Animal Crackers at Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre August 2-14, 2016. A review.

Animal Crackers at Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre August 2-14, 2016. A review.

Blue Bridge Theatre’s Animal Crackers (August 2nd-August 14th 2016 at the Roxy Theatre in Quadra Village) is a crazy caper–pure pandemonium in which much hilarity ensues.  Endless quips and groaners flow in syncopated patter. Blink and you’ll miss it! This madcap and wild ride into the imagination of the illustrious masters of comedy—the Marx Brothers—is vividly rendered.

Fleet of word, foot and finger, these experienced thespians and musicians, working in perfect harmony to reach the pinnacle of their collective abilities, bring the Roaring Twenties and an ages-old vaudeville experience to life (Animal Crackers was first staged in 1928).  It helps considerably that many of them have collaborated closely for years—often through director Jacob Richmond’s own troupe Atomic Vaudeville (which he co-founded with Britt Small, who was called in at the 11th hour to play Harpo when Kelly Hobson fell ill), or the Victoria Operatic Society, Gotta Getta Gimmick (founded by music director Brad L’Écuyer and R.J. Peters who plays Captain Spalding/Groucho) and the Chemainus Theatre Festival.  Trust in the abilities of one’s pairs is a necessary part of any fine artistic experience, allowing performers to step outside of their comfort zones, and dig deep for the creative spark.

Animal Crackers August 2016

In this production of Animal Crackers notable examples include the youngest cast member, Pascal LaMothe-Kipnes—entering her fourth year in the theatre department at the University of Victoria—who plays double roles (the debutante Arabella Rittenhouse and the scheming socialite Mrs. Whitehead) with such conviction I was scouring the program looking for an extra actor; Sarah Murphy in a variety of male roles—most notably  as gossip reporter Wally Winston dancing up a storm in Long Island Lowdown; the aforementioned Britt Small bringing her impressive clowning background to the role of Harpo and Sarah Tradewell who was part of the ensemble as well as a musician.

Richmond possesses a wicked sense of humour and immense capacity to mine for it in the works of others.  Timing is impeccable and the co-ordination between musicians and actors a delight—particularly when a comic moment needs to be underlined with sound.  Ba-da-boom!

Overall the cast captures the breezy, devil-may-care attitude prevalent during the period—where fun and frolic was all that really mattered among the high society set of Long Island.  As the social climber Mrs. Rittenhouse, Samantha Currie is a marvellous straight woman, and the perfect foil for Captain Spaulding’s risqué jokes. Peters plays homage to the zany energy of Groucho without being a clone, appropriating his signature gestures and style with ease.  One particular scene between Peters and Kholby Whardell as millionaire Roscoe Chandler is a testament to the high level of skill this company possesses in rendering comedy and apparently improvising on the fly.

Wes Borg (Chico/Emmanuel Ravelli) reveals his inner Italian, at one point playing the accordion and then later joining Small for a spirited and unconventional musical interlude on the piano.  His sheer joy and playfulness shines through in this rambunctious character.

More a collection of zingers, visual gags, routines and sketches than a conventional musical, the plot of Animal Crackers is crammed with elements–a fancy soirée at Mrs. Rittenhouse’s, a visit from the famous explorer Captain Spaulding, a stolen painting, and two romances (Arabella and the gossip columnist Winston, and the young painter John Parker Griffin Lea and Mary Stewart Jane Gaudet)—that vie for the audience’s attention amid all the crazy antics of the infamous Marx Brothers.

Brian Ball’s striking set design transforms the Roxy Theatre into an elegant Art Déco interior with elements of chrome, perfectly scalloped sheer draperies and beautiful translucent chandeliers—set alight by Rebekah Johnson’s luminescent washes of colour.  Costume designer Pauline Styles has spared no effort with elaborate flapper dresses, cloche hats, bejewelled fascinators, and stylish top hat and tails, even creating an evening version of Captain Spaulding’s signature jodhpurs. Contrasts to high society fashion can be found in the rumpled garb of Vanetti and the Professor, and the more utilitarian outfits of Parker, Winston and Mary.

Choreography (Treena Stubel, assisted by Kelly Hobson and Sarah Murphy) is fast-paced and vigourous; the cast performs a high-spirited and fun-filled Charleston, and there is splendid tap dancing in Everyone Says I Love YouShow Me A Rose with Peters and Currie is a tango parody that had the audience laughing out loud.

The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me features the wonderful sexy stylings of Gaudet and LaMothe-Kipnes; Watching the Clouds Roll By is pure romance with the melodious pairing of Gaudet and Lea; Hoooray for Captain Spaulding a riot of sight and sounds as the company cavorts in uninhibited freedom.  A montage of more modern musicals as part of the finale injected a pleasing moment of meta-theatricality as audience members puzzled out the different shows.

Music director Brad L’Écuyer (keys) has assembled a quartet of accomplished musicians (Rainer Roth-reeds, Sarah Tradewell-violin, Jonathon Eng-percussion) who remained finely attuned to the exigencies of live accompaniment. The interplay between musicians and actors was seamless.

Physical hijinks, lowbrow humour and catchy tunes combine in a frothy mix in this vaudeville classic re-interpreted for a modern audience.  Catch it while you can!

Animal Crackers
by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind.
Music and Lyrics by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby. Adapted by Henry Wishcamper
Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre at the Roxy, 2657 Quadra Street in Quadra Village
August 2nd-August 14th, 2016

8 pm nightly from Tuesday to Saturday with matinees at 1 pm and 2 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays
Tickets: $24-47/$12 for children 12 and under available online at; by phone at 250-382-3370; or in person from Tues. to Sat. from noon to 4 pm at Blue Bridge’s home, The Roxy Theatre 2657 Quadra Street, Victoria.

Creative Team
Directed by Jacob Richmond
Music Director Brad L’Écuyer
Choreography by Treena Stubel
Additional Choreography by Kelly Hobson and Sarah Murphy
Tap Choreogrpahy Everyone Says I Love You Sarah Murphy
Set Design Brian Ball
Costume Design Pauline Stynes
Lighting Design Rebekah Johnson
Dialect Coach Iris MacGregor-Bannerman

Hives/Roscoe W. Chandler Kholby Wardell
Mrs. Rittenhouse Samantha Currie
Arabella Rittenhouse, Mrs. Whitehead Pascal Lamothe-Kipnes
Doucet/Wally Winston/Sgt Hennessey Sarah Murphy
Grace Carpenter/Mary Stewart/Nancy Jane Gaudet
John Parker/Horatius Jamison (Zeppo) Griffin Lea
Captain Jeffrey T. Spaulding (Groucho) R.J. Peters
Emanuel Ravelli (Chico) Wes Borg
The Professor (Harpo) Britt Small

Keys Brad L’Écuyer
Reeds Rainer Roth
Violin Sarah Tradewell
Percussion Jonathon Eng

Stage Manager Sandra Drag
Assistant Stage Manager Rebecca Marchand
Assistant Stage Manager Carolyn Moon

Disclaimer:  I was provided complimentary tickets to attend the opening night of Animal Crackers.


About @lacouvee

Community Builder. Catalyst. Speaker. Writer. Arts Advocate.

Passionate about bridging online and offline communities to effect positive change.

I truly believe that one person can make a difference and that we all have our own lives to live, creatively, while respecting the unique nature of others.

Speak Your Mind