Little Shop of Horrors (Luckiest Productions & Tinderbox Productions)
QPAC, The Playhouse
June 1 – 12
Typically musical theatre implies a kaleidoscope of colour on stage. But, not so for Act One of “Little Shop of Horrors”. Mr Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop and surrounds are monochromed to Tim Burtoneque effect. Everything is grey – set, props and costumes alike… everything except for the plant at the centre of the story and the blood of its first human feed.
This film noire feel to its Act One filter reflects the show’s 1960s setting of a run-down florist and also suggests its spoof of B grade horror flicks. The aesthetic shows a notable attention to detail, especially in its perfectly kitsch costuming (courtesy of designer Tim Chappel) and when the colour returns after intermission, this meticulousness is amplified with realisation that costumes have been transformed from shades of grey to cartoonish vibrancy in all of their exactness.
Hapless orphaned botanist Seymour Krelborn (Brent Hill) dreams of a better life with thus-far-unrequited love, beautiful co-worker Audrey (Esther Hannaford), who is, instead, dating the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (Scott Johnson). When Seymour discovers a strange and interesting plant, which he names Audrey II, his fortunes change, but at a cost, for Audrey II develops a taste for human blood and will do anything to corrupt Seymour into appeasing its appetite.
As the initially meek and mild but then increasingly hungry-for-celebrity Seymour, Brent Hill is endearing in his everyman sensibility. Most impressive, however, is the fact that he not only sings his own role but also voices Audrey II; it is not only a remarkable technical feat but it makes the laughter-filled ‘Feed Me (Git It)’ duet between the two even more memorable. The show’s other hilarious moments come from Johnson’s over-the-top characterisation of Audrey’s evil bully of a boyfriend; although he is a nasty, obnoxious character who enjoys inflicting pain and torture, his noisy and gleeful laugh of self-satisfaction is simply fabulous, helped along by his personal supply of laughing gas.
But the real star is Audrey II, increasingly sassy in demand for food, beyond just the show’s iconic line. The plant is realised through a serious of ever-bigger puppets by Sydney-based company Erth Visual & Physical Inc, eventually taking over most of the stage to dominate Act Two, making for a truly striking spectacle.
Despite its sinister subject matter, this is a show filled with humour. As shop owner Mr Mushnik, Tyler Coppin shows great comic timing and physical engagement, including in accompaniment with Hill in ‘Mushnick and Son’, complete with an energetic folk dance. Kuki Tipoki and Dash Kruck add to the ensemble, with Kruck transitioning between a variety of over-the-top characters with gleeful relish.
Every aspect of “Little Shop of Horrors” is infectiously spirited, especially its music, performed by a five-piece offstage band led by Musical Director Andrew Worboys. Drawing inspiration from its 1960s rock roots, the catchy songs begin with ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, which remains as refrain in mind long after its end.
Punctuating the account with this and other songs, and narration is the impressive harmonised trio of Josie Lane, Chloe Zule and Angelique Cassimatis (with some initial narrational assistance from Lee Lin Chin). But it is Hannaford who soars the most vocally; from the vulnerability of her ‘Somewhere that’s Green’ covet for a suburban life to the yearning of show’s big love ballad ‘Suddenly Seymour’, she is both heartbreaking and animated as the show’s ill-fated heroine.
This cult tale of a carnivorous plant is far from usual musical fair; the comedy is dark (faithful to its musical origin and not the sanitised 1986 Rick Moranis/Steve Martin movie), but still full of fun and snappily paced. The creative team behind Hayes Theatre Company’s inaugural, lauded production of “Sweet Charity” two years ago, have again done something very special… special in that strange beautiful and absurd sort of way.