Every time I see the Winnipeg Jewish Review in the subject line of my inbox, I am compelled to open it immediately. It is my way of keeping in touch with the goings on of my home town. My name is Lesley Corne Wolman, and I grew up and lived in Winnipeg until the age of 19, when I went off to seek my fame and fortune. While neither of those came true, exactly, I am famous in my own home as the wife of Jeff Wolman and the mother of 17 year old Yale and 14 year old Serena. They are my fortune, as well!
I grew up in Tuxedo, 405 Kelvin Blvd. to be exact. Don’t drive over. My parents, Irene and Bob Corne, sold our beloved house. Why am I telling you all of this? The Winnipeg Jewish Review’s editor Rhonda Spivak, who just happens to be married to my cousin, Stephen Corne, suggested that I promote my upcoming performance with the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra, by giving an account of my life…so far.
Growing up Jewish in Winnipeg is relatively easy. Our fair city has much to offer both academically and culturally. Since I gravitated towards the arts, I was able to cultivate my love of Judaism, Hebrew language and Israel through my schools and extra curricular activities. I attended Ramah Hebrew Day School, Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate, Camp Massad and performed with The Sarah Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble. David Gale and I were the winners of the first Israeli Song Festival held by JWC at The Rosh Pina Synagogue, and I performed my first Cabaret show with my incredibly talented friend, Michael Dolovich. The photo taken of us during that concert (1979), is proudly displayed on my piano today. I am still close to many of the people with whom I grew up, and love coming home for visits…as long as those visits fall between May and September.
My first year of university was spent at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where my family lived for a year, as my father was on sabbatical at Hadassah Hospital. It was in a recording studio in Tel Aviv, that I did my first reel to reel tape, (I think I just dated myself), of music that I co wrote with my Israeli friend, Hila Roich, a wonderful poet.
In 1979, at the suggestion of former Winnipegger, Judith Lander, whom I idolized as a singer/songwriter, I moved to Boston to study with a well known voice teacher. After living in Boston for three years, I became a bonafide triple threat…having studied acting and dance as well. I moved to Toronto and was immediately cast in a production of “Hits Of The Blitz” with veteran performer Jack Duffy. After that production closed and I was just another 8X10 photo and resume looking for work, it was obvious to me that I needed to have something practical to ”fall back on.” I enrolled in The School of Nursing at University of Toronto. While in school, I sang in a Big Band, did radio jingles and voice overs, lots of summer stock, as well as Christmas Shows for CBC radio. I justified the latter since most Christmas songs were written by Jews. My high school chum, Benson Simmonds and I made our film debut in Alan Alda’s “A New Life,” as “featured extras.” This meant we got him all to ourselves for one scene, in which his character yelled at us. Little did we know that Entertainment Tonight would go on to air our clip several times on National T.V!
I specialized in Psychiatric Nursing as it bears a close resemblance to acting. Here is a very funny Winnipeg story. I worked part time as a psychiatric nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. During my shift, I happened to bump into one of my beloved counselors from Camp Massad, Molyn Leszcz, who was now a very respectable Psychiatrist. I never referred to him as “Molyn”, and I never had a quiet voice…”MOTZ! What are you doing here?” I exclaimed. ‘Sshh, Les, no one here knows me by that name,” he replied. We both had a good laugh, and I learned a great deal from Dr. Leszcz.
I met and married my Prince Charming, Jeff Wolman, a handsome Jew from Halifax. Jeff was an accountant when I met him and entered Universty of Toronto Law School the year we after we married.
My big break came when I was cast in the Toronto production of “Shenandoah’” with Hal Linden (of Barney Miller fame). That show moved to Broadway and starred John Cullum. Being on Broadway, having my bio and photo in a Playbill, living in NYC…this was a dream come true!!
After that show closed, Jeff and I moved to New York (my green card story is long, probably an article in and of itself).
Jeff set up shop as a business manager.
I performed as a day player on the Soaps “All My Children” and “One Life To Live.” Ironically, I was cast as a nurse on both shows!
When I was 8 months pregnant with my first child, I entered the New York Cabaret scene, performing my show “A Pregnant Review’” to sold out crowds at Don’t Tell Mama. After my son Yale was born, I was introduced to another former Winnipegger, Michael Soloway. Michael, who is a dentist, is also an accomplished jazz pianist. We hit the New York Cabaret scene at full speed, turning out show after show and playing to wonderful and enthusiastic audiences.
Jeff’s work took us to Los Angeles, in 1996. We moved there on a wing and a prayer, not knowing a soul. Our daughter, Serena was born 9 months after we arrived, and we became part of the most haimish, warm and inviting Jewish Community outside of Winnipeg! I cannot say enough good things about the Los Angeles Jewish Community of which I am a very active member. I sit on many boards including Camp Ramah and The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies. I am an active member of The Jewish Federation, AIPAC, our schools, Sinai Akiba Academy and Milken Community High School, and chaired the Arts and Cultural committee for The Bureau of Jewish Education where I established the songwriting competition, “Teen Song” that was modeled after The Israeli Song Festival of JWC! Returning to my roots is a common theme for me. In 2006 I established an Eighth Grade Israel Trip for our school, because I wanted my children to have the same experience that I did when my JWC class went to Israel in 1977. It was a profound experience and its impact remains immeasurable.
My show Jewish Women In Song, a tribute to 14 Jewish female composers, lyricists and performers, from Sophie Tucker to Carole King, has been performed to sold out audiences here in L.A., in different parts of the U.S. and for the Manitoba Jewish Foundation.
I have recorded 2 albums and have my own website, www.lesleywolman.com.
I just completed a successful run of my latest act, “On Broadway’” here in L.A., and I am proud to be performing it in Winnipeg with the outstanding Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra. There will be 2 performances at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, on Sunday, May 8 (Mother’s Day), at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. For tickets, please call (204) 632-5299 or online at www.winnipegjazzorchestra.com
So there you have it! Writing this article has been a most cathartic experience, one for which I am grateful to the Winnipeg Jewish Review! I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please join me on Mother’s Day as I celebrate in music, what it really means to come home!!