Left – Esther Hannaford and Brent Hill. Photo – Jeff Busby
This lively revival of cult 80s musical Little Shop of Horrors is given an infectious spark of energy from a team of creative talent that delivers on most counts to a new audience wanting a fun experience at the theatre.
Originally produced off-Broadway in 1982, and based on an earlier Roger Corman B-Grade horror film, most audiences are probably more familiar with the musical film version – a cult classic of its own that starred original cast member Ellen Greene, along with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.
But the backbone to the musical success must belong to the brilliant team of Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) who brought to Little Shop one memorable tune after another. From the opening title song, to Somewhere That's Green, to the brilliantly sung and executed Suddenly Seymour they not only evoked an era, but added to the layers of the story's complex relationships – a nervous, timid shop assistant, a battered heroine dating a sadomasochistic dentist, and a flesh eating plant intent of taking over the world. Perfect material for a musical.
Director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth have rightly become a formidable team in music theatre in Australia. They are able to stage classic big productions such as the recent Anything Goes to a stripped back Sweet Charity with finesse.
Here they have focused on the intimacy of the piece and assembled a small cast of talented professionals to bring Little Shop to life.
Owen Phillips has designed the set almost entirely within the florist shop, where most of the action occurs. Act One is all monochrome, with the killer plant bringing vibrant colours to the story in Act Two as the action proceeds down a dark and deadly path.
While this gives the show a great film-nourish quality, we see little of the actual Skid Row, so frequently mentioned.
Erth Visual & Physical Inc has done a superb job in creating the various incarnations of Audrey II – the alien plant. As the plant gets larger and more animated, it becomes a challenge for the performers to steal away any focus. Check out who voices the creature – a feat that works brilliantly in this production.
Standout performers include the trio of Josie Lane (Chiffon), Chloe Zuel (Ronnette) and Angelique Cassimatis (Crystal) who, along with referencing some of the 60s girl groups, bring a sparkle and upbeat tempo to the action around them.
Esther Hannaford has the difficult task of walking in Ellen Greene's footsteps as the show's leading lady Audrey. However, she manages to bring out the vulnerable and naturally comic attributes of the character as well as showing off her own powerhouse vocals.
Much of the show's strength though, rests with the undeniable talent that is Brent Hill. Over numerous productions now, Hill has proven himself to be an accomplished singer and a overly-talented and versatile actor. His Seymour is less nerdy, and more nervous, shy and introverted, with comic timing that shines in every scene.
A downside to the production was an unnecessary harshness to the sound, which could probably be less loud in the reasonably intimate Comedy Theatre. Sung lines were sometimes unintelligible, which is not ideal for a musical.
The show's (original) dark ending varies from the film version which will only please die-hard fans of the original production.
In all though, there are many parts to this revival that will entertain, engage and have audiences humming out the doors and this Little Shop of Horrors is a welcome addition to busy year of musical theatre.
Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions present
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
Director Dean Bryant
Venue: Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
Dates: from May 4, 2016
from May 25, 2016
Playhouse Theatre QPAC
from June 1, 2016
His Majesty’s Theatre
from August 4, 2016