Thoroughly Modern Millie is perfect escapist summer theatre

If you’re looking for some escapist summer theatre, you can’t do much better than Thoroughly Modern Millie, now playing at Huron Country Playhouse until June 22.

Featuring a stellar cast, including well known television star, Cindy Williams – best known for her role as Shirley Feeney on the classic sitcom Laverne & Shirley – the play is a whimsical song-and-dance romantic musical comedy set in New York City in The Roaring Twenties.

Featuring brassy jazz-inspired hits like “Not for the Life of Me,” “Forget about the Boy,” and the popular titular tune, the play is a great opener for Huron Country Playhouse’s 2019 season.

Based on the 1967 film of the same name, Thoroughly Modern Millie opened on Broadway to great acclaim in 2000 winning six Tony Awards®, including Best Musical.

The plot is flimsy, but fun: Small-town naïve girl, Millie Dillmount (played by Drayton favourite Jayme Armstrong) from Kansas, arrives in New York City seeking a better life. She wants to marry for money instead of love – apparently a “thoroughly modern” goal in 1922. In Millie’s mind, this means becoming a secretary for a wealthy man and then convincing him to marry her.

Shortly after her arrival, she optimistically tears up her return ticket and undergoes a complete makeover turning her into a typical 1920s flapper with bobbed hair and short hemmed skirt. Unfortunately, this being the Big Apple, Millie is quickly mugged, losing her hat, scarf, purse and one shoe. Panicking, she trips passerby Jimmy Smith (another Drayton veteran Billy Lake), a handsome young man, who advises her to go back to Kansas as she doesn’t belong in the big city. Taking offence, Millie yells after him, “Who needs a hat? Who needs a purse? And who needs you, mister whoever-you-are?”

Friendless and penniless, Millie ends up in the Hotel Priscillia, a run-down establishment filled with young women like herself. It is also owned by the scheming Mrs. Meers (played deliciously evil by Ms. Williams) whose ulterior motives for taking in the homeless girls soon becomes obvious.

Without giving away anymore of the story, let’s just say Millie’s modern plan doesn’t work out, she ends up with her true love, and the villainous actions of Mrs. Meers are thwarted. The play also has a very interesting unexpected reveal at its conclusion.

Theatre-goers looking for witty dialogue, jaw-dropping song and dance numbers, great period costumes and sets will not be disappointed.

Beginning with the dazzling opening number, Thoroughly Modern Millie, the audience knows that they are about to experience something rather special.

I don’t know what the costume budget for the play is, but let’s just say it must be astronomical. All characters look like they just stepped out of a time machine from the 1920s. Kudos to Costume Designer Vincent Scassellati and his coordinator Jessica Pembleton.

And the sets! I lost track of how many set changes Thoroughly Modern Millie has, almost a different one for each song. Again, all recreate 1920s New York in an art deco motif. Hats off to Set Designer Ivan Brozic, a Drayton veteran.

But, make no doubt about it, it’s the marvelous song and dance numbers performed masterfully by the cast’s principle characters and Ensemble company that make this play as entertaining as it is.

Jayme Armstrong is entirely convincing as the quirky and impulsive spunky Millie Dillmount. The audience shares her wonderment and naivete and her joy and heartbreak. Her vocal chops enable her to convey the appropriate emotion in every song she sings. Onstage for almost the entire play, Armstrong’s performance is a true tour de force.

Billy Lake’s portrayal of Jimmy Smith, the streetwise young man who gradually wins Millie’s heart, is equally convincing. His duets with Armstrong are marvelous. And, I especially liked a scene in which he mimed standing on a skyscraper ledge while wooing the reluctant Millie.

Kayla James is delightful as the bubbly Miss Dorothy Brown, who claims she has come to NYC to learn “How The Other Half Lives.”

Other cast members and the Ensemble Company mesh perfectly with the principal characters to make Thoroughly Modern Millie move along at an almost breakneck pace.

To be quite honest, I feared that the inclusion of Cindy Williams in the cast would be a distraction, but after the initial applause when she first appeared onstage, she fit nicely into the flow and ebb of the play. Her portrayal of the villainous Mrs. Meers, with its over-the-top exaggerated fake Chinese accent, was spot-on.

To be sure, its choreography is what makes Thoroughly Modern Millie memorable. Every song and dance number is a play within a play where the play’s costumes and sets are on full display.

And dance? I was exhausted just watching the cast members go through their paces on stage!

A highlight is when the stenographers at Sincere Trust Insurance Company, where Millie works, use tap shoes and desks on wheels to simulate the tap, tap, tap of their typewriters.

A major shout-out to Michael Lichtefeld who doubles as the play’s Director and Choreographer. Thank you, Sir, for your hard work!

It goes with saying that the pit band is an essential part of any musical play. Here again, Music Director Steve Thomas has put together an impressive group of musicians who play like a 1920s jazz band. There were some “dirty” horn sounds coming out of the pit in several of the musical numbers.

Overall, this production has lots going for it and it’s well worth the short drive to Grand Bend. It’s perfect summer escapist theatre that allows you to park your brain in neutral for two hours.

Highly recommended!

Thoroughly Modern Millie is on stage from June 5 to June 22. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Huron Country Playhouse, online at www.huroncountryplayhouse.com or by calling the Box Office at (519) 238-6000 or toll free at 1-855-DRAYTON (372-9866).

Regular performance tickets are $48 for adults; $29 for youth under 20 years of age. Tickets for select Discount Dates and groups of 20 or more are $39. HST is applicable to all ticket prices.

Review prepared by Rick Young, a London freelance writer and administrator of The Beat Magazine and Aging Well Celebrating The Young At Heart Facebook Pages.

Review – Back to The Garden: The Woodstock Experience, May 10, Aeolian Hall

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the infamous Woodstock Music & Art Fair that was held on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm near White Lake in Bethel, New York, between August 15 – 18, 1969.

The event was captured in an Academy Award-winning 1970 film and accompanying soundtrack album, and the Woodstock-penned theme song by Joni Mitchell went on to become an anthem for an entire generation.

Considered the penultimate historical benchmark in the Counterculture/Hippie movement of the 1960s, the festival drew over 400,000 people to the 600-acre site to listen to some of the major music stars of the day, including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Sly & The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Santana, and a newly formed band, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, making its public debut.

A 50th Anniversary Woodstock Festival planned for August 16-18 appears to have run into some problems with the pullout of some major investors in April 2019 – although Michael Lang, one of the producers and organizers of the original event, says the festival is still a go.

No need to worry!

Music lovers in Southern Ontario can relive, or enjoy for the first time, The Woodstock Experience – thanks to a stellar ensemble of well-known and highly regarded musicians who have come together under the guidance of producer Dave Harland of ss7 muzik productions, and musical director Chuckee Zehr, to recreate portions of the original concert in a 2-hour touring show.

I first learned of the production from Harland and Zehr while sipping drinks at a local bar last fall. They revealed that they were going to be putting together a band of multi-instrumentalists to play a tribute to the Woodstock Festival, similar in nature to the wildly popular Inspired by Janis featuring Chuckee Zehr show making the rounds at that time. Just listening to their ideas and plans convinced me that they had a winning concept on their hands.

Friday night’s spirited Sold Out performance at London’s historic Aeolian Hall was proof positive of my hunch.

Let’s begin with the 6-piece multi-instrumentalist Woodstock Experience band.  Fronting the show is Cheryl Lescom on vocals and percussion, behind the drums is Grant Heywood on the kit, guitar, congas and vocals, while Londoner Rick Taylor provides some nasty licks on guitar, congas, harmonica and vocals, joined by second guitarist and vocalist Steve Toman and bassist Marc Shickluna.  Holding it all together is Musical Director, Chuckee Zehr on keyboards and vocals.

Chuckee Zehr Steve Toman Martin Heywood Cheryl Lescom Mark Shickluna Rick Taylor

All the band members either play together in other regional bands, either together or alone, or as solo artists. All are seasoned veterans of the music scene and bring with them a wealth of experience and musical knowledge.

“Our goal was to gather together the best multi-instrumental musicians we could find, put them in a practice room together with the Woodstock soundtrack and see what happened,” says producer Dave Harland. “We’re very pleased with the end result.”

Tight, professional, joyful and just damn good are the best adjectives to describe the six musicians’ performance on the Aeolian stage on Friday night. There were no stars, just a true ensemble of talented performers working towards a common goal – to recreate The Woodstock Experience for the Sold Out appreciative crowd, many of whom had chosen to dress up in period hippie garb like tie-dyed shirts, bell bottoms, beads and floppy hats.

The concert followed the original festival’s chronological order, or at least that of the movie, beginning with opener Richie Havens’ Freedom featuring Heywood and Taylor on guitar and congas, followed by Arlo Guthrie’s Coming Into Los Angeles.

Interspersing the songs were “announcements” from the stage made by Harland, to recreate those made by the original event’s master of ceremonies, Chip Monck, about bad acid, food availability, babies being born and asking people to get off the speaker columns.

Cheryl Lescom sings Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love

All the major original performances were covered during the two-part show including Canned Heat’s Goin’ to The Country, The Who’s My Generation and See Me/Listening to You, Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit and Somebody to Love (sung deliciously by Lescom), Joe Cocker’s rousing rendition of With A Little Help From My Friends and Feelin’ Alright, Santana’s Evil Ways and percussion heavy Soul Sacrifice featuring Heywood on the drums, a searing cover of Ten Years After’s Goin’ Home covered marvelously by guitarists Taylor and Toman,  CCR’s Born on The Bayou and Suzie Q, Sha Na Na’s throw-back At The Hop, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Wooden Ships.

The band paid special tribute to Canadian-based The Band with a spirited performance of The Weight.

To be sure, one of the highlights of the evening was the tributes to late 1960s superstars, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix.

Lescom and Zehr traded lead and backing vocals on crowd pleasing renditions of Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) and Joplin’s anthem, Piece of My Heart.

Chuckee Zehr, Musical Director of The Woodstock Experience.

Guitarist Steve Tolman channeled Jimi Hendrix with searing covers of his infamous Star Spangled Banner with its screeching planes and bombs and the late guitarist’s signature tune Voodoo Child.

The evening ended with rousing covers of Sly & The Family Stone’s funky classics Dance To The Music and I Wanna Take You Higher, bringing the audience to its feet and prompting many to dance in front of the stage while joining in on the chorus Higher.

Returning to the stage after a prolonged standing ovation, the musicians performed the expected Woodstock anthem, penned by Joni Mitchell in a New York hotel room while watching television reports about the event.

And then it was over – with smiling audience members waiting to congratulate band members in the Aeolian merchandice room.

If you missed the Aeolian show, you will have plenty of opportunities to see The Woodstock Experience at these venues:

Friday, May 31 – Stratford Revival House

Friday, June 14 – Kitchener Registry Theatre

Friday, August 9 – Ajax St. Francis Centre

Saturday, August 17 – Bayfield Fair.

Rick Young is a London freelance writer and the former Publisher/Editor of The Beat Magazine (2009-2014).

Jake Levesque, a seasoned performer who gives back

Whether performing as a solo act or as part of Mosaic and Enchanté or nurturing aspiring performers, long-time London singer-composer, Jake Levesque, is a familiar fixture on the London artistic scene.

Jake, who turned 69 this February, recalls his Niagara Falls home as being a musical one.  His mother played piano and his Aunt Margaret, who lived with the family, played the organ at a nearby Catholic church. Jake’s family was very supportive of his early musical endeavours.

“I took piano lessons from age 9 to14, picked up guitar at 15, and joined a folk/pop quartet called BitterSuite at 18,” says Jake. “Later I played with a lounge quartet called The Music Shop, which evolved into a rock trio, East West.”

Like many musicians, Levesque’s adult musical career eventually came about rather serendipitously.

A failed attempt at Engineering in 1967-68 precipitated his musical career. “At the age of 18, I was failing miserably in a course in Engineering at McGill University and I decided to switch from engineering to music,” Jake recalls. “I left Montreal and returned home to pursue my muse.”

“I was beginning to develop a musical style of my own, so with visions of stardom dancing in my brain, I decided it was time to give my dreams a try.  I’ve been playing professionally ever since, sometimes full-time and sometimes part-time.”

In 1973, wanting to develop his musical skills and knowledge, Jake enrolled at the Faculty of Music at The University of Western Ontario, as it was then called. During his studies there, he played with musical groups such as The Three Man Quartet, Freeway, and Sweet Fever. In addition, he performed as a solo artist, playing occasionally at the Latin Quarter and the Elbow Room, and as an opening act at Change of Pace.

“After graduation, I continued playing and got into acting.  I acted in a few shows at Centre Stage Theatre under the direction of Ken Livingstone, and in several shows with London Community Players, among others,” Jake recalls.

From 1987 to 1993, Jake was part of The Sophistikats, the house band that played on weekends at the Seven Dwarfs Restaurant.

In recent years, Jake has been a part of groups like Mosaic, Enchanté, Joint Effort, and JJ Fiasco.

A keyboardist and guitarist, Jake dabbles a bit on bass and drums, and he identifies the Beatles, Bobby McFerrin, Carlos Santana and Keith Jarrett as influences. He says he is equal parts self-taught and formal training.

“I have been blessed with a large number of wonderful teachers and fellow musicians, in both formal and informal settings, who have helped me with their guidance, collaboration, and inspiration,” says Jake.

Jake describes his musical style as “eclectic” – combining traces of classical music, folk, blues, jazz and electronic.

“Being as eclectic as I am may not get me signed to any record label, but it’s way more fun than being pigeon-holed into one genre or style,” jokes Levesque.

“I made a very amateurish demo tape of my music in 1981. Very few of those pieces have remained in my repertoire.  Then in 1999 and 2003, Mosaic recorded a couple of CDs of which we are very proud. I’ve recorded two of my own CD’s, Live One in 2005 and Me Three in 2010.”

Jake has uploaded some of these pieces, and a few others, to his BandCamp page at https://jakelevesque.bandcamp.com/releases. He plans to upload more soon.  Among these will be piano improvisations and instrumental compositions created with the help of computer software.

Jake has also been involved with several variety series, including June Cole’s Diversities, Richard Lehman’s Divergencies, and Sharon Laing’s London to the Max.  He was also musical director at Unity of London for about ten years.

He is currently part of a weekly house concert series (Acoustic Spotlight), two creativity circles (Magic Monday and Ruby Tuesday), and a jam-session/songwriting endeavour called Belong to Song, pioneered by Catherine McInnes.

When asked, Jake is reluctant to identify highlights from his long career as he feels all his activities have been personal highlights.

However, a few do stand out.

He jokes that his late Mother would certainly point to his role as Jesus in a 1979 production of Jesus Christ Superstar as a highlight.

Jake describes the critically acclaimed trio Mosaic – consisting of himself, Catherine McInnes and Laurraine Sigouin – as one of the most exciting bands he has ever had the pleasure of working with, and he feels honoured that the group appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2002.

“Mosaic remains a long-term project that we enjoy immensely. We don’t play publicly all that much, but we continue to rehearse together simply because we enjoy and appreciate each other’s company and musical talent so much,” says Levesque.

From an “artistic expression” point of view, Jake mentions Original Sins, a one-person show he created – with help from Sean Quigley – and performed at the London Fringe Festival in 2003 as a highlight. “It started out as a collection of original songs that various people found “offensive” and evolved into an attempt to explore the possibilities of finding light by confronting darkness,” Jake says.

Jake notes that “a personal highlight was discovering the joy of performing with my brilliantly talented and beloved wife, Julia Webb, in JJ Fiasco. She sings some of my songs better than I ever could.”

Unfortunately, for the past several years Jake has been dealing with the combined effects of throat cancer treatment and Parkinson’s Disease. 

“I’m currently cancer-free, but the treatment had its difficulties. But the real kicker, from an artistic point of view, has been the Parkinson’s. My dexterity on guitar and piano, even my singing and acting, are severely compromised,” says Jake.  “I continue to do what I can, and direct my energy less and less to performing, and more and more to teaching, helping, and encouraging.”

As a seasoned performer, Jake feels an obligation to give back to his craft.

“One of the things I am really engaged with right now is nurturing talent, particularly younger performers. It came to me quite accidentally as a result of my involvement in the Acoustic Spotlight, Ruby Tuesday and London to the Max shows where I helped people develop their musical skills and performing experience,” says Levesque.

Want to know more about Jake and what’s he up to these days?

“I send out an email every week or so with information about these and a few other arts events in the London area,” says Jake. “Anyone wishing to get on my list can send me an email at my address, jakelevesque@gmail.com.”

To be sure, London is fortunate to have a dedicated artist of Jake Levesque’s ability and talent. He truly is a Creative Londoner who gives back to his community.

Prepared by Rick Young for Aging Well Magazine, March, 2019

Chasing “fame and fortune” in the Music Industry

A recent Facebook posting about Buffalo Springfield’s founding in 1966 brought to mind a few things I’ve always felt about achieving so-called “fame and fortune” in the Music Industry.

As a long-time full-time, part-time and now casual professional musician since 1966, and a keen observer of the music scene, I offer up these comments for your consideration. Take from them what you will.

First, you must have Talent with a capital T. All the fancy websites, Facebook pages, flashy PR and promo merchandise in the world will only get you so far. If you don’t have the goods, you will likely have limited, short-term success.

Second, as they say, “It’s all about timing.” Being in the right place, with the right people, at the right time will probably go far in helping you achieve a modicum of “fame and fortune” and the respect and recognition of your peers and general public. BTW, these factors were very evident in the founding and, if only short-lived, success of Buffalo Springfield.

Third, a good deal of personal humility is probably a good thing, especially when you are first starting out. There are lots of “Legends in Their Own Minds” around blaming everyone else but themselves for their lack of success.

Fourth, perseverance is a quality which will probably help you achieve whatever level of success you are aiming for. Don’t throw in the towel too early. Most reputable, well known musicians were not overnight successes. They had to pay their dues, put in their time in lousy bars, etc. On the other hand, know when to call it a career when it’s time.

I knew that it was time to for me come off the road and pursue a teaching degree in the mid-1970s. Since then, I have had no regrets following a successful and highly satisfying 30 year career teaching high school History.

And finally, let’s face it, some good old-fashioned luck will probably play itself into the “fame and fortune” equation.

Just some musings from an aging 1960s hippie musician.

I welcome any Comments you may have.

Rick Young, March 3, 2019

Albright warns of Fascist creep in America.

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Former US Ambassador to the United Nations and Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, pulls no punches in her cautionary book Fascism: A Warning (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 288 pp.).

Drawing on her personal experiences as a child in war-torn Europe, her time in government and conversations with her students at Georgetown University where she serves as professor of International Relations in the university’s School of Foreign Service, Albright  traces the history of Fascist states and leaders between the end of World War I and now.

In her introductory chapter Albright acknowledges that recent international developments suggest that democracy, once heralded as the undisputed future of humankind after World War II in 1945 and the Fall of Communism in 1989, is “under assault and in retreat” around the world.

She suggests that the recent emergence of strong men and populist leaders around the world is evidence that Fascism is making a comeback of sorts.

Having said that, Albright attempts to explain the meaning of “real Fascism,” positing that there really is no universally agreed-upon definition of the term.  Drawing upon discussions with her students, Albright concludes that “Fascism should perhaps be viewed less as a political ideology than as a means for seizing and holding power.”

Madeleine Albright served as secretary of state under President Clinton from 1997 until 2001.

She also states: “To my mind, a Fascist is someone who identifies strongly with and claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use whatever means are necessary – including violence – to achieve his or her goals. In that conception, a Fascist will likely be a tyrant, but a tyrant need not be a Fascist.”

But more importantly, she wonders aloud “Why, this far into the twenty-first century, are we once again talking about Fascism?”

Her answer?

“One reason, frankly, is Donald Trump. If we think of Fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab,” she says.

Describing herself as “an optimist who worries a lot,” the author expresses her concern over Trump’s election and the actions of the self-proclaimed “stable genius” during his first year and a half in office.

At this point she leaves Trump behind, promising to get back to him towards the end of the book, and launches into her survey of past and present strong men and their regimes.

Italy’s Mussolini ( the father of modern Fascism), Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler, Russia’s Joseph Stalin, Bosnia’s Slobodan Milosevic, North Korea’s Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il, and others, are all analyzed in terms of what contributions each made to modern Fascism.

That line leads directly to Donald Trump, the man who now occupies the US White House.

While stopping short of calling Trump a Fascist (as many have), Albright warns that the United States is headed in that direction.

“Decades ago, George Orwell suggested that the best one-word description of a Fascist was ‘bully,’ and on the day of the Normandy invasion, Franklin Roosevelt prayed to the Almighty for a ‘peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men.’ By contrast, President Trump’s eyes light up when strongmen steamroll opposition, brush aside legal constraints, ignore criticism, and do whatever it takes to get their way.”

Now that Trump has declared a “National Emergency” to build the Border Wall between the United Sates and Mexico he promised during the 2016 campaign, how much closer is America to becoming a Fascist state?

Only time will tell.

Albright’s book is a welcome addition to the growing canon on Fascism. It should be compulsory reading for all thinking Americans.

Rick Young, February 16, 2019

Never again…until the next time.

I just went through that unpleasant periodical ritual that most of us experience at least several times during our adult lives: Searching for a new car to replace one that is coming to the end of its road-worthiness.

In my case, my 2004 Honda Accord V6 still runs and looks great. And it can still pass just about anything on the road 14 years after I bought it new.

But, lately the service and repair bills have been increasing in frequency and in cost. I guess it’s what inevitably happens when products are built for planned obsolescence in our consumer capitalist society.

So, it was with the usual trepidation, I started doing my research for a viable and affordable replacement.

The first thing I noticed was that to replace my car with a comparable new Honda Accord would be tantamount to buying a new house and with a monthly payment to match any mortgage. Something I am not prepared to do as a 67-year-old retiree.

Indeed, I’m not even sure a car dealer would finance me for the full length of the so-called incentive packages they offer these days – up to 84 months (or 7 years)!

The second thing a potential new car buyer needs to know is that the MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) just applies to the basic model, and it doesn’t include taxes, freight charges, licensing and all of those other extra charges dealers pile on the cost of a new vehicle.

Add all of these charges, plus the charges for financing if you go that route, in and you’re looking at thousands of dollars more than the MSRP.

And, finally, third, there is the whole negotiating process or “dance” you must endure with the dealership once you have decided on a potential new vehicle purchase.

The closest thing comparable to buying a new vehicle is the purchase of a house. In both cases, it’s Caveat emptor or Let the buyer beware.

Now, with all due respect to Car and Real Estate Sales Reps (or Specialists, or whatever the current job label is), I know you have a demanding (some would say shitty) job that requires you to prey upon the emotional insecurities of your customers. But haggling with you over thousands of dollars on the purchase of a home or new car is not a pleasant experience for most buyers.

For some buyers, it can be downright stressful and intimidating.

In a word, the whole appraisal of your trade-in, make us an offer, let me check it with my manager and so on process, well, sucks.

In my case, I settled on a 2018 demonstrator HRV at a local Honda dealer. It was the perfect vehicle for my needs at this time and I figured we could grow old(er) together.

During my first meeting with the sales rep, we reached what I thought was a reasonable price for my trade-in, figured in all available rebates and discounts, and came up with a “Final” price, open for further negotiation.

I told the rep, who was an extremely helpful young man very interested in working with me to make the purchase happen, I needed some time to think it over.

Four days later, I made my second trip to the dealer armed with my “Final” offer based on a cash purchase.

Well, after submitting my offer and asking for a simple Yea or Nay, the sales rep said he would have to clear it with his Manager. He suggested I take the sub-compact SUV for another drive while he did that.

Upon my return, the sales rep was waiting for me with two sheets of paper in his hand – one a revised appraisal on my 2004 Accord, and the second a revised “Final” cost on the HRV.

Well, lo and behold, my trade-in was now worth almost $2000 less than it was four days earlier and the new bottom line was almost $2500 more than what we had agreed upon.

I informed him that was not good enough and walked away from the “deal.” I could tell that he was exasperated, but in the end: “The customer is always right.” So I didn’t waste too much time worrying about it.

Minutes after walking out of the dealership, I felt like a 500 pound gorilla had been removed from my shoulders. I had not purchased emotionally or impulsively and I still had a car that was road-worthy and probably good for a couple of more years thanks to Mike and the good folks at Village Auto Care in Wortley Village.

Will I revisit the whole ritual at some point in the near future? I guess I’ll have to monitor what those repair bills look like in the next twelve months.

I would like to hear about your experiences buying a new car. Were they similar to mine? Dramatically different? Whatever.

Rick Young, January 27, 2019.


Review of The Tattooist of Auschwitz

As a former high school History teacher, I am only too familiar with the horrific details of the Holocaust — the concerted attempt by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population by any means necessary during the Second World War.

Thus, it was with some trepidation that I picked up the best-selling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.

The book is an account of the struggles of real-life Holocaust survivor, Lale Sokolov – the tattooist of the book’s title – to stay alive in the infamous Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps using his wit and cunning, while at the same time pursuing an improbable, but bitter-sweet, romantic relationship with a fellow Slovakian Jewish inmate named Gita Furman.

It is a story of human suffering and man’s inhumanity to man, but also one of hope, love and endurance.

Critics have not been kind to the book.

Many, like the Auschwitz Memorial Research Centre, claim that “the book contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements.”

The Guardian’s critic Jane Housham referred to the book as a “glossing over of the concentration camps’ unremitting misery with sugary romance.”

Fair enough, but The Tattooist of Auschwitz is clearly labelled “A Novel” on its front cover. To approach it in the same manner as a non-fiction historical account is unfair and sure to be disappointing.

We’re all familiar with movies that include the preface: “Based on a true story.” Well, that’s what this book is — a story based on the first-person reminiscences of 87-year-old Holocaust survivor Lake Sokolov. Like all first-person accounts, it may have its intrinsic problems.

Having said that, does its historical inaccuracies detract from the novel’s effectiveness in telling a good story while at the same time introducing many readers to the horrors of the Holocaust for the first time?

I think not.

Indeed, historical fiction is a controversial genre as evidenced by a recent New York Times piece about ‘The Tattooist of Auschwitz’ and the History in Historical Fiction. To read this article, click here.

In short, it is best to approach the book as an historical novel based on the experiences of a real-life Holocaust survivor. Viewed in this way, I can say with confidence that this novel should become a welcome addition to the Holocaust canon.

If it encourages readers to pick up a non-fiction account of the Holocaust, that’s even better.

I give The Tattooist of Auschwitz 4 Stars out 4 and highly recommend it.

Rick Young, January 23, 2019

Addendum: When I began teaching high school History in the late 1970s, I took it upon myself to interview several local Holocaust survivors for use with my students when we covered the topic. To be sure, it was one of the most humbling and moving experiences in my life.

Unfortunately, in my moves to four different schools during my 30-year career, the taped interviews got lost in the shuffle.