Over the last four seasons, Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre has developed a reputation for accomplished productions of classic dramatic works. Though each of their seasons has included comedies, Blue Bridge’s fame has rested on shows like Death of a Salesman or (this season’s) Of Mice and Men – serious theatre that has stood the test of time and that Blue Bridge has revitalized and made new. However, with their latest production, Little Shop of Horrors, Blue Bridge has created a comedic production to stand side by side with their polished dramatic offerings. Little Shop of Horrors is one of Blue Bridge’s most entertaining shows yet and one of their best-realized productions. This is brilliant comedy, expertly realized.

Little Shop of Horrors tells the tale of a young assistant in a Skid Row flower shop who is obsessed with exotic flowers. When he brings one into the shop that craves blood and can promise him his wildest dreams of luck, fame, fortune, and romance, the young man begins feeding the play’s nastier characters to the plant in order to gain success. As a tongue-in-cheek musical, Little Shop takes on B movies, science fiction tropes, 1960s culture, and musical theatre devices with a great amount of glee and dark humour.

I must admit that I went into Little Shop of Horrors knowing basically nothing about the show. Little Shop has a long history, starting off as an old B-grade black comedy before being transformed into an award-winning Broadway show by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and finally being transferred back into its original medium in a 1986 film starring Rick Moranis. All of this, I learned after the fact. Indeed, the only experience I had of the show was a short clip of the song “Feed Me” on Youtube so I came into this production with fresh eyes.

Kholby Wardell as Seymour Krelborn

Kholby Wardell, who plays the ineffectual but plucky Seymour Krelborn, is apparently in the same boat. He took on the lead role of the orphaned shop-assistant with a fascination with exotic plants without ever having seen the famous film and specifically avoided watching it in order to develop a unique portrayal. The choice pays off in spades. Wardell finds in Seymour layers of bravery, despair, and anger that seem both surprising and perfectly natural to the character. At the same time, his voice works perfectly for the character and – though he is not given a great deal of choreography – his dances are expertly executed.

Wardell’s Seymour is offset by a strong supporting cast.  Damian Calderwood is very entertaining as Mushnik, the scheming, money-grubbing owner of the flower shop (though the character is not for the politically correct amongst us). Blues singer Jeff Jones’ strong voice is perfect for the charismatic predatory plant Audrey II. Victoria’s own Sara-Jeanne Hosie plays Audrey, Seymour’s love interest throughout the musical. Her beautiful voice combines with a gentle portrayal of a girl with the wrong priorities, eleva

 

ting her character from a clown to a character that draws some real sympathy from the crowd. Christopher Mackie, is once again a highlight – and this time he is particularly highlighted. A very clever new bookend to the musical means that he is able to play nearly all of the small walk-on roles each of which he performs with obvious glee.

Sara-Jeanne Hosie as Seymour's love interest, Audrey.

Perhaps what pushes this show past normal expectations is how well realized the production is. Costume and sets were both designed by Patrick Wors, making this a particularly well-integrated production. The show’s colour palette slowly blooms from the drab black and white of the show’s B movie roots into a production as colourful and lush as Audrey 2, the plays carnivourous plant. The vast backdrops of black and white New York photographs create an excellent atmosphere. Perhaps, the only issue I had was with the puppet of Audrey 2 itself. On opening night, the puppet seemed ungainly and there seemed to be some difficulty opening its mouth so that some of its lines were said with the puppets mouth closed (rather meta-ventriloquism).

Perhaps most surprising for me was how successfully Blue Bridge deals with dark comedy. Though this play deals with a great deal of schtick, it does not overdue things in the way that Arms in the Man fell victim to its attempts to manufacture comedy. Here, the comedy of the show is expertly realized and bravely carried through. The jokes that are dark are played for their darkness and the silly lines are said with a knowing wink. This is a thoroughly entertaining and, frankly, hilarious show with some very catchy tunes. A perfect summer treat: silly without being saccharine and energetic without being tiresome.

- Thomas Stuart