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Dark humour key to Little Shop's enduring charm

Lead actors, singers put on a strong show; student cast is well-rehearsed

What: Little Shop of Horrors

Where: Canadian College of Performing Arts, 1701 Elgin Rd.

When: Continues today and tomorrow, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. performances

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)

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Tired of all the soppy Christmas entertainment afoot? Consider dropping in on Audrey II this weekend.

That's the name of the blood-sucking Venus Flytrap gone bad in Little Shop of Horrors. Students at Oak Bay's Canadian College of Performing Arts have undertaken a lively revival of the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman rock musical. It's worth seeking out.

What makes this musical appealing after 25-plus years is its kitschy black humour. Little Shop taps into a riotous camp sensibility also found in The Rocky Horror Picture Show and John Waters flicks. The songs -- which are good -- affectionately parody 1960s girl groups such as The Shirelles, and also delve into gospel, blues and funk. And man-munching Audrey II is a tip of the tentacle to those cheesy monster movies.

The plot is simple. Nerd boy Seymour (Izad Etemadi) works in a failing flower shop. The customers start flocking when he puts his strange new plant, Audrey II, on display. Things really seem to be going Seymour's way when shop-girl Audrey (Sarah Irwin) falls for him. But ultimately, Audrey II's growing bloodlust puts the kibosh on any hope of a typical happy ending.

The CCPA's shows are routinely well-rehearsed; this one's no exception. While there are varying levels of talent on display, as is typical of any student production, everyone here has worked very hard -- and it shows.

The leads are strong. As Audrey the good-hearted floozy, Irwin revealed a creamy, lyrical voice put to especially good effect on songs such as Somewhere That's Green -- the highlight of yesterday's afternoon performance.

Etemadi, also singing well, proved himself a solid all-rounder. The young actor/singer struck a clever balance, mining the comedy in Seymour's nebbish goofiness while simultaneously making his character empathetic. He's a Seymour you want to root for (well, at least until the end). This, combined with Irwin's similarly impressive showing, forged a strong connection with the audience.

Carley Reinbold's choreography is smart and fun -- especially well executed by the tough gal trio of Ronette (Celia Reid), Crystal (Kaitlin Lane) and Chiffon (Christine Mooney). And there's a fine little pit band.

Almost everyone in the cast shines at some point. Lucas Blaney has fun with Orin the sado-masochist dentist. And Kyle Vesterback scored laughs with the homoeroticism lurking within Mushnik & Son. (I have a funny feeling Vesterback sported a mustache that mysteriously disappeared after 10 minutes, never to return. But I could wrong about this.)

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