‘Thank you for telling me ‘No’, or telling me that I couldn’t, or that I shouldn’t, or that I won’t, because I did.”
Artist Chris Tsujiuchi will appear this month (along with a slew of other Canadian artists) in the quirky musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre.
The production will be directed by Artistic Director Rob Kempson, with Music Direction by Jeff Newberry and Choreography by Genny Sermonia.
The plot is well-known among theatregoers and those who remember the two feature films in black and white and in colour. The hapless and orphan florist Seymour has been hired to work in Mr. Mushnik’s floral shop on Skid Row. Seymour has fallen in love with the store’s other assistant, Audrey. While this is happening, Seymour has managed to grow a strange new plant which he lovingly names Audrey II, which finally captures her attention and that of the community surrounding the shop on Skid Row.
Audrey II, however, holds some bizarre eating habits that set Seymour on the course of changing his life and all those involved in the story.
Chris Tsujiuchi (who goes by ‘Tsuj' with a soft g sound) provides the voice of Audrey II. He will also play a few other roles in the show.
Tsujiuchi is a 2010 Sheridan College Musical Theatre program graduate who is excited about returning to live theatre, especially with ‘Little Shop.’ He added how grateful and relieved he is, and I’m sure other theatre artists have felt the same emotions. There wasn’t much for artists to do when everything was closed, and he’s excited to be doing work he loves to do again.
He was involved in some online and digital performances when the theatres were shut down for Covid. Tsuj is a self-produced cabaret performer and does a big Christmas cabaret in Toronto every December. He had to move to a digital Christmas cabaret during the shutdown. This meant he shot and edited a two-hour film which people watched from home. He further added:
“As great as it turned out, it was not live theatre. It lacked that live connection the performer has with the audience. The film was shot over six days and then I edited it on I Movie for 3 weeks straight. I’m not an editor, but if I were one with the proper skill and software, it would not have taken that long. It would have taken way less time.”
Chris was elated to share how rehearsals for ‘Little Shop’ have been going extremely well. He emphasized that point by slapping his knee twice on ‘so well’.
When I spoke with him last week, the company was only on its third day of rehearsals. He said they watched the opening number, which has already been choreographed and it looks, in his words:
“Ammaaazzziiinnggg! and that everyone needs to come to see the show.”
Tsuj glowingly spoke about working with Rob Kempson. He has always loved working with him and has done so many times and in many different capacities. When Rob was Associate Artistic Producer at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, he created and programmed the Songbook Series. Tsuj has performed in the Songbook Series alone and as part of his vocal group ‘Asian Riffing Trio’. He was also Music Director when Rob directed ‘9 to 5’ at Randolph College.
I then put him on the spot and asked Tsuj how he would describe Rob in one sentence:
“Intelligent and sassy.”
Chris then sent me the link when I asked him to explain the latter term. The humour doesn’t come out in print as it did when I heard Rob say it. So, when you’re at the Capitol, ask Rob directly why he is sassy, according to Tsuj.
To be true to the ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ script, it’s impossible not to be a little sassy because the story is out there, so Rob’s sassiness is on the mark.
Tsuj expresses great enthusiasm for finding and developing the voice of Audrey II. He’s having so much fun in the process.
He then relayed some information I found interesting.
For this production of ‘Little Shop,’ the actors honour the versions of the characters that have come before. If something that might have been used in the later film version (with Rick Moranis) is helpful for your character development, use it. If something is not working, then deviate away from it.
After speaking with Rob and Music Director Jeff Newberry, Tsuj wants to honour the voices of Audrey II that have come before while also finding the ‘Tsuj’ version of the plant’s uniquely distinct voice. Chris saw the Broadway revival of ‘Little Shop,’ which featured Broadway artist Hunter Foster. That production focused on Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette, who acted as a Greek chorus, narrating the story and occasionally serving as extensions of the plant.
Tsuj praises the cast of this upcoming production. He calls them all so talented and wishes he could tour this show with this cast. They were all surprised that everyone was available at this time to perform the show at the same time. The cast includes Amir Haidir as Seymour, Tahirih Vejdani as Audrey, Tyler Muree as Mr. Mushnik, Michael Derose as Orin (and others), Michelle Yu, Sierra Holder, and Taylor Lovelace as Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon respectively, and Joel Cumber as the Audrey II puppeteer and the entire ensemble.
As we concluded our conversation, I asked Tsuj why audiences must make their way to the Capitol to see this production of ‘Little Shop’:
“The music will be on point. The choreography will be on point. The story is ridiculously hilarious. You will laugh, you will cry because you will laugh so hard. The production value is out of control. We’re giving you a man-eating plant from outer space realness on stage at the Capitol. That’s why audiences must come to the Capitol.”
Once ‘Little Shop’ has completed its run at the Capitol, what’s next for Chris?
He is Artistic Director of The Sing Toronto Vocal Arts Festival focused on the unaccompanied human voice. It is a week-long festival that happens every May in Toronto. To learn more about this festival, visit https://singtoronto.com/ to learn how to enter. He’ll work on getting contracts out for this festival for a couple of months before he heads to Nova Scotia to be the music director for a panto and then back to Toronto to do his Christmas Cabaret.
In December of this year, he will be the Music Director for “A Whole New World: The Story of Alan Menken” in which four actors and a three-piece band take the audience through Menken’s life and music. Tsuj will also reprise his role of Audrey II in this show.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ opens August 11 and runs to September 3 at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call the Box Office (905) 885-1071 or visit https://capitoltheatre.com/events/little-shop-of-horrors.