Here are my choice Montreal arts and culture highlights for April 2019:
Many top touring acts headline various Montreal concert venues this month.
Highlights include Ariana Grande at the Bell Centre on April 1, Brit Floyd at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier on April 6; The Tea Party at MTELUS on April 12, the legendary Nick Mason’s Saucerful Of Secrets at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier on April 15, Neko Case at the Corona Theatre on April 19, and cranky Brit legend Morrissey headlines MTELUS on April 29.
Pop icon Engelbert Humperdinck headlines three (yes, three!) shows at Theatre Maisonneuve, April 10 to 12. If you have seen his recent PBS TV special Engelbert Humperdinck in Hawaii – recorded at the historic Hawaii Theatre Center in Honolulu in August 2018 – you know Engelbert can still sing with great power.
When I recently asked him about his voice, Engelbert replied, “I’m just lucky. I don’t do anything specific to keep in it shape. I never get nodes on my throat which you get from singing incorrectly. I haven’t had a voice lesson in my life so I don’t really know how to sing properly. But I think I’ve been given a gift, and I sing properly anyway!”
Raffi headlines Theatre Maisonneuve for two afternoon shows on Sunday, April 7 (new tickets have been released for both shows), and Satanic Surfers + Belvedere headline Foufounes Électriques for two shows on April 20.
Also headlining two shows at Theatre Maisonneuve is Montreal homeboy Gino Vannelli, on April 26 and 27. Vannelli – who shot to fame with his 1978 smash hit I Just Wanna Stop in which he sings “When I think of all those nights in Montreal …” – releases his 20th album, Wilderness Road, on April 5.
Says Gino, “Wilderness Road is filled with a host of stories that I have kept close to my heart for the last five years—the time it took to write and record the album.”
Local shows of note: The Dave Gossage Septet headlines Casa del Popolo on April 1, Plants and Animals headline Le Zaricot in Saint-Hyacinthe on April 25; and over at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill – ranked by no less than DownBeat magazine as one of the top jazz nightclubs in the world – Canada’s classic bluesman Harpdog Brown and the Uptown Blues Band headline on April 6, and Montreal’s Queen of the Blues Dawn Tyler Watson performs with her quartet on April 12. Dawn will also launch her new album Mad Love at Petit Campus on April 11.
Montreal’s premier film-concert orchestra, the Orchestre FILMharmonique will journey to a galaxy far, far away as it brings to life John Williams’ Oscar-winning score with the original Star Wars film on the big screen at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at Place des Arts, on April 19 and 20.
A special concert of note: first performed on Good Friday 1731 in Leipzig, the music of J.S. Bach’s St. Mark Passion is now lost, and only the libretto still exists. Under the direction of Jean-Sébastien Vallée, the Choir of St. Andrew and St. Paul will present the Canadian premiere of Robert Koolstra’s reconstruction of the St. Mark Passion setting based on the original libretto, reusing Bach’s own music to complete the work, on Good Friday, April 19, at the glorious Church of St. Andrew and St. Paul, whose Gothic Revival architecture looks like it comes straight out of Robin Hood.
ART AND MUSEUMS
The Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain (formerly called the DHC/ART Foundation for Contemporary Art) located in Old Montréal presents the hotly-anticipated Yoko Ono solo exhibition LIBERTÉ CONQUÉRANTE/GROWING FREEDOM, which runs from April 25 to September 15.
Ono is a visionary, pioneering artist whose career spans more than 50 years. The Fondation Phi pour l’art contemporain states, “This exhibition wishes to impart Yoko Ono’s massive impact on contemporary art practices, on art reception, and on activism through art.”
The exhibition will also explore the collaborative projects for peace undertaken by Yoko Ono and her late husband John Lennon.
Over at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, do not miss the absolutely fantastic career retrospective of global fashion icon Thierry Mugler, the French couturier who has dressed everybody from Diana Ross and David Bowie to Lady Gaga and Liza Minnelli, not to mention Québec icons Céline Dion and Diane Dufresne.
Thierry Mugler: Couturissime features more than 140 ensembles, most of them on display for the first time, created between 1973 and 2001, as well as many never-before seen accessories and stage costumes, clips and videos, archival documents and sketches.
The exhibition explores Mugler the visionary couturier, director, photographer and perfumer, and shows Mugler’s haute couture as the objets d’art thye are.
The exhibition also features some 100 works by such famed fashion photographers as Richard Avedon, David LaChapelle, Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton. In fact, Couturissime marks the Helmut Newton Foundation’s first participation in a foreign museum exhibition.
Says Mugler, “I have always been fascinated by the most beautiful animal on Earth: the human being. I have used all of the tools at my disposal to sublimate this creature: fashion, shows, perfumes, photography, video… I am not a person who dwells in the past, but the MMFA was the first to propose to me to stage my creations and imagine together a free, global and reinvented artistic vision. How could I refuse?”
Thierry Mugler: Couturissime runs to September 8.
Saskatchewan-born, Montreal-based artist Holly Friesen is one of my all-time fave painters, and her contemporary landscape paintings are found in private and corporate collections around the world. Friesen recently posted on social media, “It’s been a LONG, hard, cold winter in Montreal. The upside of that is that I have been painting my little heart out in my cozy St Henri studio. That means LOTS of new work and TWO upcoming Montreal shows that I am really excited about.”
Friesen’s new works will be on display in her Giving Ground exhibition at Galerie Erga (6394 Boul. St-Laurent) from April 4 to 7, and then in her Lost in the Forest exhibition on display at the Centre d’Art E.K. Voland in the Complexe du Canal Lachine (4710 rue St Ambroise) from April 11 to 15. For details, click here.
Canadian theatre legend Morris Panych – famous for his biting satire and witty dialogue – takes a look at the differences between the haves and have-nots in a world driven by corporate greed and profit in his terrific must-see play The Shoplifters at the Centaur Theatre. Who is really stealing from who?
Panych directs a superb cast: Laurent Pitre, Marie-Ève Perron, Michel Perron and national treasure Ellen David who just chews up the scenery.
I loved everything about this production. The Shoplifters runs to April 7.
Centaur Theatre’s 50th season winds down with Blind Date, Rebecca Northan’s entirely improvised play, in which Northan or another cast member chooses a different audience member each night to go on a date. This show has been wowing audiences worldwide – including off-Broadway and in London’s West End – since its debut in 2007. This run includes queer (April 11, 18 and 25) and French date nights. Blind Date runs from April 9 to 28.
The next mainstage production at The Segal Centre for Performing Arts is Paula Vogel’s Tony-winning play Indecent which looks at the incredible true story of the original artists involved in Sholem Asch’s production of God of Vengeance, the 1907 drama that was busted by authorities when it was staged on Broadway in 1923. Directed by Lisa Rubin, Indecent examines an explosive moment in Yiddish Theatre and Jewish culture and tackles issues still relevant today, such as immigration, censorship, anti-Semitism and homophobia. Indecent runs from April 28 to May 19.
With music and lyrics by Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein, the Tony-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots tells the true story of Charlie Price, who teams up with cabaret performer and drag queen Lola to save a shoe factory that Charlie inherited from his father. Kinky Boots is a celebration of our differences, with plenty of heart and soul.
Lola is played by actor Kenneth Mosley whom we last saw in Montreal when he starred as Berry Gordy in the 2018 North American tour of the Broadway smash Motown the Musical. Mosley recently told me he channels Whitney Houston, Diana Ross and Aretha in his role, and says he has a newfound deep respect for drag performers.
“Physically, personally and technically I did a lot of work,” says Mosley. “Lola is a very choreographed and strategic individual, and I had to learn to do it all in heels and drag. It’s a leg work-out every day! But I was not a natural. I had to let myself go and not worry about how I looked. Because you cannot phone in this role – you must become it.”
Kinky Boots plays at Théatre St-Denis for two nights only, on April 26 and 27.
Wrapping up Geordie Theatre’s 2018-19 Season is award-winning playwright Donna-Michelle St. Bernard’s play Reaching for Starlight, inspired by iconic picture book A Dance Like Starlight by Kristy Dempsey. Three years in the making, this is Geordie’s biggest production in its near 40-year history, and runs April 26 to May 5.
Last but not least, Contact Theatre debuts their first musical, Bonnie & Clyde, at Montreal’s indie MainLine Theatre from April 25 to 28.
For the first time in 20 years, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal will remount Giselle, a staple of the classic repertoire, which originally premiered at the Paris Opera Ballet in 1841. It will run for four performances at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier from April 11 to 13.
Supersonic soul singer Lisa Fischer (pictured at top) provides electrifying vocals live with the Alonzo King LINES Ballet and their critically-acclaimed show The Propelled Heart which makes its Canadian debut with a five-night run at Theatre Maisonneuve beginning on April 30, to close the 21st season of the excellent Danse Danse series.
The audience will experience the power of song through movement when Fischer performs live onstage with 12 dancers.
“I am mostly weaved into the ballet,” Fischer recently told me. “Alonzo King was so helpful guiding me through the whole process and allowed me a lot of creative freedom, along with JC. My Grand Baton bandmate JC Maillard and i flew out to San Francisco to watch the dancers move and work. Alonzo had already named the piece, and it took us about three weeks to a month to pull it together.”
The Propelled Heart runs April 30 to May 4.
Over at the Agora de la danse, choreographer Hélene Simard’s choreographic concert REQUIEM POP explores the recent works and life of iconic punk godfather Iggy Pop, performed by six dancers and three musicians, in the Wilder Building, April 10 to 13.
The 35th International Film Festival Vues d’Afrique presented at the Cinémathèque québécoise will screen 132 movies from 45 countries from across Africa and the African diaspora, April 5 to 14.
Highlights this year include the original French-subtitled version of the Belgian-French feature film The Mercy of the Jungle (La Miséricorde de la Jungle) – opening the festival at the Imperial Cinema on April 5 – is about a pair of lost Rwandan soldiers struggling to survive at the beginning of the Second Congo War. Rwandan director Joel Karekezi will be in attendance.
Two documentaries worth your time at Vues d’Afrique are the French-subtitled film Le Tribunal sur le Congo (The Congo Tribunal) by Swiss director Milo Rau examines the 20-year Congo War – also called the “Third World War” – which claimed six million lives; as well as the French-subtitled South African documentary I Am Sheriff which follows a young transgender man who travels throughout the mountain kingdom of Lesotho showing his film about gender identity.
Vues d’Afrique runs April 5 to 14.
Renowned Montreal writers H. Nigel Thomas, Horace Goddard and Maguy Métellus co-host Lectures Logos Readings, the monthly bilingual reading series of poetry, fiction and spoken word at the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A. Hall at 2741 Notre Dame St. W.) in Little Burgundy, March 11 from 7 to 9 pm. The guest readers this month are Sharon Lax, Hugh Hazelton, Kelly Norah Drukker, Ethel Meilleur, Susi Lovell, and Joujou Turenne, followed by an open mic. The event is free, but a small donation is welcome.
Other literary events of note include the Michael Bournazian Poetry Reading & Book Signing at Paragraphe Bookstore on April 9 (Michael’s new book is called #tweetstorms); Fear, Love, and Liberation in Contemporary Quebec by Alexa Conradi will be launched at Concordia University downtown on April 17; and new fiction and poetry titles will be launched at the Véhicule Press Montreal Spring 2019 Launch at La Petite Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on April 26.
The next meeting of the Violet Hour Book Club, a reading group devoted to modern and classic works of LGBTQ literature, will discuss the gay classic Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, at the Centre communautaire LGBTQ de Montréal on April 27.
Drag fans will love the kickass House of Laureen’s long-running monthly residency at Café Cleopatre on the Main on April 13; as well as Manspread, Montreal’s only monthly drag king show, at The Wiggle Room on April 15; and the inaugural Drag Bunch with local drag legend Barbada on April 7.
Plenty of indie comedy in the city. Highlights this month include the Comedy All Stars at Peroni Resto-Bar in the downtown Sun Life building on April 6; Derek Seguin is the headliner at the Piranhaha comedy night at Piranha Bar on April 9; the great Mike Paterson is the headliner at the Studio Sesh Comedy Show on April 13; join co-hosts Keith Waterfield and Leighland Beckman at their ever-popular Life Lessons Live Comedy Talk Show at Mainline Theatre on April 13; Black & Funny Montreal takes over the Montreal Improv on April 19, and British expat James Mullinger headlines Theatre Sainte Catherine Café-Bar on April 24.
Over at the PHI Centre in Old Montreal, The Horrifically Real Virtuality is a collective immersive experience combining virtual reality, cinema and audience participation: the installation invites participants on the set of a new film by cult filmmaker Ed Wood where the public interact in a virtual environment as well as in real time with characters and material objects. The “film” stars Bela Lugosi, the actor known for his vampire portrayals, who agrees to participate in his friend Ed Wood’s film. The experience runs from March 2 to April 28, is available in French and English, and is limited to ten people at a time. Reservations are required. Access to the exhibition is strictly for 13+.
Beloved by fans around the world, the Cirque du Soleil’s iconic Alegría will be reinterpreted Under the Big Top in the Old Port of Montreal, from April 18 to June 30.