Little Shop of Horrors has long been a favourite musical for community theatre groups. It’s also a well know cult classic movie, which presents a challenge for anyone staging a professional production.
“Everyone knows the movie back to front – they could practically speak the lines of every major character, because they are so iconic!” said director Dean Bryant.
To bring this cult musical to the stage in a new and fresh production, Bryant had to first put the popular movie version out of his mind. He went back to the story and looked at the words and what the story was really saying.
“Getting the movie out of my head was definitely one of the biggest challenges. Also, the play version is really different to the movie version. I think a lot of our audiences are shocked it doesn’t end the way the movie ends,” commented Bryan, explaining that the ending to the musical is exactly as written in the script and not something he has created.
Bryant also knew he needed a strong cast, but in a world first, the performer playing the leading role of Seymour is also providing the voice of the plant, Audrey II.
“I knew we’d cast Brent (Hill) as soon as we knew we were doing it, because he’s the perfect Seymour.”
Brent Hill first appeared on the Comedy Theatre stage as Lonny in the Australian premiere production of Rock of Ages, for which he was awarded the 2011 Greenroom Award – Male Artist Leading Role and was also nominated for a Helpmann Award.
Reflecting on the performance by Hill in Rock of Ages, Bryant started to wonder if Hill could also voice the plant puppet.
“I wondered what it would mean for him to sing the plant. So then we did some workshops where we tried it – Audrey II was played by an Officeworks stationery box,” laughed Bryant.
It wasn’t enough to simply have Hill do the voice of the plant without any rationale. Bryant considered what it would mean thematically if the character of Seymour was also the voice of Audrey II. He then took it even further and considered the science behind this.
“As soon as Audrey II takes some blood, it takes on some of the traits of the human,” explained Bryant.
“As you’ll notice, its Brent’s – Seymour’s – voice for all of act one. Then, as soon as it eats the dentist, the dentist joins, then Mr Mushnik and finally Audrey. By the end of act two all of the dead people are voicing the plant, so it’s really showing how they literally feed into what makes the plant.”
The voicing of the plant by Seymour was not the only world first for this production of Little Shop of Horrors. In another world first, the entire act one is played in black and white as a homage to the original 1960 film and then the second act is in such brilliant colour it almost hurts the eyes.
When a popular show is suddenly doing things in a completely new way, it gets people’s attention – including the attention of the composer, Alan Menken. During an interview, Alan Menken was told that in this latest production of Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II would be voiced by the actor playing Seymour.
Menken replied with, “What? But …. there’s that duet in act one! That sounds amazing. I’d love to see that!”
Another bonus was having award winning Broadway composer, Stephen Schwartz, watch the production during rehearsals during his time in Australia, earlier this year. Schwartz returned to New York and told Menken all about this new version by Luckiest Productions.
Despite Menken’s comments he’d love to see this production, Bryant is not expecting to see the composer visit Australia. However, there have been a number of Broadway producers see the show who have been in Australia recently due to the large number of musicals currently playing.
“They’ve all been gobsmacked at how good it is and have said … you know … who knows?” Bryant said, not wanting to utter any possibility of what the future might hold.
“As an Australian you don’t ever want to get your hopes up too high, but it’s lovely to be getting that big stamp of approval.”
Indeed, this production of Little Shop of Horrors is receiving the stamp of approval from critics and audiences everywhere. It’s been a pleasant surprise for Bryant and his team.
“I honestly never expected it to be received as glowingly, especially after Sweet Charity, which everyone loved so much,” said Bryant.
Sweet Charity was nominated for eight Helpmann Awards, winning three for Best Female Actor in a Musical (Verity Hunt Ballard), Best Direction of a Musical (Dean Bryant) and Best Choreography in a Musical (Andrew Hallsworth). In comparison, Bryant expected Little Shop of Horrors to simply be a “nice, fun evening” so he was surprised when Sydney critics and audiences in the opening season at the Hayes Theatre really embraced it and “got” what they were trying to achieve.
The show has just finished a successful season in Adelaide and has now opened to a very appreciative audience in Melbourne. It’s not really surprising though – as Dean Bryant says, Little Shop of Horrors is “such a Melbourne show!”
Little Shop of Horrors is only in Melbourne for three weeks before it continues its tour around Australia, opening in Canberra on May 25th then moving to Brisbane, Perth and a return season in Sydney.