By Gavin Elias
There are musicals, and then there are Musicals – the second being arbitrarily defined here as those rare theatrical events that flood the senses, seduce the ear, and invigorate the soul, even as they promote uncontrollable spasms of the foot. Happily (and indeed stupendously), the UCC-BSS February production of the rock musical, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ fell firmly into the second category. Part tongue-in-cheek satire of the musical archetype, part Faustian deconstruction, the show rippled with an energy, enthusiasm and overriding zest that made it an undeniable success.
Set in the kitschy, rundown ‘Skid Row’ of New York City (circa 1950 or 60), the vaguely cautionary tale centers around the unusual story of Seymour Krelborn (Andrew Ricci, IB1), a hapless florist assistant whose discovery and nurturing of an intelligent, carnivorous plant kick start a series of events that offer him a rare opportunity to turn his unhappy life around. Required to feed the plant ever greater amounts of blood (his own, at first) to fuel its frenzied growth, Seymour soon realizes both the limitless possibilities, and ugly ramifications his new ally presents, as ‘Audrey II’ unlocks a world of wealth and privilege at potentially terrible cost.
In the lead role, Andrew Ricci is marvelous – his sighing, bumbling Seymour works perfectly as the struggling unfortunate who stumbles upon the opportunity of a lifetime, to be promptly confronted with an all too familiar moral quandary. And as the ditzy Audrey (the object of Seymour’s affections), Flo Labrie (BSS) offers both a worthy dramatic performance and impressive vocals – her heartwarming, melodious renditions of songs such as ‘Somewhere that’s Green’, are particularly moving, and her New Yawk twang adds a humourous touch. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Jacob Green (IB1) lends attitude and a crunk malevolence to the uncannily persuasive Audrey II, whose colossal, leering mouth moves with unnerving dexterity while both belting out rock numbers and shredding its prey, due to impressive puppeteering from the operators and backstage crew.
Moreover, ‘Little Shop’ fields an exuberant supporting cast and ensemble that propels the story forward and infuses the piece with all manner of dynamic colour and humour. As the tired, irritable florist shop owner Mr. Mushnik, Charlie Walker (FY) captures the humourous (and perhaps even tragic) nuances of a worn man, while embarking on the odd Fiddler-style ditty for good measure. Not to be outdone, Akash Pasricha (FY) lends a gleeful malice to his role as the leather jacket wearing, girlfriend beating, motorcycle-riding sadist Orin Scrivello, (D.D.S.!) in a performance that threatened – at numerous points – to steal the show from its impressive leads. And Olivia Daniels, Sara Davis and Emma Robson (all BSS) shine as a sassily-styled, faux-Greek chorus who provide a running commentary, Motown-esque dance moves, and stirring harmonies to unfolding events. The other cast members also give lively performances in various supporting roles and choral dance sequences, exuding an infectious enthusiasm that spilt out even to the back of the BSS theatre.
Being a musical (Musical, even), ‘Little Shop’ is of course hugely dependent on the quality of its auditory offering. Overwhelmingly, this is superb, due both to the vocal mettle of the cast and animated performance by the live band, and the excellence of the many songs that populate the play. The lyrics – nimble and intelligent – resemble the classic show tunes of Broadway even as they satirize them. And the music itself never fails to impress. Tunes like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ capture that elusive quality that characterizes the best of show songs – their melodies contain just the right blend of stirring pathos and catchy vibrancy to deliver an electric shock to the heart, leaving a lasting (and pleasant) imprint in the mind.
As events take an unexpectedly dark turn, ‘Little Shop’ milks it; melodrama and moments of delicious dark humour result amidst a stubbornly (and jarringly) light tone, and this all works to heighten the drama and tension. Even better, the bravado does calm at times to yield quieter, poignant moments that bring the story to life. A rare fault of the piece may lie in the fact that the more tragic elements of certain scenes are perhaps not emphasized enough, but even here, such a stylistic choice by the directing team simply adds to the satirical dissonance of the work, to considerable effect. And indeed, there is precious little that doesn’t work to great effect in the show. For in striking its artful balance between acerbic black humour and uplifting choruses, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ triumphs – both as a gleeful (yet comically dark) deconstruction of the saccharine musical, and as a tremendous theatrical work in its own right.
* Interestingly, the play was featured on Rogers’ High School Rush on Friday, March 4th and Sunday, March 6th at 10.00pm. It will also be shown today (March 7th) at 8:30pm. High School Rush can found on Channel 10 (or 63 for those in Scarborough), and the episode will assumedly be available on Rogers On Demand at some point in the future.