Merton of the Movies: singing and dancing for a place in your heart

A rollicking musical set in the silent movie era.

It was a packed house this Saturday at the Calixa-Lavallée Centre, for a performance of the musical comedy Merton of the Movies.

Within the crowd of eager musical theatre aficionados, there sat at least one person who could not accurately be called a fan of the art form: this very writer. But over the two-hour performance, that didn’t stop me from having one hell of a good time!

Merton of the Movies tells the story of Merton Gill, a general store clerk who moves to Hollywood with grand ambitions of becoming a silent movie star in the 1920s. The lovable character was played by Jerome Roy, whose sincere and innocent performance immediately endeared him to the crowd. From Gill’s first number about his dreams of silver screen success, Roy had the whole room smiling from ear to ear.

Jerome Roy’s performance immediately endeared him to the crowd. Photo by Danica Couture.

Gill eventually meets Flips Montague, a seasoned – and somewhat jaded – actress who instantly falls for his hopeless, wide-eyed naiveté. Actress Tina Mancini carried the role of Montague with an endless supply of spunk, providing a satisfying counter-balance to Gill’s underdog persona.

The two were joined by a stellar supporting cast, who took on multiple and varied roles, each with equal determination and enthusiasm. This was further bolstered by impressive vocal performances from all those involved – including a few harmonies that tapped directly into my spine for a fresh infusion of chills.

Much of the success of Merton of the Movies goes to the inspired script written by Doug Katsaros and Donald Brenner, and the focused direction of Stephen Pietrantoni. The sets and props may have been modest in nature, but this ultimately served to highlight the feel-good story and the infectious rhythm of the show.

The writers, actors and director also deserve credit for a mature experience overall. Merton of the Movies was sweet, but not saccharine; irreverent, not farcical; moving without being melodramatic.

Toward the end of the show, Gill’s inner voice (taking the form of an entertainment journalist) extols the pleasures of his chosen craft: “To touch [the audience] and, yes, to lift them up for a single moment, make them forget their troubles and…laugh!”

The show’s greatest achievement was living up to those words, even with a relative stranger to musical theatre such as me. Just as Gill ended up winning over Hollywood, I was quickly won over by Merton of the Movies.

More information about the show and The Next Wave: New Musical Theatre Festival can be found at


Musical Theatre Festival will make your feet move

Montreal festival aims to showcase local talent in a weekend-long series of events

Musical aficionados will be gathering in Montreal for The Next Wave: New Musical Theatre Festival.

Between Sept. 25 and 28, musical theatre will have its time to shine in Montreal as The Next Wave festival belts and dances its way into venues throughout the city.

The festival   ̶  which is in its seventh year in Montreal   ̶ is meant to showcase the talents of local professionals and amateurs alike, and to celebrate musical theatre as an art form. Festival director Stephen Pietrantoni sings the praises of this unique discipline and aims to entertain any and all   ̶ not just your die-hard showtune fan.

“We try and do it in a way that doesn’t intimidate…you can just enjoy it on a visceral human level,” Pietrantoni assures. “A musical, if it is working well, reaches you in the gut first.” It is that mix of accessibility and emotional resonance he hopes will draw healthy crowds to see colourful shows performed live, as well as educational presentations that go behind the scenes of the musical theatre experience.

Pietrantoni, a theatre veteran and graduate of Concordia’s John Molson School of Business, is keen to emphasize the educational side of The Next Wave. The organization behind the festival, The Centre for Education and Theatre in Montreal, which was co-founded by Pietrantoni, strives to develop and support local talent. “Just because you’re [a] great singer, or you’re [a] great piano player…you [still] need to prepare for a whole career,” Pietrantoni points out. “We’ve managed to be a stepping stone for various people over time, and it is always great when you see that working. And we’ve had that kind of luck.”

These ambitions go hand in hand with The Centre for Education and Theatre in Montreal’s other founding principle, which is to help make Montreal a major player on the international stage of musical theatre. The organization helped develop shows that would eventually be shown at Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York, Off-Broadway and even at the White House. Their goal is to help the city become an international capital for musical theatre. “I’d love to have that kind of experience, and [have] that credit happen to us here in Montreal,” Pietrantoni remarked at the prospect of a more visible theatrical presence in the city.

Still, for all his grand plans of grassroots development and global prominence, Pietrantoni pays heed to the simple yet essential pleasures of his craft: the intangible connection between the audience and the performers. “That’s when real magic happens: when you can hear not just the applause, but the silence of an audience that is completely caught up in what you’re saying   ̶ and you can tell by that silence that they are with you.” For those interested in taking part in this stimulating experience   ̶ or for those who simply enjoy a good song and a fun show   ̶ ̶ late September looks like it’ll be a singin’ good time in Montreal.

The Next Wave: New Musical Theatre Festival runs from Sept. 25 to 28.

Events range from free to $20 for students. More information at

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