The weather these days may be failing us, but two Fringe Festival shows are definitely delivering, especially if you have a penchant for time travel.

Comedian/Storyteller Al Lafrance, who has been appearing at the festival for a decade now, returns to the stage with a reflective piece entitled Is This Yours? at Café Campus. As the title suggests, Lafrance is often curious about the items he finds at yard sales and thrift shops and what they say about the complex lives we lead. Old photos and handwritten letters have granted him the opportunity to step into the past, crash hundreds of weddings and enjoy beach vacations with families he’ll never meet.

Al Lafrance

Sure, it may sound a little creepy to speculate on people’s lives based on the random fragments they’ve donated or discarded, but as the affable Montrealer explains, he’s always been fascinated by the legacies we leave behind. Especially those of “weirdos with passion projects”.

It’s that very fascination that led him to investigate a particularly unusual discovery – a handmade board game about hitchhiking – and seek out its creator in order to understand how it came to exist in the first place. The answer to that question forms the backbone of this show, which touches on the strange twists and turns that can happen along the way to our ultimate destination.

Energetic and unassuming, it’s easy to see why Lafrance is a two-time Just For Laughs Award winner. His cleverly-woven tale soothes and satisfies, like a warm cup of tea after an especially pleasant dinner party. So, grab a bite to eat on The Main, head on over to his show and prepare to be transported.

Speaking of pleasant journeys, this year’s edition of Fringe features an astonishing one-woman show that revisits the remarkable ups and downs of Josephine Baker’s legendary life. Josephine, a burlesque cabaret dream play stars Tymisha Harris as the titular entertainer – no pun intended – who broke down barriers as the first black woman to star in a major motion picture.

Having already appeared Off-Broadway and toured around the world with this act, Harris couldn’t be more comfortable in Baker’s skin – or her own, for that matter – and is clearly having a ball strutting her stuff. That confidence permeates the show in the best way possible, letting you know from the moment the performance begins that you’re in for a real treat.

Tymisha Harris as Josephine Baker

This piece covers Baker’s ascent to stardom as a sexy, banana-clad dancing sensation in Paris, her work as a spy during World War II, the various romantic entanglements that popped up along the way and finally her activism during the Civil Rights Movement.

It’s a startling history made all the more vivid by Harris’ elegant and enthusiastic delivery. Baker remains a beloved icon and Harris takes visible pride in portraying the nuances of her dazzling and daunting life.

In spite of being born in St. Louis, Baker was rejected by racist audiences upon her return to the States in the ‘30s. The pain of that rejection is reflected in the songs (Strange Fruit, The Times They Are A-Changin’) which Harris delivers with a powerful, unwavering voice. Special credit must be given to her sound technician, who manages to keep her vocals from deafening the audience. Goosebumps, however, are unavoidable.

Biographical one-person shows can sometimes struggle to maintain their momentum, but Harris paces herself well, jumping from song to dance to witty remark with the inexhaustible spirit of a seasoned performer. In spite of the show’s tight structure, she still manages to be playful and improvisational in her approach.

Magical flickering fingers and a knowing smile compliment her array of eye-catching costumes hidden amidst the boudoir-themed set. Harris even goes through the trouble of including a small statue in tribute to Baker’s pet cheetah “Chiquita”, regardless of whether audiences will even spot it – again, no pun intended.

From the smallest detail to the biggest flourish, Josephine dazzles. It stands easily as one of the best shows to ever play at the Montreal Fringe Festival and is, quite frankly, a must-see.

With the festival wrapping up this Sunday and tickets selling out fast, make your way over the Fringe website to secure your seats and swing by Josephine’s website for more information on the play.

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the plan to make seven Downtown Montreal metro stations free on weekends and the summer festival season beginning with Grand Prix and Fringe.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

The press release for What About Albert? had me at hello:

An absurdist comedy. A Godot inspired fever dream! Pick and Pod are two helpless part timers trapped in a restaurant that may or may not exist…

And the website offered the following advisory: Content Warning This show may depict existential dread and gore.

Be still my heart.

If Waiting for Godot is nihilism dressed in the somber, tattered suit of Chaplin-era tramps, this is a self aware romp of quick wit, wearing the face paint of a fast food franchise spokes-clown.

The script is artfully fast paced, like Gilmore Girls or Aaron Sorkin. No easy feat for writer Xander Chung or performers Jordan Prentice (Pod), Fanny Dvorkin (Pick) and Joseph Ste-Marie (Billy – puppet by Samantha Gold); it’s a trick that only shines when everyone’s on the same page, and here, they certainly were.

The stars delivered so much while their characters, by design, did very little. I was impressed by their performances: it was a lot of range to flex, and if they’d slipped up on the tosses and catches of the linguistic acrobatics, the whole thing would’ve collapsed. A risky prospect that succeeded wonderfully.

I definitely laughed more than expected, and the absurdly strange plot turns did not disappoint. There were truisms hidden in plain sight too, deep fried and ready for consumption.

When Pick says “Appetite and fries are all I have”, maybe I felt it a little too hard; in the end, it’s tasty experiences like this that add flavor to the weird ride we’re all on. Go check it out while it’s hot and fresh.

What About Albert? runs at the Montreal Fringe until June 19th. Tickets at MontrealFringe.ca

Photo by Joseph Ste-Marie, courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

To say that it’s wonderful to finally have the Fringe Festival back up and running would be a serious understatement. There’s a palpable sense of gratitude every night, as eager audiences and passionate performers exchange smiles of appreciation in venues up and down The Main.

After a two-year drought, we’re clearly desperate for some live entertainment, but that doesn’t mean any old thing will quench our thirst. Montrealers are a discerning bunch, so with that in mind, we offer the following reviews of shows currently featured in the festivities.

Tango on the Pointe (photo Andrew Clark)

Even those unfamiliar with dance will find themselves swept up in the enchanting Tango, to the Pointe – a sensual and spellbinding show that fuses Argentinian tango with classical ballet stylings to thrilling effect. Director/choreographer Alexander Richardson and partner Erin Scott-Kafadar bring the language of love to vivid life through movement in this eye-catching production, the Company’s fifth thus far.

It opens with an edgy number lit by LED lights before gradually progressing into more traditional tango territory. The dynamic duo slink across the floor to the sounds of spoken word, guitar and eventually accordion accompaniment, the likes of which causes legs to unfurl into dazzling spins.

Their crisp movements and astonishing flexibility early on give way to a softness and vulnerability that pulls you in during their third routine of the evening, set to pleading piano music. Tango, evidently, can be about more than simply building and releasing tension.

Mark Richardson and Erin Scott-Kafadar (photo Mark Ruddick)

Humor starts to creep in around the halfway mark, with Richardson playfully encouraging the crowd to marvel at his muscles before dancing a deconstructed tango with two wooden poles in the place of a partner. Scott-Kafadar busts out some unexpected moves all her own, including a moonwalk en pointe and a feat of strength so startling it’s best left unspoiled. By the time she’s twirling around with one foot in a pointe shoe and another in a stiletto, you’re likely to believe there’s little she can’t effortlessly handle.

It all comes together in a breathless finale punctuated by lifts that will leave you cheering and wanting more. This blend of tango and ballet is the dance equivalent of chocolate and peanut butter – a combination so satisfying you’ll never want to see them separately again.

The only complaint possible is that the final Montreal performance of Pointe is apparently already sold out. Luckily, their next stop is the nearby Ottawa Fringe festival, where they’ll dazzle audiences for six performances between June 16th and the 25th.

Isabel Fuentes and Alexander Cruz (photo Rana Liu)

Considering what’s unfolding in the United States right now, the timing couldn’t be better for an insightful piece of theatre that explores the complexities of an unplanned pregnancy. Regrettably, A Little Bit Pregnant, which plays at Mainline Theatre, misses the mark by a whole lot. This meandering play from Concordia student Kate Lavut recycles a series of well-worn cliches leftover from sitcoms long since departed in its depiction of two couples reacting to the news that one of them is with child.

The script skips over the crucial step of establishing compelling characters and jumps straight to the agonizing and hand-wringing over what must be done. Unusually long pauses punctuate the leaden dialogue, which consists of gems like “I wanted someone to want me!”, “I love to love you!”, “it was different then!” and the obligatory “my uterus – my choice!” By the third reference to “making love”, you’ll start to wonder if the playwright constructed this piece from fragments of an old Dynasty script.

What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in unintentional laughs. Alexander Cruz, dressed in a grandad sweater and perpetually fussing with his hair, brings welcome comedic energy to the role of Shane, particularly when blathering on and knocking over plants. He has zero believability as baby daddy to Isabel Fuentes’ Tasha, mind you, but her natural charisma and confident delivery are almost enough to help you forget that pesky little detail.

A Little Bit Pregnant Cast (photo Rana Liu)

The likeable Sarah Durocher (Maya) and Sanjeev Mannan (Tony) are given so little of consequence to do, they’re upstaged by their costume changes and a concealed bag of popcorn, respectively. It’s a real shame their character arcs are all as flat as a pancake because with material better suited to their strengths, it’s easy to imagine this cast carrying a more memorable piece fully to term.

That’s the charm of Fringing: sometimes you wind up seeing something polished and perfect, and sometimes you see emerging talents before they’ve fully found their footing. Either way, at these ticket prices, you’ll still spend less than you would at the multiplex. So, head on over to the Montreal Fringe website for more information and enjoy the remainder of the festival, which we’ll continue to cover here at Forget The Box.

The 2022 St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs through June 19. Tickets and info at MontrealFringe.ca

From June 9th through the 19th, the St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival will feature over 500 performances by 250 artists in 11 venues. That’s something that happened every June, until it didn’t.

For the past two years, the first event of Montreal’s festival season has only been able to offer completely virtual or hybrid versions. Now, as an early sign of things getting back to normal, the Fringe is back to full force.

With that in mind, here are some potential highlights:

What About Albert? A dark and absurdist comedy about fast-food workers? Hot-button topic meets Godot? That’s exactly what The Malicious Basement Theatre Company has in store for Fringe audiences with What About Albert?. Full disclosure: FTB regular contributor Samantha Gold did the set and costume design for this one, so that’s how it got on our radar, but we’re sure glad it did!

Velvet’s Greatest Tits Given this city’s love for all things burlesque, book your tickets to Velvet La Touche’s new show in advance. The talented Montrealer not only strips but plays classical piano at the same time. Two types of thrills for the price of one sounds like a good time, doesn’t it? Velvet’s Greatest Tits plays at Cafe Campus, though we’re happy to report she’s not the only sexy number in this year’s lineup.

Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play The story of famed entertainer Josephine Baker comes to life in the one-woman, bilingual musical act entitled Josephine: A Burlesque Cabaret Dream Play, at La Chapelle. Co-creator and star Tymisha Harris has been touring all over with this piece, which debuted in 2016 at the San Diego Fringe Festival and also appeared Off-Broadway in 2018. Hailed as “a triumphant homage to a life worth remembering” by CBC, this is likely to be a surefire hit.

The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery Fringe Fest offers all sorts of intriguing delights, such as The Family Crow: A Murder Mystery – a one-man puppet piece from Adam Francis Proulx playing at Le Ministere. Having already won awards at the London and Orlando Fringe Festivals, this one seems certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Who doesn’t love puppets?

Featured Image: What About Albert? by Joseph Ste. Marie Courtesy of The Malicious Basement Theatre Company

The St-Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival runs June 9-19 at various venues. For tickets and info, please visit MontrealFringe.ca

When Cirque Du Soleil first formed in ‘84, its goal was to shift the emphasis away from animals doing tricks and focus instead on the dynamic possibilities of the human form. Kooza makes good on that promise, delivering a celebratory, dizzying spectacle with more heart-stopping stunts than you may be able to handle.

Acrobats and clowns take center stage in this joyful production, which first debuted back in 2007 and has since been seen in 22 countries around the world. This return engagement under the Big Top in the Old Port marks an overdue homecoming for Cirque, after the terrible strains of the Covid-19 pandemic saw the company forced to pause 44 productions worldwide, file for bankruptcy protection and lay off thousands of workers. Judging by audience reactions this week, Montrealers are ecstatic to see Cirque reemerge in grand style on home turf with a show that speaks to the spirit of its artistic mission.

The colorful cast of Kooza tell the story of a child – the Innocent – as he’s welcomed into a whimsical world of wonders by a magical being – the Trickster – who helps his imagination take flight. If that premise sounds somewhat similar to a book you may have read as a child, bear in mind that it sprung from the mind of celebrated mime/clown David Shiner, who directed the original production and went on to star as – go figure – The Cat In the Hat in Seussical on Broadway.

As soon as he enters this vibrant new realm, the Innocent (Cédric Bélisle) finds himself in the presence of a King (François-Guillaume Leblanc) and his aids (Miguel Berlanga Madrono and Sean Kempton), who spend the majority of the show trying to reunite His Majesty with his crown. This simple concept is elaborated upon to great comedic effect, with Leblanc clearly having the time of his life, wriggling like a cartoon character made flesh. A warning, however: do not wear a hat to the show or he might end up swiping it and using it as a substitute.

Of course, for many the real draw here are the acrobats and in that regard this production does not disappoint. Three contortionists (Sunderiya Jargalsaikhan, Ninjin Altankhuyag and Sender Enkhtur) get the party started early with their mesmerizing formations and from there, Kooza’s motto might as well be “good things come in threes”, as a trio of highwire daredevils (Vicente Quiros Dominguez, Roberto Quiros Dominguez and Flouber Sanchez) up the ante with a goosebump-producing performance that’ll have you on the edge of your seat.

It’s one thing to see a performer navigate a tightrope without falling and quite another to see three men attempting it while supporting one another and dealing with bicycles, poles and chair. Set it all to some pulse-pounding music supplied by a six-piece band and two singers (Joanie Goyette and Kathryn Holtkamp) and you may just need to bust out the smelling salts.

Kooza’s true tour-de-force, however, is the terrifying Wheel of Death, which sees two thrill-seekers (Ronaldo Solis Montes and Angelo Lyerzkysky Rodriguez) spinning around the stage so quickly they become airborne themselves.

With highs, lows and near-misses, it’s an exhilarating display of daring and exactly the kind of number that makes one wonder whether these performers might possibly be from another world. Such is the magic of Cirque.

And yet, that magic is equally present in Kooza’s quieter moments as well, such as when one acrobat (Ghislain Ramage) spins himself around the stage in the ‘Roue Cyr’, gracefully suggesting the strength and resilient nature of man from one fluid movement to another.

It’s a literal full-circle moment for Cirque du Soleil in a show that continually reminds us that all we really need – as we spin around on this crazy little sphere we call home, narrowly avoiding disaster at every turn – is some flexibility, imagination and a good sense of humor.

Welcome back, Cirque. It’s been too long.

For ticket information, visit the Cirque du Soleil website. Kooza runs until August 14th at the Big Top at Jacques-Cartier Pier and then transfers to Gatineau, where it will run from August 25th until September 25th.

Images courtesy of Cirque du Soleil

It’s a rare and precious thing when an audience at a live show can’t even bring themselves to clap. People sitting in rapt attention and refusing to disrupt the what’s unfolding before them is a very good sign. Terrible productions always get tepid obligatory applause at regular intervals. Terrific ones paralyze.

All this to say, if you found yourself overwhelmed partway through Act One of Contact Theatre’s chilling production of Next To Normal, trust that you were not alone. The Pulitzer Prize-winning piece has packed a serious punch since it first debuted on Broadway in 2009, but this new production brought audiences even deeper into the drama thanks to the sensitive direction of Debora Friedmann, who also choreographed the piece.

Friedman and co-founder Ally Brumer, whose company is focused on staging musicals that “grapple with heavy moral issues and question the status quo”, have taken on one of the all-time heavyweights and proven they’re more than up to the challenge. The plot of Normal follows a suburban mother whose struggles with depression and the medical system reach a breaking point.

As uncomfortable a narrative as that may seem, Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics are overflowing with the kind of honesty and humor that make the exploration of such deep wounds extremely cathartic. Tom Kitt’s Tony-winning rock score, meanwhile, carries you through all of Diana’s ups and downs with soulful energy, especially when performed by a band as talented as this six-person group, under the guidance of gifted Musical Director/Pianist Giancarlo Scalia. It was worth the price of admission for the concert alone, but thankfully this production had much more to offer.

Making clever use of every inch of Studio Hydro-Quebec at Monument National, the creative team gave Diana’s family both the framework of a two-story home in which to grapple with their emotional problems and a large abstract space just beyond its walls, where all bets were off. The audience surrounded this area, getting an up-close-and-personal view of the performers.

Scenic Designer Nikki Mabias Melchor capitalized on this intimacy through the use of a platform that unmoored from the house and served as both a prison and an escape for the struggling heroine. As Diana dealt with therapy sessions or found herself literally torn between her husband and son, Friedmann – with assistance from lighting designer Christopher Wardell – used this cage to create a sense of movement and chaos, as well as some striking visual tableaus. It’s clear an abundance of thought was put into the staging of this production and the end results spoke for themselves.

Diana (Lisa McCormack) and the shadow of Gabe

The cast of amateur talent, meanwhile, cast serious doubt on the fairness of the term “amateur”. There were some truly great vocalists here, beginning with McGill law student Hannah Lazare (Natalie) and Dawson College theatre graduate Jake Cohen (Henry).

Between Normal and Carrie over at Mainline Theatre, Montreal stages seem to have had quite a few compelling young couples entertaining us lately. This duo’s acting chops helped flesh out Natalie’s journey as the daughter of a severely ill woman who is unable to relate to her.

Those familiar with Normal surely appreciated this production’s emphasis on the parallels between Natalie and Henry’s burgeoning romance and that of Diana and Dan, which has frayed to the point of breaking.

As the loyal and helpless husband, Joel Bernstein brought serious pipes and an impressive beard to his portrayal of Dan, who tries to keep his wife’s illness from swallowing them all up. Anyone who has had to watch from the sidelines as a loved one deteriorates could relate to his frustration and determination, which Bernstein delivered with conviction.

Lisa McCormack decidedly had some of the most challenging scenes in the piece, having to play multiple emotions at once while singing a score that proved daunting even for Broadway icon Alice Ripley. She managed well enough and connected in the big moments where it counted most, but – like Diana – was bolstered considerably by the strengths of those around her.

McGill graduate Cathal Rynne, for instance, almost singlehandedly fueled the piece as Diana’s confrontational son Gabe with his powerful belt and deceptively appealing nature. Rounding out the cast was Daniel Wilkenfeld as the various Doctors attempting to help Diana. His comedic flair and confident voice brought a lot to the party, even when his characters warned that “at times, it does hurt to be healed.”

The cast

After having their production of Chicago abruptly cancelled by the onset of the Covid 19 pandemic, Contact Theatre has bounced back beautifully with a show that’s sure to linger the hearts and minds of those lucky enough to have seen it.

Alas, Next To Normal only ran for one week, wrapping up its final performance yesterday evening. It truly deserved a longer run and has certainly proven that there’s an abundance of talent within Montreal’s English-language musical theatre scene, even when there’s sometimes a lack of financial support.

Perhaps it’s time for us all to make a little bit more noise – if not during a captivating performance, then afterwards, once the goosebumps have subsided – so that a company as capable as Contact can get the funding they require to reach as many live entertainment-starved Montrealers as possible. In these challenging times, good art can truly be the best medicine.

For more information, please visit ContactTheatre.ca or reach out to show your support via social media

Images courtesy of Contact Theatre

“Doesn’t anybody ever get it right?”

It’s a question the betrayed and broken-hearted Carrie White has been asking since 1988. And audiences have been right there with her.

Stephen King’s classic horror story about a tortured telekinetic teen made for a thrilling novel in ’74 and a chilling, Academy Award-nominated film in ‘76, but few believed it could succeed as a musical when Lawrence D. Cohen – who’d written the screenplay for De Palma’s movie – teamed up with FAME composer and lyricist Michael Gore and Dean Pitchford to try and tell the story through song. Carrie: The Musical was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in February ‘88 and landed on Broadway that April with a thud.

Critics on both sides of the Atlantic eviscerated the piece for its over-the-top theatrics, spastic Debbie Allen choreography, inexplicably Greek toga-themed costumes, weak special effects and incompetent storytelling. It closed in New York after 16 previews and five performances, losing 8 million dollars and earning the reputation of the flop to end all flops.

Nevertheless, elements of the score captured the hearts of musical theatre fans, who circulated bootleg recordings in the hopes that Carrie could somehow rise again. Those grassroots efforts compelled the creative team to revisit their wayward child in 2012, when they retooled the piece into something less outrageous and more true to the spirit of the book. That Off-Broadway incarnation rehabilitated Carrie’s reputation somewhat and even inspired the CW’s Riverdale to theme an episode of their show around the musical.

Now, the revised Carrie has made its way to Mainline Theatre thanks to the efforts of In The Wings Promotions, who must be credited for not only bringing this rarely-produced misfit of a show to Montreal audiences for the first time, but also for assembling a compelling cast of local talent.

Mary-Francis Kobelt steps into the challenging title role with charm and vulnerability. Though she begins as a quiet, hunched figure on the outskirts, her passionate vocals hint at the hopeful spirit trapped inside the body of a girl tormented by classmates and abused at home.

In the wrong hands, Carrie can come across as a cloying, one-note victim, but Kobelt takes care to make her portrayal a nuanced one, so you can root for her as she builds up her confidence and starts letting her guard down. Hers is a Carrie you half expect will make it through the prom unscathed.

It helps that she has the support of such an affable escort. As Tommy Ross, Jonathan Vanderzon brings an easygoing nature and sweet, clear voice to the often thankless role.

If it never quite made sense that a popular High School guy would agree to take an outcast to prom at the behest of his girlfriend, Vanderzon somehow connects those dots, effortlessly embodying that rarest of creatures: a genuinely nice guy without an ounce of ego or insincerity. The Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville native has clearly made good use of his training in the Big Apple and seems destined for great things.

Tommy Ross (Jonathan Vanderzon) and Sue Snell (Maya Lewis)

Similarly, Maya Lewis floats through each of her songs as the aforementioned Sue Snell, whose attempts to help Carrie ultimately end up backfiring. By the time she and Vanderzon sing the act two duet You Shine, they’ve all but walked away with the show.

Maria Del Real puts up a good fight, however, as the spunky and lovable Miss Gardner, who does double-duty as gym teacher and therapist to insecure Carrie. Though the revised version of Carrie still insists on having Gardner fill Carrie’s head with far-fetched fantasies of finding true love, Real mines Unsuspecting Hearts for humor, winning over both her doubtful student and the crowd with her can-do attitude and pleasant Mexican accent. If Carrie has typically been light on laughs, this cast at least knows where to find them.

It’s the thrills and chills that seem to be noticeably absent. Much of the fear factor in the original came from Tony Award winner Betty Buckley’s terrifying portrayal of a religious parent gone berserk. One could easily argue that her legendary, no-holds-barred interpretation of Margaret White is what kept the show from being completely dismissed and forgotten altogether.

Producer and costar Noelle Hannibal approaches the plum role of Margaret with noticeable hesitation, denying Carrie the tormentor it needs to justify its heroine’s emotional scars. There is no vocal belting or physical beating, and the show is weaker for it.

Aly Slominski throws herself more willingly into the role of mean girl Chris, with Dylan Stanley along for the ride as bad boy Billy, and though the two have fun, they simply don’t have as many opportunities as Margaret to give the show its edge.

Margaret White (Noelle Hannibal)

Musical director Ian Baird and his merry band of musicians (Gregory Kustka, Kevin Bourne and Colin Gé Pigeon Edwards) nearly compensate, delivering on the creepy, rock-inspired score with precision and gusto. Unfortunately, Carrie’s powers seem to have triggered a plethora of technical problems behind-the-scenes for Bruce Lambie’s sound design on opening night.

Microphones frequently crackled, popped and cut out randomly. For a space as intimate as Mainline, one would think it would suffice to do away with malfunctioning mikes altogether, especially since the cast is apparently able to sing out even while wearing face masks, as is presently required.

They cannot, however, be heard over the obnoxiously loud audio clips which punctuate the show with unwelcomed frequency. Simply put, some adjustments need to be made.

The staging, meanwhile, resembles more what you’d expect to see in a rehearsal space than an actual production. Black curtains and boxes are used to suggest Carrie’s home and the schoolgrounds, with precious few props handy to bring those environments to life. The presentation suffers as a result.

In And Eve Was Weak, for instance, Carrie’s mother is supposed to violently lock her daughter up, either in a basement prison, as seen in the Broadway show, or a closet, as depicted in the film. Here, Carrie is simply ushered to the back of the stage and left to kneel, as an ambiguous sound effect vaguely suggests the locking of a door. Audience members unfamiliar with this plot point were left puzzled.

Later, Carrie is supposed to dramatically reveal her powers to her mother by willing windows to slam shut during a thunderstorm. It would be a simple enough effect to pull off, but having provided no windows, set designer You Chen Zhang and director Nadia Verrucci leave their star to simply nod towards the audience as more sounds blast through the speakers, attempting to compensate for what should be happening in the theatre.

Two practical effects are employed early on to illustrate Carrie gaining control over her powers and they work rather well, but once we get to the prom scene – the scene that for many is the sole reason to watch any adaptation of Carrie – the creative team seems to simply throw in the towel. Astonishingly, lighting designer Alexander Smith opts to employ black lights during Carrie’s climactic meltdown in lieu of, say, red lights. Or better yet, plain old stage blood.

For a smaller scale production to cut corners is understandable. To deny Carrie audiences a blood-soaked finale is not, especially after the Broadway original and subsequent revivals were heavily criticized for the very same thing. Blood is very much at the center of the story being told, so even when working within the tightest of budgets, it’s worth prioritizing.

Having said that, one can’t help but hope Carrie will work out some of these kinks in the coming performances, because – thanks to its brave cast – there’s a real pulse behind this production that deserves to be celebrated. After two years of lockdowns, we’ve had precious little live theatre to enjoy, least of all unconventional theatre.

So even with its tragic elements, Carrie remains a curiously uplifting experience. Good or bad, right or wrong, love it or hate it – it definitely makes for a night you’ll never forget.

For tickets, please visit the MainLine Theatre website. Carrie runs through May 14th. For more information on the history of Carrie: The Musical, listen to the Out For Blood podcast, which chronicles the show’s fascinating development through interviews with its creative team and fans worldwide.

Images courtesy of In the Wings Promotions

The Montreal festival that launched the careers of comedy legends like Amy Schumer, Chelsea Handler, Dave Chapelle, and Jimmy Fallon is back, and it is back with a vengeance. That’s right comedy lovers, the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival has announced its 2022 lineup and it looks awesome.

This year’s festival features galas hosted by comedy legends including Hannah Gadsby, Jo Koy, Chelsea Handler, and Russell Peters. Concert events include live performances by Hassan Minhaj, Vir Das, and John Mulaney, whose work includes writing for Saturday Night Live and his standup specials like two thousand fifteen’s The Comeback Kid and Kid Gorgeous in 2018, the latter winning him an Emmy award.

As per Just for Laughs’ continued commitment to introducing the world to rising stars in comedy, the second season of New Wave of Standup is premiering on CBC Gem Tuesday, March 29, 2022. This show was filmed during Vancouver’s 2022 Just for Laughs Festival and aims to showcase the best Canadian comedians about to hit the big time.

The lineup includes Janelle Niles, a Black and Mi-kmaq comedian who raised awareness of indigenous causes with her show, Got Land?, the Montreal-based actor and comedian Nick Nemeroff, as well as Allie Pearse, who is known for her work writing for the award-winning show Letterkenny. Other performers include Hisham Kelati, whose debut album, Tigre King, was nominated for a Juno in 2022, Maddy Kelly, Hoodo Hersi.

These are just the acts that Just for Laughs has lined up so far, which means there’s more excitement to come. If this lineup is any indication, this is going to be one of the best Just for Laughs seasons yet!

The 40th Anniversary of the Montreal Just for Laughs Festival runs July 13-31. For info and tickets, please visit hahaha.com

The second season of The New Wave of Standup premiers Tuesday, March 29 on CBC Gem

Since the beginning of our collective Covid-19 nightmare, so many industries have struggled to stay afloat, perhaps none more than live theatre. After all, a big part of what makes taking in a show so special is the communal aspect of the experience.

There’s something therapeutic about sitting down with a bunch of strangers, listening to an overture and instantly being transported. How transported can one possibly feel, though, when just being in a crowd is cause for alarm?

Pandemics and live events simply do not mix. Thankfully, we seem to be easing our way out of the worst of it (touch wood), and as restrictions lift, Montrealers are slowly start trying to resume normal activities.

Are we really ready, then, to return to theatres? To sit amongst one another for over two hours and forget our problems? And crucially, are there any theatrical characters even capable of both reassuring and dazzling us?

Apparently, Jellicles can and Jellicles do. That’s right kiddies: CATS, the fourth longest-running musical in Broadway history is on tour and in Montreal this week, heralding a return to our habit of regularly playing host to popular Broadway shows.

Remember when Come From Away stopped by in 2019? Or The Book or Mormon in 2017? Remember how nice it was when we could expect the latest hit show from the Great White Way to swing by for a visit? Well, like a friendly tabby rubbing its nose against your elbow, this classic is back to remind us everything will be alright, and frankly, it’s not a moment too soon.

On the one hand, CATS is musical theatre comfort food in more ways than one. The show has a playful and varied score by none other than Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, with arguably one of the best musical theatre ballads ever as its crown jewel. It is also, of course, bursting at the seams with inventive choreography.

For this tour, the work of the late, great Gillian Lynne has been reimagined by Andy Blankenbuehler, meaning those who have seen CATS before can look forward to some slightly different moves this time around. There’s just something innately fun about watching dancers transform into felines right before your eyes, using little more than unitards, legwarmers, makeup and artistic expression.

For many, CATS has been a gateway drug to the magic of theatre and power of dance, so those experiencing it for the first time are sure to come away inspired. The show has a free-flowing narrative structure, having been based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, and as such demands little more from those in attendance than a willingness to surrender to its unique tone. Bottom line, audiences of all ages tend to get a kick out of this one.

On the other hand, though, there can be no denying that the public’s love for the material has been seriously tested by the lingering stench of the 2019 film adaptation. It’s difficult to think of a recent movie musical more universally loathed by the masses (sorry, Dear Evan Hansen).

Instead of taking its cues from the stylized costume designs that first took the world by storm in 1981, CATS the movie tried to go literal and use visual effects to transform the likes of Dame Judi Dench, James Corden, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Hudson into bizarre human/animal hybrid creatures. The end results were both laughable and disturbing.

The picture struggled to make its release date and then, after being rightly criticized for having shoddy CGI, sent out a modified cut with corrections days later. It was truly an unprecedented fiasco, and yet, it must still be said that director Tom Hooper was fighting a losing battle from the get-go.

CATS is one of those “out-there” concepts whose success depends entirely on the sensation of witnessing it live. People acting like cats up on a screen is not the same as people acting like cats around you in a theatre.

The suspension of disbelief is far greater when you know you’re being told a story in person and can feel the energy it creates. It also helps that at least in person, there can be no terrifying CGI blunders to take you out of the moment.

So all things considered, this tour is really serving two purposes. It will hopefully erase the flop film adaptation from our collective consciousness by reminding us what CATS is really all about, while also inviting us to return to our seats, so we can remember just how healing and joyful live theatre can be.

And it’s been a long time coming, considering this show was originally slated to entertain Montrealers in March 2020, only to be rescheduled for August 2020 and then delayed for an additional 18 months.

It’s a safe bet the energy from the audiences this week will rival that of the performers on stage, and why shouldn’t it? We’re overdue for some communal celebrating. Whatever new challenges may come in the weeks or months ahead, it’s definitely high time for the memory of brighter days to live again.

CATS runs at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier from March 8th to the 13th. Visit Evenko.ca or catsthemusical.com for ticket information

In 2020, the Just for Laughs Festival, a staple of Montreal’s festival season and the largest comedy festival in the world, went all virtual with a mini-fest for reasons evident to everyone. Last year, they offered a scaled back hybrid version with shows emanating from Montreal, New York and Los Angeles.

Now, for JFL’s 40th anniversary, the festival appears to be back in full force, making them the first major summer event to promise such a return. While most of the lineup has yet to be announced, we do know about two shows, two really big, Bell Centre-big shows:

Kevin Hart’s Reality Check Tour: Arguably one of the world’s most successful comedians, Kevin Hart has a long history with JFL. He was a breakout comic in 2001 as part of the New Faces series and has returned to perform several times over the decades.

Recently, he has been helping to promote up-and-coming comics as the chairman of the Laugh Out Loud Network. LOL has been presenting shows consistently at JFL for the past few years (minus the COVID years, of course).

In 2018, Hart sold out JFL’s largest venue, the Bell Centre, a space he returns to this summer. His Reality Check Tour stops in Montreal for one night only, Friday, July 29th at 8pm.

Bill Burr (Slight Return): Bill Burr was originally scheduled to perform here in 2020, but that didn’t happen for obvious reasons. He’s back year at the Bell Centre on July 30th as part of JFL and tickets from the original show are being honored at this one.

Burr is no stranger to JFL and a top comic on comedy stages worldwide, but he’s also no stranger to genre sci-fi audiences thanks to his appearance on The Mandalorian (honestly where I first discovered him) or to movie audiences (he co-starred in The King of Staten Island), or SNL fans (he hosted in 2020), Breaking Bad fans (he was a guest star) or fans of his own co-created show F is for Family. Plus there’s a whole new generation discovering his comedy in YouTube reaction videos.

I know, through his Monday Morning Podcast and his comedy, that he’s quite the avid sports fan. And everyone knows that he’s from Boston. So I wonder if, given his venue and the fact that the hockey team that uses it aren’t having, um, the best season, he may open with a dig at the Habs.

More acts are going to be announced soon, but for now it looks like JFL will be back at full force, and that’s a welcome development.

The 40th Anniversary of Just for Laughs runs July 13-31, 2022. More shows will be announced soon. For tickets to these two shows (Kevin Hart tickets go on sale Friday, February 18 at 10am) please visit hahaha.com

Yes, there are some new restrictions coming in Quebec, but they come into effect on Monday, so you can still partake in the two in-person events listed here (and, of course, the one that’s online as well). Plus they would be within the rules after the new measures come into effect.

It’s the holiday season, but there are still plenty of local arts events happening. Let’s get started:

Elizabeth Anne Malatestinic’s The Monarch at L’Annexe Dépanneur Café

Elizabeth Anne Malatestinic was always drawn to art pieces that made her want to reach out and run her fingers across the canvas. With her new exhibit The Monarch, the Hampton, New Brunswick native currently based in Montreal hopes to offer just that experience.

“If that means that the paint and colour changes over time, all the better,” she says, “I want my paintings to develop and age as all living things do.”

Seven of her works will be displayed at L’Annexe Dépanneur Café in Mile-End for a month. It will include The March of the Monarch, a 47×31 mixed media piece comprising of 205 hand painted butterflies arranged on a canvas creating a commentary on climate change, and its detrimental impacts on women, girls, and monarch butterflies.

The Monarch by Elizabeth Anne Malatestinic – Vernissage featuring live music by Ocean Charter of Values on Friday, December 17, 6-9pm. Exhibit up until mid-January 2022 @ L’Annexe Dépanneur Café, 200 Rue Bernard Ouest. More info on the Facebook Event Page

Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison

In his latest play, available on YouTube until tomorrow evening, acclaimed Montreal playwright, actor and musician Norman Nawrocki tells the little-known story of the six year imprisonment of 8579 Ukranian-Canadians during World War 1.

“Nawrocki blends Canadian history, emigration, racism, war hysteria, Ukrainian folkloric medicinal rituals & legend with family memory in the 40-minute long production.”

Run Nawrocki Run! Escape from Banff Prison is available to watch until December 17th at 9pm Eastern on Norman Nawrocki’s YouTube Channel

Happy Holidaze Cabaret

The Candyass Cabaret is back, as it is the third Friday of every month. This time around, the mood will be festive and the theme is the holidays (or Holidaze).

MCs are Damiana Dolce and Monica Hamburg, the audience is encouraged to wear ugly x-mas sweaters and “win mediocre prizes in our contest.”

Candyass Cabaret presents Happy Holidaze, Friday, December 17, 9pm (Doors 8:30pm) @ Cafe Cleopatre, 1230 Boulevard Saint-Laurent, 2nd Floor. More info on the Facebook Event PageFeatured Image: The March of the Monarch by Elizabeth Anne Malatestiric

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

It’s the winter, a time when indoor shows have traditionally been a refuge from Montreal winter. Unfortunately last year that wasn’t the case, for obvious reasons, but this year, we’re heading back to semi-normal. With that in mind, let’s get started:

Three More Weeks of #LECYPHER Thursdays

After five sellout shows, Urban Science are closing off 2021 with three more #LECYPHER Thursdays hip hop shows at Le Petit Campus. The concept is simple: Urban Science and their invited guests for the evening (local bands and DJs) perform and then it turns into a jam.

Tonight’s show features the Lotus Collective followed by Sonido Pesao on the 9th and Hawa B on the 16th.

#LECYPHER Thursdays run until December 16 (December 2 w/Lotus Collective) at 8pm at Le Petit Campus, 57 Rue Prince Arthur Ouest. Tickets available through LePointDeVente.com

Heather Mah’s Debut Solo Show Pomegranate Running at the MAI

Heather Mah has decades of experience in the dance world, but her first major solo show, Pomegranate, premiers this week at the MAI. The show pulls from Mah’s own family history and “draws a fragmented portrait of migration”.

The opening has already started at press time, but it runs three more times tomorrow and Saturday and the Saturday matinee is offered in audio description for the visually impaired audience, a first for a Montreal dance show and only the second time it is being offered in Canada.

Heather Mah – Pomegranate from Montréal, arts interculturels on Vimeo.

Pomegranate runs December 3 and 4 at 7:30pm (with a matinee on December 4 at 2pm) at MAI, 3680 rue Jeanne-Mance. Tickets available through the MAI Box Office

The Quintet L’Abîme Launch Their Debut Album with a Mini-Tour

L’Abîme is a relatively new Montreal-based quintet launching their eponymously-titled debut album on April 23rd. Before that, though, they will go on a three-stop tour of Quebec, starting next Tuesday, December 7th, in Montreal at L’Esco.

Their influences range from jazz to progressive rock to contemporary classical music. You can hear a sample below:

L’Abîme start their tour Tuesday, December 7 at L’Esco, 4461 rue St-Denis, info on the Facebook event page

Featured Image of Quintet L’Abîme by Ethel Laurendeau courtesy of Indie Montreal

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

This week, we have a couple of groups that we have previously covered for their virtual performances that have switched back to in-person. Let’s get started:

Titelaine Launch On veut vivre notre vie en vacances

What a better time than fall to think about summer vacation, or vacations in general. That’s probably what Montreal duo Titelaine have in mind with the October release of their album On veut vivre notre vie en vacances, which they’re launching in-person tonight.

We’ve already covered this band playing a virtual show, back when in-person shows weren’t possible, but now that they are, they are. They have already released the single Paranoïa ahead of the launch. Give it a listen:

Titelaine launch On veut vivre notre vie en vacances at Ausgang Plaza, 6524 rue St-Hubert, Thursday, October 7 from 8-11pm. Tickets available through LePointDeVente.com

Ghost Stories in the Flesh Courtesy of Haunted Montreal

Around this time last year, Haunted Montreal was forced to cancel its in-person ghost walks due to everything being locked down just before the Halloween season. They scrambled and came up with a virtual alternative which we reviewed and later a Victorian-themed holiday virtual tour which we also reviewed.

Since restrictions eased earlier this year, they have been back doing what they do best, in person haunted experiences. For the Halloween Season, they are offering three ghost walks: Haunted Downtown, Haunted Mountain and Haunted Griffintown, as well as a paranormal investigation. Yes, you have to get to all those neighbourhoods, but that’s part of the fun,

Haunted Montreal’s experiences are offered in both English and French on various dates and times until early November, please visit HauntedMontreal.com for the schedule and tickets

Featured Image courtesy of Haunted Montreal

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

It’s mid-September and POP Montreal is almost upon us. Next week, much of our coverage will be of that festival, so now let’s look at a few events taking place in the days before:

Candyass Returns to Café Cléopatra

Back in the before times (aka the years leading up to and including 2019), you could count on the Candyass Cabaret to rock, sometimes shock and always entertain the second floor performance space of Café Cléopatra on the third Friday of any particular month.

Now, after a long but unavoidable break (save for the odd virtual show), they’re back. Well, it’s not the full cabaret, instead it’s called the Candyass Cocktail, and it’s tonight, the third Friday of this particular month.

According to the Facebook Event Page: “It still may be the pandemic but the performers miss the audience so come and enjoy a little soiree of performances and seeing the artists”. Those artists include MC Jimmy Phule, Classy Clare, Diane Labelle Baladi, Salty Margarita, Martin le strecheur and more!

Candyass Cocktail is Friday, September 17th at 8:30pm at Café Cléopatra, 1230 Boul St-Laurent, 2nd Floor. Tickets are Suggested Donation $10

Tony Rust and the Mudhorses Album Launch

Montreal-based Tony Rust and the Mudhorses is a relatively new rock project from Rouen-Noranda-born Anthony Monderie Larouche (aka Tony Rust). They have been touring around Quebec and will be launching their debut album not once, but twice (due to COVID capacity restrictions) this coming Saturday in Montreal.

Their sound is largely influenced by the rock of the 60s and 70s. Give them a listen before heading out:

Tony Rust and the Mudhorses launch their debut album at L’Esco, 4461 Saint-Denis, Saturday, September 18 at 7pm and 9pm. Tickets available through Le Point de Vente

Haiti Betrayed and Invasion

This Saturday, the long-running Cinema Politica series of documentary film screenings presents two films: Haiti Betrayed (presented in the original French version with English subtitles) and Invasion. The first chronicles Canadian and US imperial intervention in Haiti both before the 2010 earthquake and following it. The second tells the story of the Unist’ot’en Camp standing up to the Canadian Government and corporations.

Haiti Traihi and Invasion screen at La perle retrouvée, 7655, 20e avenue, 6pm, FREE with a fundraiser on site for earthquake victims

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best

Now that the hybrid Just for Laughs is over, festival season continues. This week, we’ve got two Montreal summer mainstays back in different forms and a Rouyn-Noranda-based festival running a mini-fest in our city for the first time.

Let’s get started:

Osheaga Through the Ages

While it’s sadly true that Osheaga won’t be returning to Parc Jean-Drapeau with its 15th full event until summer 2022, the people behind one of Canada’s most popular music festivals have found a way nonetheless to be a part of Montreal’s 2021 festival season. Three ways, that is.

Osheaga Through the Ages will run in the Quartier des Spectacles during the month of August. The first part of this, Music on Paper, starts this Friday at l’Astral and runs until August 21st.

It’s an art and photo exhibit featuring the “most jawdropping and eye-popping photos from years past featuring images courtesy of acclaimed photographers like Susan Moss, Patrick Beaudry, Tim Snow, and others.” The exhibit will also showcase silkscreen posters created for the festival over its previous 14 incarnations.

The second part is a series of concerts at MTELUS and l’Astral featuring local acts that have performed at Osheaga in the past. The third part is a fashion show in collaboration with the Fashion and Design Festival on August 21st featuring over 50 artists, dancers, musicians and models

Music on Paper runs August 6-21 at l’Astral, 305 Ste-Catherine Ouest. For details on this event and the emerging schedules of the other Osheaga Through the Ages events, please visit Osheaga.com

FME de l’Avent Mini-Fest on the Banks of the Lachine Canal

The FME Festival (or the Festival de Musique Émergente en Abitibi-Témiscamingue) has been welcoming up-and-coming and top-name Canadian talent as well as audiences to its idyllic Rouyn-Noranda setting for close to two decades. This year, for its 19th Edition (September 2-5), capacity at the site will be limited and some might forego the nine hour drive from Montreal to avoid travelling far when the pandemic situation isn’t completely resolved.

With that in mind, organizers are bringing a mini-version of the fest to Montreal this weekend. Called FME de l’Avent, it runs this Friday, Saturday and Sunday on the banks of the Lachine Canal (Parc Riverain de Lachine, specifically) and features local talent performing in the genres of folk, rock, hip hop, funk and electro. Featured performers include Gab Paquet, Paul Jacobs, Mort Rose and more.

FME de l’Avent runs August 6, 7 and 8 at Parc Riverain de Lachine. Admission is FREE but limited to 500 people. For the complete lineup and tickets, please visit fmeat.org

Under Pressure is Back Online

The Under Pressure International Graffiti Festival is back for its 26th Edition. Last week, it held a street exhibit and dance party, but the official battles and DJ sets are this Saturday and Sunday. The big difference this year of course being that they will be streamed online.

The DJ lineup for Saturday from noon to 8pm is Killa Jewel, Manzo, Noyl, Eazy El Dee, Overflow and Ashl$n. There will also be an after-party from 8 to late, guided walks of the site and more DJs and MCs added for both days.

Under Pressure 26 runs on Twitch August 7 and 8. For schedule updates please visit their Facebook page

Featured Image: Beach House performing at Osheaga by Pierre Bourgault from the Music on Paper exhibit

If you know of an event that you feel should be covered, please contact arts@forgetthebox.net or music@forgetthebox.net

No promises but we’ll do our best