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Little Shop of Horrors (theatre)

A review by Nalini Haynes

Last night I attended The Little Shop of Horrors at the Canberra Theatre Centre. This musical production is based on a 1960s black comedy film of the same name without singing and dancing. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman composed and wrote the score for the 1980s musical production with a 1960s feel. The Little Shop of Horrors the musical first appeared Off-Off-Broadway before moving to Off-Broadway where it ran for 5 years, popping up like carnivorous weeds all over the US and, eventually, Broadway itself.

In 1986 Frank Oz directed a brilliant movie version starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. There is also a hilarious cameo with Bill Murray, omitted from this stage production. [sadface]

Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions bring us this performance directed by Dean Bryant, starring Brent Hill, Esther Hannaford, Tyler Coppin and Scott Johnson.

The opening act is ‘in black & white’ so don’t adjust your sets. The costumes, the scenery and the makeup are all fairly monochrome. A single-roomed shop takes up two-thirds of the stage. The floor slopes downwards so it’s visible to the audience. The desk is on uneven feet for balance. A scattering of wilted flowers in buckets populate the shop while an old man moans about business. Outside the shop there’s a streetlight and bin. Behind, a screen occasionally lights up to backlight the shop, bringing storm effects.

As the scene opens, Lee Lin Chin reads the news projected onto a curtain at the front of the shop. It’s a pity the curtain is gathered and not flat. Chin tells us of the threat to planet Earth. Chorus girls walk on stage bemoaning living in skid row. Mushnik, the florist, moans about the dearth of customers while Seymour, a young man, slaves away. Young Audrey walks in apologising for being late. She has a black eye because her boyfriend, the rebel dentist, enforces obedience.

After a recent eclipse of the sun — accompanied by mysterious engine sounds — Seymour found a plant that he’s been nursing back to health. This exotic plant is in full glorious wilted colour. He calls it ‘Audrey 2’ because he has a crush on Audrey. As an exotic plant, Audrey 2 gets attention and brings in customers.

Pity it thrives on human blood.

Seymour doesn’t think to offer it Angel’s diet. (Pig’s blood or any other blood from a butcher.)

One day while feeling rather anaemic and harried, Seymour ignores the plant’s thirst until it speaks to him. Audrey 2 offers Seymour a devil’s pact: sell his soul — or, at least, other people’s lives — and all his wishes will come true.

Seymour decides the sadistic dentist’s time has come.

I guess you could say this little shop of horrors is the Florist of Seville but they don’t make pies.

After the interval, the set and costumes change to full colour. Lime green walls contrast with Mushnik’s purple pants and waistcoat. Audrey 2 has grown.

In the interval, one of our group asked if Seymour was voicing Audrey 2; no one was sure until the second act. This was a little disconcerting. I would have thought they’d record Audrey 2’s voice if the same person voiced both characters. Audrey 2 also sounded a little like a fake honkey African-American accent that, with this not-quite-all-white cast, is something to beware.

The music somewhat overpowered the vocals, a fashion these days. Performers were miked so I hope they turn up the vocals to achieve greater balance. One of our group said the balance was fine where she was sitting so it may have been due to location in the theatre.

The Little Shop of Horrors is an entertaining production with a horror finale true to the original not the movie. Audrey 2 does not embrace the audience as in some productions but the plant is quite the show-stealer. Although I was somewhat shocked at the end of the performance, this ending is more consistent, more powerful, emphasising the allegorical nature of the story. Everyone in the Her Canberra group who attended last night agreed that the performance was polished, there was excellent use of space, Audrey 2 was genius and a great evening was had by all.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Director: Dean Bryant
Writers: Alan Menken (composer), Howard Ashman (books and lyrics), Roger Corman (original film)
Starring: Brent Hill, Esther Hannaford, Tyler Coppin, Scott Johnson
Puppet design and construction: Erth Visual & Physical Inc.

Little Shop of Horrors: Audrey and Seymour look horror-fied.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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