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

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

“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

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss the giant and expensive ring coming to Downtown Montreal and the reaction to it, Canada lifting the ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood (and Hema-Quebec doing something “distinct”) and Elon Musk’s plans for Twitter.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Montreal’s pilot project to allow the S.A.T. to serve alcohol without a last call, Russia banning 61 more Canadians, the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard defamation trial and more

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Jason C. McLean and Dawn McSweeney discuss Pope Francis’ planned visit to Canada to meet with Residential School survivors, Elon Musk’s attempt to buy Twitter (and Twitter’s attempts to block him), the City of Montreal moving forward on Falaise St-Jacques Park and more.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

Holly Rhiannon has had an affinity for the paranormal since she was a kid growing up in Winnipeg. She lived in a series of old homes, one of which her and her mother noticed had an unexplained window when seen from the outside.

“We realized that it was behind the closet,” she said in a phone interview, “so we had a party, and we had people guess what was going to be back there. And we broke down the back wall of this closet and revealed a whole secret room. It was very cool. And especially me as an eight year old, thought this is so exciting. We didn’t find anything like a corpse in there, which I think I was kind of hoping for. I was hoping for bones or treasure or something like that. It had an energy to it, and that third floor maintained that weird energy.”

Rhiannon also mentioned that her and her mother (her father was a “paranormal dampener”) frequently heard marbles rolling across the third floor from downstairs.

“We had someone come over once who was very in tune with the paranormal. And she told us that there was an old woman in a rocking chair who liked to sit in that room. And we also found out later on that there was a death of a young boy who we think may have been the one rolling the marbles around.”

When she arrived in Montreal six years ago, she went on the various ghost tours Haunted Montreal has to offer.

“I absolutely loved them. It was just right up my alley. And then during COVID, I started doing YouTube with my writing because I’m an author. And once I had that skill sort of under my belt, I thought this would be an amazing way to collaborate with Haunted Montreal.”

Rhiannon proposed a series of video ghost stories based on the company’s blogs to Haunted Montreal founder Donovan King. As anything officially released by the company needs to be bilingual, she enlisted her friend Marc Andre, known as Dr. Mab, to host the French videos.

The pair have started from the earliest blog entries (in 2015) and are working their way forward in time, but Rhiannon isn’t skipping ahead too much.

“I’m reading as I go because I’m one of those people who had gone through maybe the first few. And then I got a lot of the stories from the tours because I’ve been on all of them twice now, and I kind of didn’t want to spoil them at first because I know that some of the tour content is in the blogs as well. And now I’m actually coming across some of that…So I’m getting a chance to go through absolutely everything now, and it’s been really great.”

Here’s the most recent video:

Haunted Montreal’s Video Ghost Stories are available in English and French every Saturday on Haunted Montreal’s YouTube channel

Haunted Montreal’s 2022 season of in-person ghost tours has begun, check out HauntedMontreal.com for more

FULL DISCLOSURE: The author of this post also works as a tour guide for Haunted Montreal

Dawn McSweeney and Jason C. McLean discuss Elon Musk purchasing 9% of Twitter and not declaring it right away to make some cash, 10 Montreal streets going pedestrian-only for the next three summers and Will Smith being barred from the Oscars for 10 years.

Follow Dawn McSweeney @mcmoxy on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jason C. McLean @jasoncmclean on Twitter and Instagram

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

With things in Montreal headed back to almost normal, we’re almost ready to re-brand this column Shows This Week. Not yet, but soon. This week, though, it is chock full of shows.

Let’s get started:

Nuit Blanche Returns

Nuit Blanche is an event we have covered extensively in previous years, but this year, the closing night of Montréal en lumière kinda crept up on us. With the uncertainty of restrictions being lifted, we weren’t sure if was going to happen and at what level.

While some of it will be virtual and some experiences will close around midnight or 1am, it will feature music, visual arts, games, multidisciplinary events and more all across the city and will go all night (though no indication the metro will remain open all night as in previous years.

Highlights include Mouvement at Ausgang Plaza, Nuit Blanche at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 24 Hours of Vinyl and regular events like the outdoor activities in the Quartier de Spectacles and open galleries in the Belgo Building.

Nuit Blanche, part of Montréal en lumière, is Saturday, February 26. Full schuedule and map available at NuitBlancheMtl.com

Insolitudes 2 Concert Series: Three Themes, Three Shows, Three Universes

This week, Indie Montreal is reviving its Insolitudes concert series. The concept is simple: three nights (March, 1st, 2nd and 3rd), three themes (jazz, pop and electro) and three universes.

This event will feature The Liquor Store, Titelaine, Millimetrik and many other local acts.

Insolitudes 2 runs March 1, 2 and 3 , 8pm at Le Balcon, 463 Saint-Catherine Ouest. Tickets for all shows available through ThePointOfSale.com

The Massimadi Festival Continues as Black History Month Concludes

With Black History Month concluding for the year, it’s important to note that one of its key events, the Massimadi Film and Arts Festival, is still running until March 11th. Canada’s only Afroqueer film and arts festival is in its 14th edition and is available for free all across the country (online, that is).

Here’s a trailer for just one of the films that are part of this year’s official selection:

Massimadi Film and Arts Festival continues until March 11. This year’s selection is available at massimadi.ca

Ol’ Savannah + Lucy Lambert’s Violet Drift @ Quai des Brumes

This one’s not part of a festival, or a series, or a hybrid event, it’s just a couple of bands playing a showbar on St-Denis on a weeknight. And that, in and of itself, is a really good thing to be able to say once again.

Yes, it is literally the first night such an event is once again possible, and yes, it is limited capacity (55 people), but it’s also Ol’Savannah and Lucy Lambert’s Violet Drift, two local acts playing a local show in a local bar. Check out the video below to get an idea of one of the acts and then head out on Monday to the Plateau:

Ol’ Savannah + Lucy Lambert’s Violet Drift perform at Quai des Brumes, 4481 St-Denis, Monday, February 28, 9pm. Tickets available through ThePointOfSale.com

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

Osheaga is back! After being forced to cancel in 2020 and offering a stripped-down all-Canadian October edition last year, the summer’s biggest music fest is back in full force in 2022.

They just announced this year’s lineup and it’s as big as ever.

Foo Fighters, who were supposed to play both in 2020 and 2021, will finally make it across the border and headline Friday night. They will be joined earlier in the day by indie rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, British singer/songwriter Charli XCX, American rapper Big Sean and more.

New York-based rapper and producer A$AP Rocky is the big name closing off Saturday. French DJ Sébastien Léger, Hamilton rockers Arkells and New Jersey indie pop act Bleachers are among those also performing on the middle day.

Sunday night, English singer-songwriter Dua Lipa closes out the night and the festival for the year. She follows rapper and Pete Davidson buddy Machine Gun Kelly, Quebec City singer songwriter Safia Nolin, British indie rockers Glass Animals and many more local, Canadian and international acts.

This is the kind of mix Osheaga is famous for and once will be again.

Osheaga 2022 runs July 29 – 31, for the complete schedule and tickets (single day tickets on sale this Friday) please visit osheaga.com