At their annual Cat’s Meow concerts – which benefit the Trap, Neuter, Release and Adopt Program for feral cats in Côte-St-Luc, Que. – the Musicians of the World Symphony Orchestra (MWSO) often throw in a smattering of Broadway songs, as catnip for the audience.
A wisp of feathers at the end of a string of other musical selections, they were always buried in the main program of classical, pop or operatic music, teasing listeners’ appetites for them.
Conductor Joseph Milo has finally bowed to popular demand: this year’s concert on Oct. 24 at the Syd Wise Auditorium (5785 Parkhaven St.) in Côte-St-Luc will be Broadway from start to finish.
“It’s called Broadway’s Greatest Hits, a beautiful mishmash of things, a nice fruit cocktail,” says Milo. He has engaged the talents of soloists Burney Lieberman, a well-loved Montreal bass baritone who is a veteran of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT), operatic soprano Olivia Hancinsky-Charette, who graduated from McGill University this past April, and saxophonist Gideon Vigderhous, who was featured in last year’s MWSO jazz theme.
Milo met Lieberman when they were both involved in a DWYT production of The Rothschilds.
“I got a massive role and didn’t speak Yiddish at the time. Dora wrote everything down for me in transliteration and as I was reading it to her, she said, ‘I don’t understand how come you read these words so perfectly when nobody else (non-Yiddish speakers) does it like that?’ I told her it’s because I spoke it as a child, so I know the intention and rhythm of it. I was like a fish to water,” says Lieberman.
Milo was the music director of that show and convinced Lieberman to sing for his men’s choir at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, where he also served as music director. Lieberman eventually followed Milo to the choir at the Chevra synagogue, where the High Holidays continue to benefit from his voice.
For the Cat’s Meow concert, he’ll be singing selections from Fiddler on the Roof, Man of La Mancha (“The Impossible Dream”), Showboat (“Old Man River”) and South Pacific (“Some Enchanted Evening”). Hancinsky-Charette, who came back from a trip to Israel in time for rehearsals, will deliver favourites from My Fair Lady, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables and the lovely “Memory” from Cats.
She’ll also partner with alto soprano Anna Levitina, who plays violin in the MWSO, in the perennial encore piece, “Duetto buffo di due gatti,” a humorous duet in which the only lyric is “meow.”
“At the auditorium, we can’t have the full 50-member orchestra, but we have around 35, which is fine because often those pieces of music are played with smaller bands than that,” says Milo. A West Side Story number and other instrumentals will round out the program.
The MWSO, which gives a home to immigrant musicians who would otherwise lose touch with their orchestral gifts, is itself giving a charity concert for Montreal’s homeless. “In April, we’ll play to raise money for the Old Brewery Mission,” says Milo.
Through his other talent as an art photographer, Lieberman is also participating in a fundraiser for the Old Brewery Mission, which is set for Nov. 9. Four of his photographs on canvas will be featured at the mission’s annual Square Foot Exhibition at 232 chemin de Senneville in Senneville.
Then, in the wake of his recent success in the DWYT’s A Century Songbook, in which he sang the mournful “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime,” Lieberman goes into rehearsals for the upbeat The Sages of Chelm, which is set to premiere in June.
Tickets for the Cat’s Meow concert are available at the Eleanor London Côte-St-Luc Public Library, the Hospital for Animals on Baily Road and at cotesaintluc.org/cats.