The Ballenas Secondary School Musical Theatre’s annual spring production has everything an audience could want in a musical: a lovestruck couple, singers and dancers, a psychotic dentist and power tools.
Oh, and a man-eating plant.
A cast of nearly 40 students will showcase the off-Broadway cult classic Little Shop of Horrors, a comedy horror rock musical, at the school’s Whalebone Theatre Feb. 24-26 and Feb. 29-March 2.
“We did Grease last year, and this is sort of like the dark side of Grease,” said Doug Campbell, the school’s theatre teacher and director. “I love the songs in this show. The music has that sort of be-bop, 1950s feel.”
Campbell said the choice of Little Shop was actually made four years ago, when Justus Limpright, who plays the lead character, Seymour Krelborn, came into the Ballenas theatre program.
“I did this show 10 years ago at a school I taught at previously, and I saw (Limpright) playing Seymour four years ago. To me, Justus just owns the part of Seymour.”
Seymour is a nerdy, orphan employee in the downtrodden, Skid Row flower shop of crusty Mr. Mushnik, a role shared by Brendan Arkwright and Marc Robertson Ricard. He is secretly in love with co-worker Audrey (played by Juliana Cook and Emma Deering), but she, in turn, is dating the abusive and sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello (Katja Kiefer and Alex Balinski).
When Seymour finds an exotic plant at a Chinese florist during a solar eclipse, he names it Audrey II and brings it to Mushnik’s shop, where it becomes a popular attraction and boosts traffic and sales to the struggling business.
But the plant feeds only on human blood and flesh, and uses Seymour’s desire for Audrey, financial success and a stable family life to manipulate the conflicted young man into a series of choices with disastrous consequences.
“It’s like a parable, a lighthearted satire on the evils of greed,” said Campbell. “It’s like the Faust (bargain with the devil) story. Seymour doesn’t deserve his fate, but he succumbs to greed and he pays the price.”
The story is driven by its songs and characters, including a Greek chorus made up of Kyra Anderson, Lily Fanyeck, Mia Murray and Madison Poole. Ostensibly street urchins, they strut the stage in spangled dresses while alternately narrating the story and providing backup vocals.
Other students appear in a substantial troupe of backup dancers or as backup singers, complete with the flowing robes of a gospel church choir.
“We’ve got almost 40 kids in the cast,” said Campbell. “The script didn’t call for that many, but I found roles for them.”
At the centre of all the activity is Audrey II, a belligerent, trash-talking plant portrayed by a series of ever-larger prop plants Campbell was given by a professional theatre company in Victoria.
In a technical rehearsal held last week, the students dove into their roles with relish. Limpright and Deering sold the parts of the star-crossed couple and carried the musical numbers with a remarkable degree of maturity. Arkwright and Kiefer had hilarious moments camping up the parts of Mushnik and Scrivello, respectively. And the sheer numbers in the cast boost the scale of the songs and large pieces to good effect.
“The cartoony characters are fun for the kids,” Campbell said. “But the relationships are real, which lets the audience identify with them.”
All tickets for the musical are $10, and are available only at the door on show nights. Campbell cautions that the Ballenas productions “have become quite popular the last few years” and that would-be audience members should be sure to arrive early to ensure seating.
Little Shop of Horrors will play Feb. 24, 25, 26 and 29, and March 1-2, beginning at 7 each night.
Seymour (Justus Limpright) is collared by psycho dentist Orin Scrivello (Katya Kiefer) during rehearsal for the Ballenas Secondary School musical theatre production of Little Shop of Horrors. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS