Saturday, June 30, 2012

Montreal jazz fest journal ... the first two days

Barely three days after the Fringe Fest concluded with the lively Frankie Awards ceremony and dance party, I dived into another major cultural festival to cover for my column: the 33rd edition of the Montreal International Jazz Festival.

This year will be my fifth time covering the fest, and right off the bat, I have to admit that I am not a music expert, let alone a jazz music expert. At first, I felt a little intimidated rubbing shoulders with other journalists who can deftly analyze a jazz combo, musician or singer by its musical style and influences. I wasn't kidding myself; I was going to cover this festival the best way possible as a novice music reviewer eager to get exposed to all sorts of music that would be presented there and enjoy the experience to boot!

The jazz fest began on June 28, and for me, it launches with the opening cocktail party. This time, it took place at the Salon Urbain in Place des Arts' newly-opened concert hall for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. A beautiful reception room with a red colour scheme to it, the Salon Urbain was the perfect place for the opening cocktail. I settled back with a glass of champagne, as I partook with some delicious hors d'oeuvres, including delicious morsels of filet mignon, spicy Italian sausage, fresh cherry tomatoes (which were speared with tiny baster-like devices, filled with balsamic dressing that you squirted into your mouth as a chaser for the tomato), as well as Oriental noodle salad served in classic Chinese food takeout cartons (complete with chopsticks). And continuous music by a jazz trio led by local musician Francois Jalbert added to the rather relaxed atmosphere.

Then jazz fest head honcho Alain Simard addressed the gathering, stating rather happily that the jazz fest was taking place for the first time in about three years when the stretch of St. Catherine Street (where the outdoor shows are taking place) wasn't being torn up by road construction (which interfered with pedestrian traffic and some of the outdoor shows). Also appearing at the cocktail to make a few remarks was provincial finance minister Raymond Bachand, who seemed very tranquil and was enjoying the festivities (which is well earned, after the student protest crisis this past winter and spring ... then again he needs the rest, because their could be an election call before the end of this summer). And before departing, the good people at the jazz fest outdid themselves with the thank you gifts that were always given to the guests. This year, they gave everyone this year's edition of the jazz fest coffee mug (featuring the poster artwork), which was presented in an embroidered, reusable black bag. That mug is a fine addition to my collection, and will make for interesting weekend morning cups of tea that goes with breakfast.

I then proceeded to the main outdoor stage at the Place des Festivals, which was the site of the opening free concert. Me and about 100,000 other people gathered in front of the TD Stage to catch a concert by Montreal-born musician-singer Rufus Wainwright.  Wearing a sparkly red shirt, Wainwright presented a rather entertaining show and did not disappoint at all. One of the highlights of the show was when he invited practically every member of his family (which included his aunt Anna McGarrigle ... his mom was the late Kate McGarrigle).

The following night, June 29, I caught my first indoor show of the fest. It featured Melody Gardot, a jazz singer from Philadelphia whom came highly recommended by a good friend of mine. This was first time I heard of her, but based on the full house that greeted her at Salle Wilfrid Pelletier of Place des Arts, she must have quite a following here in Montreal. In fact, the audience gave her an enthusiastic standing ovation as she walked on the stage (and before she even sang a note!).

Experiencing her 90-minute show, I can readily see why Ms. Gardot has that following. She takes torch singing to a whole new level, combining jazz, blues, African and Latino rhythms (and she's quite adept at the piano and guitar). Even when she does a little improvised scat singing, it's enough to steam up your glasses. Basically, a show of soft, sultry tunes which was perfect for a soft, sultry summer night in Montreal.

After taking a break today (June 30), it's back to the fest tomorrow night to check out some free outdoor shows. Back to the indoor shows on July 2 with Nellie McKay, followed by tribute shows to Bessie Smith and the Rat Pack (circa 1960), singer Sarah MK and the fifth edition of "The Battle of the Bands", starring the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras.

I'll be back soon with another report from the 33rd Montreal International Jazz Fest. Enjoy the cool tunes during this hot summer week.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 Montreal Fringe Fest ... It's A Wrap!

After nearly three weeks of off-the-wall shows of all stripes, "flyering", venue-hopping, a mac & cheese cook off, the 13th hour, 11-second dance parties and the famous beer tent, the 22nd edition of the St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival is a wrap.

This was the first Fringe Fest that I covered for my Grapevine column in the West End Times, and I have to admit, I wondered why I waited so long to finally tackle this festival that exposes you to so many fun shows that you usually won't find in the mainstream entertainment world ... and that's what the beauty of this festival is all about. Thanks to the June 4 "Fringe-For-All", and plenty of recommendations from Fringe staff, volunteers and longtime devotees, I was able to zero in on which shows to catch. As a result, I saw 11 Fringe shows in nine days (not bad for a rookie).

So in no particular order, here are my favorite shows from this year's Montreal Fringe Festival:

-"My Exploding Family". This physical comedy by the Japanese theatrical company Osara Soup was a surreal delight. The trio that pranced around in garishly coloured makeup and costumes (even offstage, as they traversed along St. Laurent Blvd. between shows) and their ability to pull off a great deal of physical and visual comedy sketches (including my favorite routine, in which an index finger goes on an arduous journey) just grew on me as the show progressed. It's like a combination of a Japanese Kabuki show and a three ring circus. No wonder it won the top prize of Best English language production at the Frankies Awards ceremony which capped off the festival (the trio is pictured below accepting their prize).

-"Gaulier Made Me Cry". The spirit of such classic comedy duos as Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello is alive and well in this 30-minute production, which relates the story of Kendall, a hapless, happy-go-lucky individual, who goes on an intensive 13-day workshop to learn how to be a clown by Gaulier, a veteran French clown who is a difficult, impossible and hopelessly demanding teacher. The dynamic duo of Jessica Fildes and Kendall Savage tells this story with plenty of humor, empathy and lots of cream pies. The end result is a fun romp and the messiest looking stage I ever saw ... and yet, you'll enjoy the way it got so messy.

-"The Last Man on Earth" may sound like an apocalyptic piece of drama, but this classical encounter of innocence vs. evil is a terrific tribute to the golden age of silent film comedy, when Chaplin, Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Harry Langdon ruled that domain. And what's so great about it was that the Keystone Theatre group paid attention to every detail that made up a typical silent movie about 90 years ago ... that meant title cards, white face makeup on all the performers, live musical accompaniment with an old-fashioned upright, tinny piano and the reliance of facial expressions and physical gestures to tell the narrative sans dialogue (all that was missing was the flickering lights effect). Special kudos to Sarah Joy Bennet, who played the role of Minion, the Devil's pet bat and devious companion, who stole the show with every scene she appeared in.

-"Tinfoil Dinosaur". Victoria, BC native Sam Mullins gives a funny and poignant performance of his struggles to become a professional actor in Vancouver, and ends up working as a waiter in a chain restaurant, and how he found purpose thanks to a simple customer request of sculpting a dinosaur made of tinfoil. It shows how amazing one simple thing can be a major change in one's life. It's a fine example of what a solid, storytelling solo show should be.

-"Nothing Never Happens in Norway" became a sensation at the Festival, playing to sold out crowds during the fest's home stretch. It's an original musical comedy by the Montreal-based troupe Processed Theatre, which tells a story of love, betrayal, promises and infidelity in 19th century Norway, the land of Ibsen and fjords. Another scene stealer was the actress (whose name escapes me, I apologize), who plays the witty and sarcastic maid who does a great job breaking down that fourth wall between the performers and the audience.

-”Pitching Knife Fight” is local columnist Walter J. Lyng’s hilarious spoof of how movie ideas get pitched in Hollywood. The audience members are the potential “investors”, as Lyng combines his love of pop culture and action movies to pitch his idea of a 23-film action movie franchise called “Knife Fight”. He covers everything from concepts, casting, merchandising and even related charitable tie-ins (“Knife Fight Cares”) … and it even has its own original theme song (which was recorded by a Montreal punk rock band). Lyng’s suggestions are so off the wall, that they practically make sense to any potential investor or Hollywood producer. After seeing “Pitching Knife Fight”, all I have to say is “Walter, to whom do I make the cheque out to, and for how much?”

And finally, one thing that stood out for me at the Fringe Fest was the amazing way the shows were cross promoted. Besides the plethora of flyers, posters and cards that were plastered throughout Fringe Park, St. Laurent Blvd., and every festival venue, several performers from different shows were always present in the audience. At the conclusion of each show, the onstage performers encouraged those in the audience to shout out which shows they were appearing in, where it was playing and when. This is what I call true camaraderie, and was amazed how close knit these performers were, who would go the extra mile to support each other and their respective shows.

Before I close the book on this year's Fringe Fest, there are several people I have to thank for their accessibility and personal touch that helped make my first Fringe Fest an unforgettable experience. Festival Director Amy Blackmore gets a thank you and congratulations (along with her professional and volunteer crew) for staging such a great festival (not to mention taking the time to introducing herself to me at the June 4 launch and making me feel very welcome). Another big thank you goes to Communications Director Kathryne Radburn for all of her tremendous help (especially for her quick reply to my request for media accreditation and the lengthy conversation we had at the Mainline Theatre prior to a show one Sunday afternoon, in which she gave me plenty of show recommendations -- many of which I managed to catch). And finally, special thanks to Fringe personnel (professional and volunteer) Shayne, Sarah, Paula, Rose and Cassandra from the Quebec Drama Federation for their encouragement and respective show recommendations. Without any of the above-mentioned people, I would have been hopelessly lost!

Now I can proudly say that I am a Fringer. Bring on #23!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Favorite Just For Laughs memory -- George Burns, 1993

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Just For Laughs, which began in 1983 as a two-day festival (in French only, the English side began in 1985), and has grown and evolved into probably the premier comedy festival in the world. As a result of its international success, Just For Laughs has turned Montreal into what many media deemed as "the Cannes of Comedy".

I've attended every Just For Laughs festival since 1986 in various capacities, from spectator, to onstage participant, to festival employee, to my current status as a member of the press corps (I have been covering the fest for the Montreal-based weekly The West End Times since 2008). Throughout this time, I have had my share of attending shows, hanging out backstage at several venues, to encounters with many up-and-coming comics and legends of comedy (and there have been plenty of them). And with all that, there have been plenty of funny, unusual, bizarre and special memories that I have always enjoyed recounting with friends and acquaintances who have also attended their fair share of Just For Laughs festivals.

People always ask me what is my all-time favorite Just For Laughs memory, and believe me, there are so many, I could put it all together in book form. However, there is one memory that I will always recall with a great deal of fondness, because thanks to chance and luck (and a great deal of subtle persistence), I got the rare opportunity to have a personal (yet brief) encounter with a true comedy legend.

The year was 1993. I was working in research and development for the recently-opened Just For Laughs Museum of Humour (which opened, coincidentally on April Fool's Day ... and it snowed that day!). The museum's main attraction at the time was its inaugural exhibition "Laughing Matters", a multi-media, interactive history of comedy and humour through the ages (I was assigned to research the part of the exhibition that dealt with American TV and radio comedy ... imagine getting paid to do that!).

Another part of the museum was the International Humour Hall of Fame, which started inducting English-language comedy pioneers two years earlier with the late Milton Berle, with Jerry Lewis and the Royal Canadian Air Farce becoming inductees during Just For Laughs' 10th anniversary edition in 1992. For its full year of the museum's operation, the festival and museum decided its hall of fame inductee would be a true living legend of comedy: George Burns. For those who are not students of classic comedy, George Burns was the gravel-voiced, cigar-smoking comedian who could tell great stories about his long lifetime in show business, tell some snappy jokes and "sing" a few old time ditties. He was also a best selling author, an Oscar-winning actor (he won as Best Supporting Actor in 1976 for his performance of aging vaudevillian Al Lewis in the hilarious "The Sunshine Boys"), and was best known as half of the popular comedy duo Burns and Allen for four decades through vaudeville, movies, radio and TV with his partner (and wife) Gracie Allen.

By 1993, Burns was 97 years old, still kept a busy schedule and was still performing in major concert halls around the world; in fact, he was signed to perform at the London Palladium on the occasion of his upcoming 100th birthday in 1996. It was only appropriate that with such an enduring, impressive career in show business, where he rubbed shoulders with and performed alongside some of the greatest names ever in the industry's golden age (his best friend was Jack Benny), that Burns become the next International Humour Hall of Fame inductee.

There was a lot of excitement that was generated when Just For Laughs announced that George Burns would be coming to Montreal during the festival to accept this honour. And as an added bonus, he was scheduled to perform a special one-man show at Place des Arts on the second-to-last night of the festival.

That sense of excitement was instilled in myself, too. I mean, it's not every day that such a living legend  who practically spent his entire lifetime in show business would be coming to my hometown. Also, I had a personal goal to realize during Burns' brief trip to Montreal that July. Since 1988, I began to collect autographs of many of the comedy legends who appeared at Just For Laughs, when comedian/musician/author (and first Tonight Show host) Steve Allen autographed the cover of my copy of the festival program book (because I didn't have my copy of his 1960 memoir "Mark It and Strike It" handy at the time). From there, I decided to build a specialized collection of autographed books ... books written by comedians who would be making their way to Montreal for the festival. It continued in 1991 when Milton Berle signed my copy of his Joke File book. It then continued with autographed tomes that I managed to get from Jerry Lewis, Allan King, David Brenner, Joan Rivers, Dick Cavett, Carl Reiner, Bill Maher, Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna), Ed McMahon, Cheech & Chong and John Cleese. For me, the proverbial brass ring would be having George Burns sign my hardcover copy of his 1976 memoir "Living It Up".

But how would I accomplish this?

Call it sheer dumb luck. That year, one of my main assignments for the festival was to help man the info kiosk the Just For Laughs Museum had in the lobby of the Delta, in order to attract artists and industry people to visit the museum and the exhibit. One person I saw at the booth was an elderly man in his 80s, who was about my height. I checkout out the name on his festival pass and it was Irving Fein. All of sudden, a bell of recognition rang in my head. I knew who this guy was ... he was George Burns' manager! I decided to introduce myself to Irving, and to break the ice, I told him that I read his 1977 biography of Jack Benny, the other legendary comedian whom he managed for many years. We talked for about a good 15-20 minutes about the book, the museum, and how Burns was enjoying his stay in Montreal. I figured this was the time to ask Irving that question if I could get George to sign my copy of his memoir. "Sure," he said. "Come see me at the museum following the induction ceremony and I will make sure he will autograph it for you." Bingo!!

Flash forward to the day of the induction ceremony. I was at the Delta Hotel lobby before I left for the museum, when I noticed something peculiar. George Burns was being transported around in a wheelchair, looking rather frail and every one of his 97 years. Was this the same George Burns who won an Oscar and a lot of laughs as Sunshine Boy Al Lewis? Or in the title role of "Oh, God!"??? Well those worries was put to rest when I saw him onstage to accept his International Humour Hall of Fame trophy, which was in front of a packed crowd of admirers, performers, industry people and media on the main floor of the museum. What I saw was the same George Burns that I was accustomed to seeing on TV and movies (walking arm and arm with two hot young women on either side of him). He was vibrant, sharp and answered every question thrown at him with a snappy reply; it was if he shed about 20 years off from his life. It just seemed that being onstage was the elixir to rejuvenate him, which turned him on like a light switch.

Well, George had a full hour or so with this crowd of admirers. He accepted his award with a lot of grace, answered questions of different topics (especially about how he manages to keep a daily schedule of activities at his advanced age); and there was even a mini-incident, in which a bound stack of rectangular-shaped confetti (which was thrown from the top floor of the museum's atrium), plummeted down at great speed and missed hitting Burns' head by a mere few inches (I just hate to think what would have happened if the bound confetti found its legendary target!).

As Burns left the stage, Irving Fein found me in the crowd and approached me.

"Stuart, I'm sorry, but I won't be able to have you meet Mr. Burns and have him sign your book. He has run behind schedule and has to rest for his show tonight," he said to me apologetically.

"Irving, it's no problem. I completely understand," I replied.

And everytime I tried to tell Irving it was no problem, he constantly apologized to me and explained George's situation. After all, I had no basis to argue with him. Burns was 97 years old and not as energetic like he used to be. And he did need his rest not only for his solo show at Place des Arts, but also a brief appearance at that evening's gala at the St. Denis Theatre, which was hosted by the late John Candy.

After a few more "I'm sorrys" and "I understands" exchanged between the two of us, Irving then paused. "Come with me," he said rather quickly. He then escorted me through the cordon of security people that were stationed at the entrance to the rear of the museum building, where a large black limousine was parked with its motor running.

He then opened the rear door and there was George Burns sitting comfortably in the back seat of the limo. "George. This is Stuart, and he was wondering if you could autograph his copy of one of your books," asked Irving.

Burns then gingerly took my book (where it was opened to the title page) and my pen, and signed it with the inscription "Best, George Burns" and then returned both to me.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Burns," I said with a mixture of awe and gratitude.

He quietly acknowledged it with a smile and a wave. As soon as it began, Burns turned around in his seat, Irving got into the front seat and the limo quickly drove away to the Delta Hotel.

I stood there for a moment feeling rather stunned and with a great sense of accomplishment. I looked down at the inscribed title page and realized that I just went through a hell of a brush with celebrity, not to mention I grabbed that brass ring!

As I headed back into the museum, that sense of accomplishment was still with me. As the gathered crowd dispersed, I noticed many industry people and journalists, many clutching a copy of one of Burns' books that they purchased that morning at the local Coles bookstore, expressing their disappointment that they never got a quick face-to-face with George Burns and get their books autographed. I guessed it proved how timing, luck, and a vast knowledge of comedy history can pay off once in a while.

A postscript: Burns performed a memorable solo show at Place des Arts, and during his brief gala appearance, moved the audience (and mostly everyone backstage) to tears with his touching song that paid tribute to his late wife (and comedy partner) Gracie Allen. And unfortunately, due to his increasingly frail health as he advanced with age, Burns never did make that show at the London Palladium (it was later changed to Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas). He died in 1996, just a few weeks after he celebrated his 100th birthday.

My autographed copy of Burns' memoir "Living It Up" still holds a special place in my bookcase. And just when I thought I could never surpass the high calibre of autographed books to add to my growing comedy collection, another brass ring quite accidentally fell on my lap. In the summer of 2010 (immediately following that year's Just For Laughs festival), I took a well-earned week-long vacation to Las Vegas. While killing a couple of hours before catching the Cirque de Soleil's Beatles show "Love" at the Mirage, I went across the street to the Palazzo, where there was a branch of the renowned Bauman Rare Books store. I got to talking with Megan, one of the store's employees, whom I quickly found out not only shared my passion for books, but also for classic movies and TV. She then showed me one of the store's recent acquisitions, a copy of Groucho Marx's memoir "The Secret Word Is Groucho"about his hit TV 1950s game show "You Bet Your Life". And best of all, it was autographed by the one, the only Groucho himself. After some brief back-and-forth negotiations -- not to mention the incentive of free shipping -- the book was finally mine.

Believe me, getting that rare tome autographed by my favorite comedian was quite a find and another fine addition to my library.

However, I didn't have to go through the same lengths that I did to get George Burns' autograph during that eventful summer at the 1993 Just For Laughs festival (although a brief face-to-face encounter with Groucho would have been a bonus!).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fringe Festival gets off to a frenzied, free-for-all start

This year, I decided to cover the Montreal St. Ambroise Fringe Festival, because I have heard so much about the wide variety of comedy, dance and performance arts shows that border on the off beat and the way out. As a Fringe rookie, I was quite overwhelmed at the huge number of shows that were announced as its line-up was unveiled at a press conference (and chili cook-off) that was held last month.

I was still scratching my head about which shows I should catch when I was invited to attend a rather unique event that not only officially launched the 22nd edition of the Fringe Fest, but also doubled as a "sampler" to what kind of shows one could expect during the fest's three weeks. It was called the "Fringe-For-All", and was a frenzied blitz of about 93 of its local-based shows that gave the overflowing crowd at Cafe Campus an idea of what these shows would be like ... and all in two minute snippets per act.

Was I able to survive and withstand this fast and furious blitz of 93 acts in four hours? Stay tuned to this blog later and find out.

This Fringe-ful evening of June 4 began on a rather tranquil note with a 5 a 7 launch reception at the Petit Campus, a small annex of the Cafe Campus facility. The first impression I got as I entered the Petit Campus was that the people who work for the Fringe (volunteers and paid staff) are very friendly, accommodating and do everything and anything to the best of their abilities to make sure everyone is made to feel welcome; overall a good first impression.

Second, these people enjoy their work and like to have fun. Case in point, I noticed the nametags that every festival personnel were sporting had a rather unusual nickname which accompanied their normal name. I asked Alexandrine, a very pretty and charming young lady who greeted the guests at the door and handed out our festival super passes, what these nicknames were all about. She told me that in honor of St. Ambroise brewery, the festival's chief sponsor, all the employees were asked to choose their official nickname, but it had to be the name of a local or international brand of beer (Alexandrine's name was "Bintang" -- which sounded like a rather racy term that came out of the Vietnam War -- but is actually the name of a brew that's made in Indonesia).

While munching on some rolled up cold cuts, crudites and fresh fruit, and admiring the Fringe Fest swag that was given to us (which included the fest's brand new reusable beer cup, a lanyard, a St. Ambroise bottle opener and even a St. Ambroise brand condom), Amy Blackmore, the Fringe Fest's bubbly and very personable director, explained to the gathering the set of values to why The Montreal Fringe Festival has been so successful for over two decades.

“Anyone can apply. Artists that are accepted to perform can do whatever they want. One hundred percent of the money from ticket sales go directly to the artist. Ticket prices are low to keep the festival accessible to everyone. And word of mouth is key,” she said.

I have to give Amy a lot of credit for making the extra effort to personally introduce herself to practically everyone who attended the launch reception, especially those who are Fringe rookies (like myself), so that we were made to feel welcome. She ably proved that she is just as accessible and down-to-earth like the festival she is at the helm of. When Amy spoke with me, she remembered me from the days when I did my "Book Banter" segment on Peter Anthony Holder's show on CJAD for 19 years. In fact, she related to me the time when she won a couple of books from us during our monthly "Fire Sale" broadcasts (one of them was a Christmas book that she reads every year as the holiday season rolls around). Imagine that ... My first encounter with the director of the Fringe Festival and we already have a connection. My inaugural Fringe experience is really getting off to a great start. It can only get better.

Well, 7 p.m. rolls around, and everyone makes their way upstairs to the main Cafe Campus venue, where an overflowing crowd of Fringe Fest fans, artists and personnel eagerly await the highly-anticipated "Fringe-For-All" showcase.

And now, may I present another case in point to how the Fringe Fest people take good care of their sponsors and the media. The first three rows at the venue were reserved for us, which gave us an exclusive vantage point to sample these 93 performance tidbits (and take better pictures for our newspaper columns and articles). And each seat was covered with a pile of promotional flyers, postcards and pocket-sized items (like chocolate loonies and cocktail umbrellas, and in some instances, gift bags and bags of party mix) from many of the highlighted shows that night, in order to help make our choices of what shows to catch. And also, our press kits included a  three-page list of all the acts in order of appearance, with an allotted space beside each entry to mark down our comments (it was almost like a Fringe Fest scorecard).  And I have to give a special mention to the people behind the production of "Maluron Malurette", a French-language musical set in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s. In order to promote their show to us media types, they handed out to us their promotional postcard attached to a mini jar of homemade raspberry preserves (how can I not see this show, I ask myself, as I spread a dollop of that tasty homemade jam on my toasted bagel?).

So, after cramming my press kit with all these promotional items/seat covers, and show order list and pen in hand, I was ready for the "Fringe-For-All" to assault my sense and sensibilities.  

What a showcase it was! A wild melange of practically every performing arts discipline was on display for us to consider and choose. There was comedy, dance, drama, fine arts, performance art, song, burlesque and even old time radio and roller derby that had me laughing, amazed, astounded, mystified and at times, scratching my head and wondering to myself "Huh?!?" (but the latter were few and far between).

Alright ... you maybe asking yourself, "did Stuart manage to survive those 93 acts in two-minute snippets each for a total of nearly four hours?" My answer, dear reader, is an unequivocal, undisputed YES. Thanks to the "Fringe-For'All", my choices have been more defined and have been narrowed down to seven shows so far (so I could leave some room to catch several international acts). And here are my top three choices of the local Fringe Fest shows that I will definitely be making my way to catch over the next couple of weeks:

*”Tough!”, a solo musical comedy show with a boxing theme to it, featuring Montreal comic/actress Kirsten Rasmussen.  It’s a face-to-face showdown between a troubled lounge singer and an up-and-coming boxer … all rolled into one person. I was deeply impressed with Ms. Rasmussen and her wide-eyed, kinetic energy not only as a stand-up, but also as one of the emcees of the “Fringe-For-All” (in the guise of her alter ego Kiki Razzle, who will also be assuming co-hosting duties at the late night L’Apres Fringe shows). Her ability to keep the audience entertained between each act (along with her fellow emcees) with a lot of humour and enthusiasm and never show any signs of slowing down was something that really stuck with me that evening. She could be my “discovery” of the festival; and if she carries off this show like she did as an emcee, Kirsten Rasmussen should be one of the brightest up-and-coming talents in the Montreal comedy scene.
*”The Little Prince as told by Machiavelli”. This is what happens when you cross one of the most allegorical, charming works of modern literature with one of the darkest, starkly realistic political books ever written.  Mixing whimsy with brutal pragmatism, Saint-Exupery’s story of the Little Prince is given a literal Machiavellian twist and the end result is a hilarious literary satire that is not to be missed.
*”Let’s Start A Country!”.  Did you ever go to a Fringe show and ended up building your own mythical country? Staged by the That’s Enough Drama company, “Let’s Start A Country!” is a comedic exercise in nation building and participatory democracy, as audience members help the group set up a new country by deciding everything from its laws, to its customs, to its currency. By the way (speaking of currency), if the members of the troupe/new nation citizens decide to throw copies of their new paper currency into the audience, I hope they don't attached lollipops to them. That's what they did at the "Fringe-For-All" and I got beaned by one of those flying candy-laden currency.
There you have it. My initiation to the Montreal St. Ambroise Fringe Festival is complete. Armed with my notebook, pen, camera, Fringe Fest program book and reusable Fringe Fest beer cup, I am ready to experience the offbeat, unconventional, and unusually entertaining shows and spectacles that they have to offer. To indirectly quote the adline that was used for the 1975 film version of The Who's rock opera "Tommy", my senses will never be the same.