‘Little Shop of Horrors’

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is a horror, black comedy, rock musical, written in 1984 by playwright Howard Ashman. Alan Menken added a score and the libretto added by the author. The musical became one of the longest-running, Off-Broadway, shows of all time, gathering several awards for Best Musical of the year ‘82/’83. With 2,200 performances it was America’s third longest running musical. The 2015 New York City Center production starred Jake Gyllenhaal as Seymour

The film, which was directed by the Muppets’ Frank Oz, has many differences in the storyline to the musical. Jim Henson designed the movie’s puppets.

Roleystone Theatre Inc are presenting this wild, tuneful and darkly funny, two-hour musical at the Roleystone Theatre, 587 Brookton Highway in Roleystone, each Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening at 8.00 pm until 3rd December.

This theatre has a large front of curtain apron area. The producers have removed a large central area and created an orchestra pit. The remaining area became the filthy streets of Skid Row in New York, with rubbish bins and homeless alcoholics. Props by Kathryn Ramsell included a dentist chair and other hard to source items.

Behind the front of stage, gauze drape was a well-furnished florist shop, with counter, buckets of flowers and a shop window. An easy set to manage – until the pod starts growing and then stage manager, Liam Tickner and his crew of Cassidy Bodenham, Montanna Tickner and Simon Walters have plenty of work.

Before the show began, an apology was made; the lead had taken ill at the last minute. Charlie Darlington was having to step in to this major part, ‘and so may have to carry a script’. This he rarely did, and even then, it was with minimal intrusion. As it happened, he turned out to be the best actor of the night.

       It is the 1960s, the flower power era. After a sparkling welcome from three of the local street urchins, Chiffon (Sarah Callahan), Crystal (Kimberley Harris) and Ronette (Niamh Nichols), the curtain rises.

       It is a new day, and miserable, grumpy, florist shop owner, Mr. Mushnik (Harry Olif) is ordering around his young assistant, Seymour (Charlie Darlington), whom he adopted – for slave labour – as a child. His other helper, nervous and distressed, Audrey (Alicia Walter) is late again. When she arrives, she has a black eye, the result of her brutal boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Luke Daly) a sadistic dentist who is hooked on nitrous oxide gas – laughing gas.

       One morning, Seymour finds an unusual plant in his stock. It is a cross between an avocado and a Venus flytrap. He calls it Audrey II (voiced by Paul Treasure) after his work friend whom he secretly adores. A wealthy customer (Molly Earnshaw) tries to buy the plant, but only has a $100 note, a rare thing in this depressed area of town. Later in the day, Seymour finds that the plant is wilting and only responds to fresh blood, constantly needing more.

       The word gets around about this unusual plant, now the size of half the shop. Entertainment impresario, Bernstein (Tyler Eldridge) is arranging a lecture tour, and a botanical news reporter, Patrick Martin (Luke Daly) pestering Mr Mushnik for an exclusive contract.

       Can there be happiness, or will the plant rule the shop?

I am afraid for the director, Lys Tickner and her assistant director, Brogan Smirke that there is good news and bad news. My main impression is that the show lacked subtlety. I know that it is a madcap experience, but some of the acting was well over the top. Certain musical numbers were powerfully belted out, but with an occasional loss of melody as a result. The quiet musical numbers were excellent, with a well-balanced, melodic band; however, there were one or two numbers when the drums totally took over, and even though I was near the front of the audience, the other instruments were drowned out and the lyrics of the performer could not be heard at all.

I understand that everyone wants the show to vivaciously, bounce along, but the music should be an accompaniment, and in a small venue that means holding back. This is not a reflection on the musical skills of the players, more an inability to adapt. Perhaps it is difficult to play the drums effectively without the volume, so perhaps electronic drums or muting mats could be used.

The Orchestral Direction was by Liam Gobbert and the Vocal Direction by Tyler Eldridge. The band musicians were Keyboard – Joanne Harnett and Jay Anderson. Bass – Hannah Fredriksson, Reed – Tara Oorjitham, and percussion – Alex Kent. The softer numbers were exquisite.

The choreography by Emily Botje was perfect for the era, with the well-known arm movements and hand gestures; but because of the robust song delivery, these movements tended to be dramatic rather than dreamy. Watch the Chiffons or the Ronettes performing – they are the groups these characters were based upon – and observe the soft vocal delivery of the day, and the wispy movements. The dance routines were very good, matching the tempo perfectly and well-rehearsed.

Gary Wetherilt’s lighting and Shannon Allender’s sound were particularly good. Linda Bickley’s costume design was excellent; she had everything from the flares with turn-ups, to the lavender, high buttoned Italian suit. The singers’ dresses were perfect for the 60s. The makeup by Yvette Drager-Wetherilt and Deni Mitchell was very good.

The ‘Audrey ll’ construction team was Gary Wetherilt, Jamie Thomas and John Barnes. They produced outstanding pods – plants. Molly Earnshaw and Montanna Tickner most convincingly operated them, with the plant’s mouth moving perfectly in sync with the dialogue. The tendrils at the foot of the plant flopped around giving an extra feel of a living creature. Although the plant was ‘real’, it is occasionally supposed that the voice of Audrey ll is an alter ego (or imagination) of Seymour and that he should actually speak all of the words – both his talking to the plant and its reply – however that is contentious.

When Audrey was about to go home she looked at the clock and said ‘Oh it is 6 o’clock’ – the dial had no hands on it. The trio were getting their photos taken – in the 1960s – with a mobile phone camera. Petty, perhaps but the quality lies in the detail.

I found Molly Earnshaw’s performance one of the most natural, and Luke Daly’s dentist delightfully horrendous and disturbing. Congrats to both.

As always, I am open to comments, but despite the fact that the whole cast and crew worked extremely hard, overall I left quite disappointed.