Except for a few hearts and chocolates, February is not an amusing month so the Côte St-Luc Dramatic Society (CSLDS) is sweetening the experience.
From Feb. 12-16 Merton of the Movies takes the stage of the Harold Greenspon Auditorium, 5801 Cavendish Blvd., with Adam Daniel Koren heading a cast of 22.
“I needed to find a good comedy that has a large cast for the winter months and George S. Kaufman’s and Marc Connelly’s Merton fits the bill,” says director Anisa Cameron.
Koren plays a naïve, slightly clumsy and eminently lovable small-town boy trying to break into the silent-film business.
Though Merton takes himself very seriously, a kind-hearted stuntwoman helps him promote his uncanny resemblance to an established film actor without telling Merton that he is, in fact, lampooning the man and making himself look foolish. Heartbreak and triumph follow the usual path of such screwball comedies.
Along the way Merton must navigate through encounters with other aspiring actors, starlets, gossip columnists, agents and even a Harvey Weinstein-type dramatic film director with a revolving casting couch. Côte St-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein takes the role of the much nicer director of slapstick comedies, Herbert Brownstein plays a character actor still grasping for the brass ring, and hilarious Hannah Schefren is a shopkeeper’s wife from back home trying to dissuade Merton from involving himself in the devilry of Hollywood.
For Cameron, finding her Merton was confident casting. Koren studied at Montreal Children’s Theatre and attended the performing arts camp Stage Door Manor in the Catskills that honed the talents of such alumni as Jon Cryer, Mandy Moore and Natalie Portman.
Early on, as a 10-year-old, he took the lead of Davey in the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre’s Lies My Father Told Me.
Cameron first laid eyes on Koren playing the lead in a 2010 production of The Music Man for St. George’s High School and was struck by his professionalism and presence. He then hop-scotched from Marianopolis College to Concordia University and Sheridan College musical theatre school, dipping a toe in each but opting to hone his skills with life experience onstage.
Koren, who is a tenor, has sung and acted the lead in The Wedding Singer and Fagin in Oliver! to name a few and has assistant-directed Off-Broadway.
“By nature of doing that, I met other people and workshopped an original musical, Riot Songs, based on LGBT life in New York City’s Greenwich Village,” he says. “It’s verbatim musical theatre based on interviews with people living in the community, important to have those voices be heard.”
In addition to recruiting the now 25-year-old for roles in Catch Me If You Can and Broadway’s Back for the CSLDS, Cameron saw him add teaching to his skills.
“He’s been working with the kids at JPPS for almost three years in a program we developed for the school,” says Cameron who is the longtime and beloved theatre head at Bialik High and director of their March production Across the Universe.
“I teach grades 1 and 2 skill-building games, awareness, and active listening and they teach me so much in terms of being free and following impulses,” says the actor.
Koren is off to England in May “to see what the other side of the pond has in store.” He hopes it leads back to New York.
Meanwhile, viewers familiar with his face in TV commercials for Videotron and Subway stop him in the supermarket. “But no one can place me, exactly,” he says. He’ll be unforgettable as Merton.
“We’re both stubborn, chasing our dreams and taking big risks,” says Koren.
Tickets for Merton of the Movies are at the Eleanor London Public Library, the Côte St-Luc Aquatics and Community Centre, through www.CSLDramaticSociety.com and at the door an hour before the show.