Producing a musical is hard. It’s about an order of magnitude more complex than mounting a straight-play. Doing a musical well on a shoe-string Fringe budget is an incredible challenge, one that Watch the Elbow has taken up to present SQUAT: A Super Secret Back-Alley Musical as part of the Toronto Fringe Festival. I have to say, I’m really impressed by the results.
Creators Jacob Ulrich, Eyal Rosenblum and Leora Smith have turned Cinecycle, the bicycle repair shop cum indie cinema located in a back alley off Spadina Avenue, into an artistic squat for this site-specific production. They’ve also assembled an über-talented 10-member cast and enlisted a four-piece band for their irreverent, funny and hugely entertaining show.
SQUAT opens as Suzie (Lise Maher), a hard-drinking, wickedly sarcastic, singer returns to the back-alley artistic squat she founded with her musician ex-boyfriend before he made it big in the music biz and dumped her. She finds it overrun with a group of hipsters lead by the silky-voiced, baby-faced Lex (Colin Asuncion) and sets out to find a way to reclaim the space.
I loved the show’s irreverent tone and slightly satirical edge. The lyrics are smart, funny and clever. The show is liberally peppered with Toronto references and jokes about hipsters that had me laughing throughout; think “statue of Olivia Chow made entirely of quinoa.”
From the sound and lighting design to the choreography and musical staging; this production is sleek and far more polished than many Fringe productions. The obviously musical theatre-trained cast is uniformly strong, each cast member delivers a polished performance.
All that being said there is still some work to be done with the book. The show is slow to get started and lacks focus. Some of the numbers, though well-executed, feel repetitive. It could also do with one or two slightly more earnest songs for the purposes of character development. A few more drafts to tighten the script, moving and editing a few songs and SQUAT will be ready for prime time. The show has legs and could definitely have a life beyond Fringe.
SQUAT promises a “Big Broadway experience on a Fringe Fest Budget” and, amazingly, actually delivers. It’s well worth the $10 admission and the 75 minutes of sitting in the somewhat stuffy space. I can see this one being a hot ticket. Buy in advance or go early to snatch one of the 20 tickets available at the door.
- SQUAT: A Super Secret Back-Alley Musical plays at Cinecycle (laneway behind 129 Spadina Ave.)
- Show times: July 04 08:00 PM, July 05 08:00 PM, July 06 02:00 PM, July 06 08:00 PM, July 11 08:00 PM, July 12 08:00 PM, July 13 02:00 PM, July 13 08:00 PM
- All individual Fringe tickets are $10 at the door (cash only). Tickets are available online at www.fringetoronto.com, by phone at 416-966-1062, in person at the Fringe Club, 581 Bloor St. W, July 3rd-14th, noon – 10pm (Advance tickets are $11 – $9+$2 service charge)
- Value packs are available if you plan to see at least 5 shows