcome to a time not long after the Bible began! Joseph’s story is from the book of Genesis and comes to life in CSL. We are thrilled to be producing the show for its 50th anniversary. The story of Joseph and his coat of many colours has been handed down from generation to generation for thousands of years. We are so proud to carry on this tradition.”

 

“From a small neighbourhood troope, the CSL Dramatic Society has grown to become one of the most successful English language theatre companies on the island of Montreal,” said Member of Parliament Anthony Housefather.

 

Mayor Mitchell Brownstein and counselor Mitch Kujavsky, co-producers of the show said, “Over the course of its first seven years, the CSL Dramatic Society has become something that our community is proud to call our own. In every sense of the saying, we are by the community and for the community, while putting an emphasis on the values of inclusiveness and accomplishment. We are thrilled to be presenting this biblical story of Joseph, a truly intergenerational production with the cast ranging in age from 8 to 80!.”

Mitchell Brownstein in the role of Jacob

Brownstein goes on to say, “The story of Joseph has a very special place in the hearts of so many of us. Whether we first learned of the story of Joseph at school or saw the show during our childhood or even later in life, the experience elevates us and leaves us wanting more. If this is your first time experiencing the show, you’re sure to be humming the tunes of Joseph for days to come.”

 

I must admit that Joseph is one of only two soundtracks that I have downloaded on Spotify and I have indeed been humming the tunes since I saw the matinée performance last Saturday.

 

It was a special occasion for my family as we celebrated my mother’s 90th birthday bringing our whole family out to the theatre. Together with my son, age 9, teenage daughters, wife, brother, sister-in law, mom at 90 and dad, days shy of 95, we all enjoyed it tremendously and had a marvelous outing.

George and Phyllis Nashen on a birthday outing to see Joseph

The story begins in the biblical land of Canaan. Joseph is the favourite son of Jacob. Joseph’s knack for reading dreams and his beautiful coat of many colours lead his jealous brothers to hatch a plan to dispose of him. But when Joseph survives the attack, he is sent on a journey beyond his wildest dreams.

 

Sam Boucher (Joseph) is absolutely sensational from beginning to end. A modern-day Donny Osmond (who played Joseph on Broadway and in Toronto), Boucher captivated the audience with his formidable voice, sparkling eyes and facial expressions. No stranger to the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society, Boucher has performed in Little Shop of Horrors, the Producers, Broadway’s Back, and Hairspray. Having just completed his first year of Concordia Theatre, Sam will be leaving soon to pursue a degree at Sheridan College in musical theatre performance.

 

Sam Boucher is spectacular in the role of Joseph

 

Anisa could not have done better in selecting Boucher for the part of Joseph. His performance in Any Dream Will Do and Close Every Door is stirring and uplifting. Accompanied by a band led by the talented Musical Director Nick Burgess and three musicians who play the “part” of three of the brothers, the songs are sure to remain in your head for days to come.

 

Narrators Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage did a tremendous job of tying the entire production together in song and dance. This is Motulsky’s fifth show with the CSLDS. She is currently studying communications at Concordia University and hopes to become a producer. Her future looks bright.

Jeanne Motulsky and Nicole Arrage as the talented and spirited narrators

Arrage is with the CSLDS for a second consecutive year. She is a McGill University Schulich School of Music student in jazz voice performance. She was excellent in telling the tale, full of personality and clearly very talented.

 

Marc Ducusin does a tremendous job in the role of Pharaoh. This is his second outing with CSLDS, following last summer’s Little Shop of Horrors. He is so personable and entertaining, particularly during his solo in the genre of Elvis.

Marc Ducusin plays Pharoah in the style of Elvis

Kenny Stein gets a special shout out not only for performing four previous times with CSLDS but for his tremendous performance as Joseph’s brother, Simeon. His zany antics and comedic expressions, especially during Those Canaan Days were tremendous. Did he really eat that fly? Yuch!

Joseph’s brothers

Justin Johnson (Judah) is a professional performer who starred in Hairspray and Little Shop of Horrors. His dance moves, singing and expression in Benjamin Calypso make it obvious that the performing arts is his true calling.

 

Craig Dalley (Rueben) has a beautiful voice and is very engaging. He sang One More Angel in Heaven, cowboy style, and was captivating to watch.

 

Sean Nishmas, Sam Melnick, Jonah Zoldan, and Eli Rubineau are the other brothers and each one performed wonderfully and was entertaining and engaging. Their theatre careers look promising. The dancers, ensemble, and Jacob’s Wives added to the enjoyment of this incredible, local theatre experience.

 

A special word of appreciation goes to Mayor Mitchell Brownstein who not only played the role of Potiphar but stepped in to play the role of Joseph’s father Jacob on a moment’s notice due to unforeseen circumstances.

 

The choir was made up of some wonderful local talent many of whom have performed in the CSLDS Senior Summer Projects including Hannah Sheffren, Judy Kenigsberg and Ellen Rabin. They were backed up by the absolutely adorable children’s choir including Mackenzie, Rachel, Pailey, Naomie, Abigail, Victoria and Molly. Congrats to each of them for their stage presence and beautiful voices which added tremendously to the Joseph experience.

 

Joseph runs through June 17 and tickets are going fast. You can purchase your tickets online at ShowTix4U.com or by visiting CSLDramaticSociety.com. Prices are $32 Regular, $28 Students and Seniors and QDF Members, $28 Matinees. You won’t want to miss this one! Go Go Go Joseph!

Sam Boucher, Joseph, in his coat of many colours

Review: Golda’s Balcony, a powerful lesson in modern history by a powerful performer

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The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is wrapping up its 10th season with an extraordinary story in Golda’s Balcony. The incredible, one-woman performance by Tovah Felshuh is worthy of high praise and award. Indeed the play was nominated for a Tony Award in 2004 for best actress. With worldwide success it has become the longest running one-woman show in Broadway history.

“Viewing her journey from a modern perspective allows us to appreciate the intense scrutiny and harsh judgements she must have endured for her flaws and bold opinions in relation to her male peers,” said Lisa Rubin, Artistic and Executive Director. Golda was “an inspiring and extraordinary woman in her own right.”

Running 90 minutes without an intermission, Golda’s Balcony is a powerful lesson in modern history by a powerful woman. Feldshuh captivates the audience with non-stop tirades, banter and shtick, reminiscing about the life of Israel’s only female Prime Minister, her antics with world leaders and her own family.

Golda’s yearning for a return to Israel after 2000 years of waiting, and her intense desire for peace are woven throughout the story. She shakes the audience with her famous line, “We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”

Tovah Feldshuh’s makeup and costume miraculously transforms her into an old Jewish bubby, yet her stage presence and delivery are that of a mighty, savvy, influential and commanding world leader.

Golda’s Balcony runs through June 10 and is a must-see.

MtlRestoRap Review: Authentic Pizza & Vino at Sapori di Napoli

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“It’s like having dinner in the basement of a St. Leonard triplex. Not fancy. Nothing trendy. Just good authentic homemade Italian food.” That’s how Guido Grasso Jr. described the restaurant his mother and father founded just seven short years ago.

“After 49 years in the plumbing business my dad closed up shop and transformed the space into our pizza restaurant,” Guido Jr. recounted.

“It was a bit of a joke,” Pina Grasso, school teacher by day and helping out in the restaurant by night, said of her parent’s venture into the pizza business. “Let’s put a classic Italian restaurant in the middle of a diverse ethnic neighbourhood. We’ll be the only one in the area,” she laughed. “Things just happened from there. We sponsored a pizza-man from Italy, we opened up to a long lineup on the first night, and it’s been going well ever since,” Pina said.

The proud Grasso famiglia: Pina, Guido, Michelina, Guido Jr.

 

The whole family is involved from the parents to the kids and even a granddaughter.  “A lot of recipes are from my mother,” Pina told us. “Our customers love it, come back as regulars and many have become our friends.” she revealed. “My late brother-in-law’s last words were, ‘Run the pizzeria and I’ll protect you from above,”’ Pina confided in us. The Grasso family really does have a guardian angel.

We went on a quiet night, mid-week. By coincidence, my wife bumped into a colleague from work who wanted to taste something that reminded her of her late mother’s cuisine. She was so pleased that she has been coming back routinely since that first bite a few years ago.

 

Sapori di Napoli, authentic ambiance

The venue is unassuming and unpretentious, located across the street from duplexes in a quiet residential neighbourhood of New Bordeaux (Ahuntsic-Cartierville Borough). It is instantly comfortable, whether you’re dressed up or in jeans and a T-shirt. There are large prints of Italian landscape scenes, two large TV screens piping in Italian TV and paraphernalia from the Old Country.

It is somewhat ironic that our waiter Carlos hails from Portugal. Fluent in five languages including Italian, he could easily be mistaken as originating from Napoli himself. He has been there for six of the restaurant’s seven years.

 

Carlos preps the most delicious fresh baked bread

Carlos started us off with very fresh bread, made on-site daily using Mrs. Grasso’s recipe. The aroma of olive oil and oregano was pleasingly evident and the spicy pepperoncini oil for drizzling made for a for a great start.

Along came the arugula and endive salad (my wife’s two favourite lettuces) and a plate of lightly-breaded calamari with marinara. The salad was devoured before you could say Grazie and the calamari was soft and juicy and could have been my whole meal. But that was just the beginning.

 

Plump and tender calamari

The arancini was next: a delicately rolled rice ball stuffed with cheese served over a tangy, fresh tomato sauce. It was followed by yet another tantalizing starter, the traditional veal meatball in the same hearty tomato sauce.

 

Arancini rice ball stuffed with cheese in amazing tomato sauce

The meal could be hurried in an hour, but we preferred to dine leisurely for nearly three. We chatted with Pina and Guido Jr. who were informative as well as entertaining, the personable and experienced server Carlos, along with the senior Grassos. What’s more, the 1950s American Italian classic music from Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to Tony Bennett and Perry Como was immensely enjoyable (I wish they had such a channel on Sirius XM).

Guido Jr. started his culinary venture working at the famous Joe’s Pizza in NYC while trying to make a name for himself in show biz. He moved on to L.A. where he perfected his pizza baking skills while looking for his lucky break as a comedian. After spending the bulk of the evening with him, except for the ten minutes when he did a pizza delivery, we too believed he ought to try his hand on stage with a microphone, and keep pizza flipping as Plan B.

Speaking of pizza, we asked Guido Jr. how he’d describe Sapori di Napoli’s pies. “Our pizzas are the flavours of Montreal,” he responded, admitting that his personal favourite is the Margherita. “We don’t try to recreate Italian pizzas because we’re not in Italy. We use flavours and recipes from the old country but give them a local flair.”

 

Chef Nino pulls our Margherita pizza from the oven

“Mom tells our chef what to make,” he continued. “Many customers have been coming back since the beginning. This place is like an extension of my parent’s living room,” Guido Jr. said, noting his parents live just a short walk away, where he grew up with his two sisters and brother.

“The neighbourhood has changed. It used to be French, Italian and Greek and is now a mishmash of ethnicities, but our old friends and neighbours still return for the traditional tastes.”

Out came my Veal Scallopini with artichokes and mushrooms in a cream sauce with Brandy Cognac. Delissimo! The plate was complete with perfectly grilled zucchini, broccoli, rapini, red and yellow peppers. My wife ordered the Bella Napoli pizza bianche adorned with generous, tangy mozzarella, baby tomatoes and basil. The crust was thin with crispy edges. She said it was “delicious.”

Guido Jr. said, “We’re not trying to be fashionable. There are no square dishes here. It’s like eating at your cousin’s wedding,” he chuckled, and so did we.

 

Gnocchi di Ricotta e Pomodoro e Basilico

“My parents go to the market every morning. My mom is on the phone each day with her suppliers, involved in serious conversation with the butcher, like it’s the deal of the century,” he quipped.

“We were lucky to find a chef from the next town over from my parent’s native home in Italy,” Guido Jr. told us. “Nino D’otollo learned cooking in Italy while Mike Viscosi was schooled over here.”

The pizza menu is impressive with over 20 choices. There are the ‘classics’ like All-Dressed and Pepperoni. Tomato-based pizzas are called pizze rosse, while tomato-free pizzas are called pizze bianche and both types are listed separately. The ‘rosse’ includes the Margherita with tomato sauce, mozzarella, fiore di latte, fresh basil and olive oil and the Diavola with tomato sauce, mozzarella and spicy salami. The ‘bianche’ includes the Vegetariana and the Quattro Fromaggi along with offerings of Italian sausage, bocconcini cheese, arugula, cherry tomatoes and more.

There are plenty of interesting home-made pasta dishes, the traditional meat and fish plates, salads, soup and, of course, the must-have antipasto, all running between $8-$30.

We concluded our meal with an outstanding and unique cheesecake: light and creamy with pineapple inside and coated with strawberries, ladyfingers and graham crust. It was a sweet ending to a terrific meal.

Carlos then surprised us with a hefty serving of Zeppole, an Italian style of donut with Nutella dip. I recommend sharing it with the table over espressos. After the cheesecake we could only eat a bite or two (or three) and brought the rest home.

There’s a nice wine selection to choose from and two lovely terrasses for summertime outdoor dining. Sapori di Napoli is open Tuesday to Friday from 11AM-10PMSaturday and Sunday (make reservations) from 5PM to 11PM and closed Mondays. Take out is available and Guido Jr. and his dad even do deliveries!

We were really pleased with our evening of pizza, pasta and great company with the Grasso famiglia. You will be too.

Located at 1465 Dudemaine Street (Montreal, QC H3M 1P9), Sapori di Napoli is about five minutes north of the Marché Central. Call 514-335-1465 for reservations or delivery and visit them online at saporidinapoli.ca and on Facebook.

Review: JPPS Theatre’s Little Mermaid Jr. makes a big splash

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JPPS Theatre presents The Little Mermaid Junior

Montreal Director extraordinaire Anisa Cameron made a very big splash in uncharted waters with the very first production from the Jewish Peoples and Peretz Schools (JPPS) Theatre. Talented students from grades one to six took to the stage at Cote Saint-Luc’s Harold Greenspon Theatre in Disney’s sensational production of The Little Mermaid Junior for two sold out shows.

Cameron just brought elementary theatre to a whole new level, far from the awkward, amateurish, can’t-remember-my-lines performances from yesterday’s school kids in goofy costume. This production was sure to impress with official Disney soundtrack, professional looking costumes, great sound and lighting, props and more.

Ariel, Flounder and the Seagulls (Photo courtesy Leslie Solomon Inzlicht)

The lead role went to grade 4 student Sana Clarke (Ariel) who sang several numbers with her very beautiful voice beyond her young years. Her sidekick, Flounder the guppy, was ably played by Zoe Inzlicht, who pranced about with excitement and joy. Matthew Liebman (King Triton) was solid as the ruler of the seas as Ella Pariente (Ursula the sea witch) tried to steal away his powers with song and dance.

Hunter Saraga did a sensational job of Prince Eric, who, in the end, captured Ariel’s heart (although they never did kiss!).

Libby Tsabary, in the role of Sebastian the crab, was lively and humurous. All these lead performers were sensational and have many years of amazing theatre to look forward to at JPPS and Bialik.

Hats off to the entire unsinkable cast for wonderful song and dance.  Although I had no kids in the show (my daughter Nikki was stage manager behind the scenes) I attended with my wife, Judy, and our two other children who attend JPPS-Bialik, Tali and Jeremy, and a few of their friends, and we all had ear to ear smiles watching these adorable, witty and shining school kids.

Hats off to the artistic and production staff for reaching new heights in grade school theatre. And bravo to school principal Marnie Stein for her vision of empowering these young kids and her creative leadership in giving them confidence and a rewarding experience.

Cameron and the Cote Saint-Luc Dramatic Society are weeks away from what will surely be another blockbuster hit, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, playing from May 31 to June 17. Tickets are on sale at www.csldramaticsociety.com.

MTLRestoRap Review: Welcome home at Bistro Amerigo

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Momma’s kitchen table might seat more guests than you can fit into Bistro Amerigo but that makes this small, comfy Italian restaurant an even more special find. Located a few blocks west of the hustle and bustle on Monkland Avenue near Grand Boulevard, this little place will do any Italian Momma real proud.

Bistro Amerigo’s owner, Steve (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

The menu is simple and holds the essentials: from classic appetizers like Antipasti di Prosciutto, Calamari Fritti and Mozzarella di Bufala, to pasta specialities such as penne with roasted eggplant, spaghetti puttanesca and the deliciously unique fresh squid ink linguini with seafood. The ‘Terre e Mare’ menu consists of breaded chicken breast with spaghetti, cod with Sicilian olives and capers, braised veal shank better known as Ossobuco, and rosemary lamb chops with polenta and rapini. Soup or salad is included with most dishes. Moretti Italian beer is on the menu along with native white and red wine, cocktails and aperitifs such as Grappa.

Cod and seafood ravioli

Owner-operator Steve was inspired by his father’s culinary teachings starting at just three years old. His father taught him to keep things simple and fresh, not fancy or complicated, but utterly delicious. He always remembered his father’s teachings and eventually placed his dad’s name, Amerigo, on the marquee.

Steve opened the “Garde Manger” (i.e. kitchen pantry) across the street from Bistro Amerigo’s current location in 2010. This little grocer and coffee shop served up classic Italian staples such as quality cheeses, tasty pastries, luscious meatballs and perfect pastas. They also carried delicacies such as Guaciale, or pig cheek, a good Roman dish. “This is an extension of our own pantry that we use in our kitchen,” said Steve. “And these items are beautiful gifts.”

Bistro Amerigo Restaurant owner Steve and Master Chef Giuseppe (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

After one year of running the pantry on one side of the street and the restaurant on the other Steve merged both into the current location. One of the long serving waiters, Bappi, was scooped up from the previous Indian restaurant at that address and has been with Steve ever since. Good move, as he is always friendly and accomodating. Another veteran server, Roberto, has been around the block more than a few times. Schooled in the Old Country, Roberto will give you expert advice on every dish, explain the details of each menu item and steer you toward the best wine. Michael manages the restaurant and 12 staff. “He’s like a brother,” Steve said. “It’s important to build a team that enjoy working all together.”

Steve takes pride in this homestyle, corner store. Amerigo’s local dining experience is akin to ‘Cheers’ of 80s and 90s TV fame, because at Amerigo, “Everyone knows your name.” Regular customers make up the vast majority of diners in this wonderful eatery.

There is a slow constant change in decorations to keep the place from getting stale or boring. “It keeps my regulars happy to see the constant updating,” said Steve, on a cool spring evening. The decor is eclectic to be sure, with framed posters and photos all with an Italian theme. Even Steve’s father’s old coffee pot hangs on the wall.

We started our meal with the beet salad known as Barbietola. Heirloom beets on thin-sliced oranges, toasted breadcrumbs, pine nuts and ricotta salata with shaved croutons made this a delicious starter for our gastronomic evening. “Each ingredient is well thought out with distinct tastes and flavors,” my dining companion said.

We really enjoyed the Mozzarella di Bufala. The fresh cheese was creamy and drizzled with high quality Italian olive oil. It lay upon a bed of bruschetta tomatoes with basil pesto. Next I savoured the Polpette, a juicy braised veal meatball that sat atop a thick and well-spiced tomato sauce strewn with shaved fresh Parmesan.

Bistro Amerigo veal meatball (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Steve explained each and every dish is created with a precision that only a master chef could identify. At that point he let us know that he studied cooking at St. Pius Culinary Institute in Montreal. This spurred him on to follow one year in a culinary school in Italy. “It’s a passion,” said Steve. “I love what I do.”

Master chef Giuseppe came to check on us to make sure we were enjoying each plate. It was evident that the owner, chef and waitstaff were consumed with excellent customer service and quality dishes.

Bistro Amerigo’s Mozzarella di Bufala (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

As the Italian extravaganza continued, I enjoyed the Baccala Fior del Mar which consisted of seafood filled ravioli with capers, black olives and pesto served with two fillets of lightly breaded crispy cod. It was absolutely delightful, sprinkled with fresh lemon.

Bistro Amerigo’s Gnocchi in pesto sauce (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Next we were served a dish of Spaghetti Puttanesca with black olive tapenade, anchovies, capers, oregano and tomato concasse. The pasta was cooked to perfection with just the right seasoning. Gnocchi alla Genovese came next: potato dumplings in basil pesto and cream. Outstanding!

Bistro Amerigo’s Spaghetti Putanesca (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Steve explained that they finish off the cooking of the pasta in a pan adding in a bit of water from the pasta itself to bring out just the right flavour and consistency.

Bistro Amerigo’s  Barbietola, Beet Salad (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Roberto insisted we try his handmade Cannoli, made with creamy Ricotta, lighter than Mascarpone. It was velvety, not overly-filling, with a sprinkle of chocolate in a crispy pastry shell made of fried biscotti. The Tiramisu is made fresh by Steve with Mascarpone and Espresso. “Each chef makes it just a bit different,” he said.

Bistro Amerigo’s Waiter extraordinaire, Bappi (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

We couldn’t eat another bite so Sicilian-born Roberto brought out the Grappa, an alcoholic dessert beverage. It is a fragrant, acid-based pomace brandy of Italian origin that contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume . The flavor of grappa, like that of wine , depends on the type and quality of the grapes used, as well as the specifics of the distillation process. Grappa is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems (i.e., the pomace ) left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. Roberto told us that this Grappa was distilled in an 18 year old oak barrel giving it a golden hue. “It’s good for you. You’ll sleep like a baby,” Roberto assured us.

Bistro Amerigo’s Roberto serves up his famous canoli (Photo Glenn J. Nashen)

Bistro Amerigo does a healthy takeout business both from their pantry as well as orders cooked to go. With a mere 10 tables and six barstools they do not take reservations and the delicious local fare ensures a lineup on many nights. But make no mistake, it is well worth the wait to taste chef Giuseppe’s wonderful Italian dishes. Fortunately, on warm spring and summer nights the spacious terrasse seats another 14 patrons.

The first time Amerigo stepped foot in his son’s bistro and had a meal he actually cried. Today he still shows up from time to time to make the meatballs. “Dad really likes the food here,” Steve proudly stated.

Dishes run a reasonable $7 to $28. They also cater corporate and personal events and work with their customers to suit their needs.

Bistro Amerigo is open seven days a week, 12 hours a day. You may not cry when you set foot in the place but your mouth will surely water.

6127 Monkland between Hingston and Beaconsfield

514-507-6121

bistroAmerigo.com and on FaceBook.

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