Burlesque meets accordian: Squeezebox Cabaret, a Fringe review

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Squeezebox Cabaret (Garneau Theatre)

“We wrote a song about COVID for you…. Just kidding.”

There is some mesmerizingly kooky about a burlesque cabaret that’s presided over by a flamboyant accordionist, doing squeezebox covers of pop songs, annotations, introductions as the dancers arrive onstage. Is it the instrument itself folding and unfolding as it does (a possible metaphor)? Is it the unusually exuberant personality of Tiff Hall, who presides with good-natured gusto, and volume, over proceedings?

It gives you some idea of the general demeanour of Squeezebox Cabaret, this new House of Hush burlesque, that she kicks off with a rendition of Rihanna’s “work work work work work.” Yup, as long as there’s a tassel to be twirled and a feather boa to be flung, a burlesque artist’s work is never done.

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Anyhow, burlesque is by nature a teasing and playful sort of vaudeville. The art is in the rhythm of cover-up and reveal, which, come to think of it, is a quality it shares with theatre as diverse as murder mysteries and one-person confessionals. As Chekhov noted in a somewhat different vein, if there’s a gun in Act I, it has to be shot in Act II. In burlesque, if there’s a corset lace, it must be unlaced. A zipper must be unzipped, a strap unstrapped.

But I digress. The Squeezebox Cabaret (named for the double-entendre Pete Townshend song?) features four of Edmonton’s burlesque artists accompanied by the irrepressible accordionist, who has a delivery about as shy as a wrestling commentator. She tucks full-on into songs that have an amusing relationship to the progressive doffing in progress.

A veteran of such historically adventurous burlesque ventures as Send in the Girls’ Tudor Queens and the Brontë Burlesque, LeTabby Lexington, a House of Hush co-founder, does a vintage peek-a-boo double-fan dance, to Let It Down Easy (“and show me what you got”). Scarlett Fussion, in Western mode, takes off pretty much everything except the cowboy hat, to the strains of Lil Nas’s Old Town Road (“I’m gonna ride till I can’t no more”).  Amusingly, Holly Von Sinn performs to Dancing on My Own, with the tortured look and operatic gestures more usually associated with the fall of the House of Atreus.

In fact, curiously, there’s a lot of tragic intensity associated with many of the numbers. The funniest might well be Judy Lee’s straight-faced burlesque account of the Miley Cyrus song Wrecking Ball.

You have to admit that the musical conundrum “should I stay or should I go” as delivered on the accordion has special meaning in a burlesque cabaret. And should you? Depending on your tolerance for repetition, a hoot-and-holler diversion from your more serious Fringe pursuits.

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