Little Shop of Horrors - CPAC
Little Shop of Horrors
26th February, 2012
Reviewed by Rachel Le Rossignol
There’s a lot to like about CPAC’s production of Little Shop of Horrors, which runs at the Cardinia Cultural Centre until March 9th, but the word that springs to mind is patchy, and the overall impression is that a few more rehearsals would not go amiss. From the humorous ‘mobile phone’ announcement, which drops accent halfway through, to a second act which falls short of the general excellence of the first, CPAC’s show is inconsistent in what it delivers.
The ‘girl group’ who form a Greek chorus for the show are a case in point. Vocally they are outstanding, with tight harmonies and soaring solos, particularly from Emma Sparrow (Ronette) and Nicola Bull (Crystal). Robert Mulholland’s excellent choreography perfectly encapsulates the look of girl groups of the 1960’s, but the moves require the group to be totally in sync to blow the audience away, and there are numerous times when someone is out of step, or even seems uncertain of her moves. Claire De Freitas (Shirelle) stands out for her energy and enthusiasm in the dance numbers. Whilst they are supposed to be cynical, the girls really do drive the show and more enthusiasm during the dance numbers would benefit the whole production. That said, the girls’ characters are nicely established and maintained. Their transition from mocking Audrey (Jessica Rawlins) as she outlines her dream of a white picket fence (Somewhere That’s Green), to joining in the dream with her, is very nicely done.
Brad Ericson is very believable as the self-effacing Seymour, with a delightful voice, managing beautifully the gentle ballad moment in The Meek Shall Inherit, as well as the high speed vocal gymnastics of Just the Gas, where his crisp diction makes every word clear. Likewise, Rawlins captivates in her touching version of Audrey’s signature song, Somewhere that’s Green. During the first act her characterisation is very much as per the 1986 movie version of Little Shop of Horrors (on which the musical is based), but by the second act she is moving towards her own interpretation of Audrey, and it is a delight to see what she brings to the part when she isn’t attempting to channel Ellen Greene’s highly idiosyncratic performance, as so many do.
Dan Bellis brings many levels to his characterisation of the ill-fated shop owner, Mr Mushnik. His ability to move easily between neediness, anger and comedy is played out in many subtle moments of physicality and expression. His key number, Mushnik and Son, a duet with Seymour, is a highlight, infused with humour, nice emotional levels and plenty of energy. Josh Prince, as Orin Scrivello, also lifts the energy of the production every time he appears on stage, and his more-than-passing resemblance to a young Steve Martin adds to his confident characterisation. Occasionally his pitching is not perfect, but he carries his songs well with comic flair and good timing.
A special mention needs to be made of Kelly Price, as the voice of Audrey II (‘Two-ey’). Her American accent is flawless, and Two-ey’s vocally demanding numbers are carried off with style. During Feed Me there are occasional hiccups in terms of timing, no doubt because of the difficulty of singing offstage, but Audrey II is suitably ferocious and cheeky. Once Two-ey reaches full size, Price’s excellent voice acting, combined with Ashley Jenkins’ puppeteering, bring the plant to life convincingly, but the smaller puppets could have done with more animation as they seem little more than a prop until Price starts vocalising.
Director Lee Geraghty has created a show that generally flows seamlessly, although the almost identical, static staging of two consecutive songs in the first act almost undermines the gentle understatement of Somewhere That’s Green. Scene changes (of which there are very few) are undertaken by the ‘girl group’, and this works very well. Ms Geraghty has managed to create a real ensemble feeling amongst the cast; there is a sense that they all play very generously to each other when they are together on stage without any one person pulling focus. The biggest issue is the pacing of the show; at times it lacks a strong sense of forward momentum and some of the comedy misses its mark because of the lagging pace. That said, members of the ensemble who have minor character parts are to be complimented on their comedic ability and energy.
As musical director, Tony Toppi has assembled an orchestra of top notch musicians who play together tightly, and, as previously mentioned, he has found a cast of strong singers who are for the most part evenly matched in their high standard. The overall sound and performance from a musical point of view is one of the outstanding features of the show, only let down occasionally by sound issues, as in Call Back in the Morning, where the differing tempos between cast and orchestra suggested a problem with feedback. The sound design, likewise, is very well-balanced for the most part, although the few minor glitches (when radio mikes were bumped in intimate moments) unfortunately detracted from important scenes.
One of the areas where the show was let down was in the lighting design. Whilst the overall look was very good, in terms of the use of colours, atmosphere and scene changes, the coverage is not always adequate. Facial expressions are frequently lost when actors are upstage; critically in the opening scene, which is problematical when we’re supposed to see that Audrey is sporting a shiner. A dead spot behind the door of the floral shop is particularly annoying, as it would take little to ensure cast members are fully inside the shop before they deliver lines. The lighting design’s use of colour does, however, complement the simplicity of the set, with its nice clean lines. Whilst it looks very bare at the beginning of the show, this sets up an excellent contrast with the ‘flourishing’ flower shop in the second act. The plant appropriately dominates the set by this point.
Costume design, by Fiona Sparrow, is definitely worth mentioning. There is a thematic consistency and attention to detail that greatly enhances the look of the entire show and adds much to our impression of the various characters. The girl group’s sparkling red frocks, and, at a later point, their ‘party’ frocks, added a dash of glamour and colour which serve to highlight the Skid Row feel of the set. Ms Sparrow’s delicate touch is most apparent, however, in the subtle transformation Audrey undertakes between Act I and Act II. Her second act costumes, though in keeping with what she has previously worn, are softer and classier, underscoring the development of her relationship with Seymour, and her growing self-esteem.
Overall Geraghty and her team have given us a production that has a great deal to offer, in terms of cast performance and overall feel. A little more polish and an infusion of energy would smooth out the inconsistencies of this show and take the audience along for a highly enjoyable few hours of theatre.