Having already played highly successful seasons at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre and Adelaide’s Her Majesty’s, it’s hard to say much about this hotly anticipated production that hasn’t already been said. If you’re a fan of this musical or its 1986 film adaptation, there is every reason to see this wonderful rendition of the gold standard in Off-Broadway shows, if you’ve no experience of the story or score, then you’re in for an absolute treat.
Loosely based on a darkly comic 1960 horror film of the same name, Little Shop focuses on a nerdy florist’s assistant, Seymour Krelborn, who discovers a strange and unusual plant that seems to thrive on human blood and flesh. The plant’s growth drives business into the store and in the desire for further success, both for the flower shop and his relationship with co-worker Audrey, Seymour is pushed to extremes to keep the plant fed and satisfied.
Written to be quite camply satiric, director Dean Bryant adds an interesting new twist reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Show to this production by overlaying a sense of comic seriousness in his cast’s performances and by starting the show in 60’s black & white, carried through costumes, set and makeup. Only the plant, Audrey II, is in colour and the plant’s growing influence is seen from Act II, when everything switches to brilliant technicolour. It’s a decision that works well to bring an additional sense of gothic horror to the piece that is often softened by the deliciously upbeat nature of the 60’s girl group inspired songs that accompany the opening.
Musical Director Andrew Worboys and his band have a ball with the rock and Motown flavoured score, especially grooving through the plant’s numbers ‘Git It’ and ‘Suppertime’. Worboys has also drilled his girl group trio to harmonious perfection, making the show’s title track and ‘Da Doo’ absolute highlights. Josie Lane, Chloe Zuel and Angelique Cassimatis as Chiffon, Ronnette and Crystal bring sass and style to their glorious harmonies, making them welcome arrivals whenever they strut on the scene. Via Andrew Hallsworth’s fantastically sharp, popping and detailed choreography, the girls own the stage.
As Seymour, Brent Hill gives the most restrained and considered performance of his career, never looking to steal the show, but perfectly capturing the hapless nature of the orphan and his nervous, yet driven disposition. As always, Hill’s comic timing is spot on, while he delivers beautifully on the vocal front. This leaves plenty of room for Esther Hannaford to play with all the farcical beauty in which Audrey is written. Even while milking the audience for laughs at times, Hannaford doesn’t over step the mark in her characterisation, adopting original (and film) Audrey actress, Ellen Greene’s kewpie doll vocal stylings. This does make for an accent that at times travels to New York via the Czech Republic, but this is easily overlooked by her brilliant delivery and impeccable singing voice. Hannaford creates the standout moment of this production, in her performance alongside Hill, of ‘Suddenly Seymour’. One of musical theatre’s best ever duets, the number is an absolute cracker and Hannaford gives it everything she’s got, sending shivers down the spine and generating hoots of appreciation from the audience.
Tyler Coppin gives an unexpected and characterful portrayal of Jewish floral proprietor Mr Mushnik, imbuing the role with an almost Fagin-like quality. Scott Johnson as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, is a classic 60’s motorcycle rebel type, replete with leather boots, skin-tight black jeans and a voice that sounds like its coming past chewed marbles. Johnson fully captures the manic, nitrous oxide addicted sicko and rocks through his number ‘Be a Dentist’.
Costume designs by the talented Tim Chappel are as charming as to be expected and perfectly capture the era of the setting. Distinctive patterns in black and white come to colourful life in the second act and take on a botanical twist by the finale. Ross Graham’s lighting design frustratingly misses faces at times, but is wonderfully atmospheric overall, capturing the creepy gothic nature of the story.
Owen Phillips’ set design is craftily devised for touring stages, centralising the florist shop (on a surreal tilt) and filling the edges of the stage with askew telephone poles and skid row trashcans. Marvellously, the seemingly simplistic setting gets an impressive and vibrant makeover for the second act, built to feature Erth Visual & Physical Inc’s puppet design. The Audrey II puppet, obviously inspired by various plant types, sports several familiar shapes of vegetation and a wonderfully spine filled chomper. It is striking in scale, magnificently colourful and evocative of real plant life, but the inflatable nature of its construction gives it a vague sense of ‘bouncy castle’ that classic filled puppets do not. Nevertheless, it has ‘life’ and character thanks to puppeteering from the entire cast and voicing from Brent Hill.
Bryant has crafted this production to build a creation that hits its tone of voice spot on. This is one of the most easily recommendable productions you could send someone to, guaranteed to send its audience out the door with smiles on their faces and doo-wopping all the way home in the car.
Photo Credit: Jeff Busby