NEW! James Street, a musical dash through Hamilton history, Nov 29-Dec 8, 2012

james_street_smallNovember 29 to December 8, 2012. James Street: A mad musical dash through the history of Hamilton: Artword Theatre’s second production in its 2012-13 season at The Lyric is James Street, a light-hearted look at downtown Hamilton, from the founding of the town to the present day. Featuring a cast of six plus two onstage musicians, James Street is a patchwork quilt of colourful characters and amusing incidents.
Written and directed by Ronald Weihs
Songs written and performed by Mark McNeil
Cast: Charly Chiarelli, Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, Ryan Sero, Jeremy Shand, Abigail Veenstra
Produced and designed by Judith Sandiford
Associate Director: Ryan Sero

The play, a new original play written and directed by Ronald Weihs, uses an inventive ensemble approach in which actors play multiple roles, and scenes change in a flash. Songs are by Mark McNeil, one of Hamilton’s finest singer-songwriters and a well-known journalist for the Hamilton Spectator. Charly Chiarelli plays a modern Hamiltonian who magically encounters a famous figure from the 1840s – Paola Brown, a leader in Hamilton’s black community and Hamilton’s official town crier (played by Jeremy Shand). After some initial sparring about who is in whose dream, the two find themselves witnesses to (and sometimes participants in) a fast-forward gallop through life on James Street.
They see how pioneer dentistry was done, witness George Hamilton and his cronies (Hughson and Durand) plot out the town, watch a farmer advertise for a wife “with a good back”, drop into Billy Carroll’s cigar shop and bookie joint to bet on the first Around the Bay Race, take a ride on the new Electric Railway – all depicted by Valeri Kay, Gordon Odegaard, Ryan Sero, and Abigail Veenstra. Mark McNeil appears onstage with guitar as a street singer, with his buddy Ron Weihs on fiddle.

Thursday to Saturday at 8 pm, Nov 29, 30, Dec 1, 6, 7, 8, 2012
Venue: The Lyric Theatre, 434 King W, near Locke Street, (905) 527-6135.
Thurs: $19 regular, $16 seniors/students; Fri & Sat: $25 regular, $16 students/seniors

Two World Wars

There is a sequence honouring Hamilton’s soldiers through two World Wars. Mark’s song, “Private Riley”, imagines a universal soldier in the Royal Hamilton Light Infantry (RHLI), who fights in every engagement, from the Fenian raids to present-day Kandahar. The Rileys have adopted the song to celebrate their 150th anniversary, and are releasing a video, with the Regimental band playing along with Mark.

As the play approaches present day, the cast members recount some of the memories collected for the Spectator: the old Eaton’s at Christmas, the arrival of the trains at the CNR station, the creaky escalators in Zellers, Willie the elevator operator, the popcorn seller, the open-air market, climbing the James Street steps up the mountain, and a long father-son walk up the length of James Street.

Where the Idea Came From

The idea for James Street arose in 2010, when Mark was working on a special edition of The Spectator featuring a section about James Street. Mark had seen other plays by Artword Theatre (Rascals and Numskulls, Tobacco Troubadour) that used real events to create entertaining theatre. He suggested that Artword produce an original play, partly based on the first-person stories he was collecting and partly on other historical sources, to open when the special edition was published. Ron loved the idea, but not the time-frame, and so James Street, the play, became a project on its own.

The newspaper section featured a lengthy interview with the Hamilton’s best-known storyteller, Charly Chiarelli, whose one-man shows about growing up in the Sicilian North End, Cu’Fu and Mangiacake have been performed across Canada and in Europe and shown as films on Bravo Television. Wouldn’t it be great, Mark said to Ron, if Charly could be in the show? Ron had directed both Cu’Fu and Mangiacake, as well as the latest addition, Sunamabeach, so this arranged. Charly is happy to be in a show where he doesn’t have to do all the talking.

Artword Theatre

The Artword team, Ronald Weihs and Judith Sandiford, ran Artword Theatre, a facility in downtown Toronto, producing many plays of their own, for twelve years before coming to Hamilton in 2008. They produced four original plays at the Pearl Company in 2008-09: You Are What You Do, Rascals and Numskulls, Sunamabeach (by Charly Chiarelli) and Tobacco Troubadour . In 2009, Ron and Judith bought a little sports bar on Colbourne Street, just off James North, and turned it into the popular Artword Artbar, featuring music of all varieties, theatre, poetry and spoken word four nights a week, Wednesday to Saturday.

When Patrick Brennan announced plans for converting the Westside Concert Theatre into the new Lyric Theatre, he got in touch with Ron and Judith right away, offering to co-produce four shows with them. It was a delightful offer that Artword could not refuse. Artword Theatre is presenting four productions in the 2012-13 season: 1812-The Songbook (October 18 – 20), James Street (November 29, 30, December 1, 6, 7, 8), If Cows Could Fly (January 30 to February 3) and Tobacco Troubadour (May 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, 11).

For more information, contact Judith Sandiford,,

905-543-8512, cell: 905-912-9083
Artword Theatre
Artistic Director: Ronald Weihs
Managing Director: Judith Sandiford

Artword Theatre also runs Artword Artbar, 15 Colbourne Street Hamilton,


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