Thoughts on Little Shop of Horrors

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I thought, having seen the musical twice now, that I would come into this review with a clear idea in my head, feeling the same after both shows. But I was wrong …

SPOILERS!

For tickets, go to: http://www.littleshoptour.com.au/

I’ve seen this musical three times on stage now – once was an amateur performance a couple of years ago, and, as I mentioned, I’ve seen this version twice. I’m a huge fan of the movie, so there is always that comparison you have – no matter if you want to or not.

So seeing this for the first time, I had mixed feelings. But the second time, I thoroughly enjoyed it – perhaps it was because I could look at it more subjectively, without comparing it so much – or maybe it’s just because I had better seats.

Here’s my tip though – when you buy tickets – but them as close to the stage as you can. It’ll make a HUGE difference! You don’t really get a sense of how large Audrey II becomes if you’re way up the back. Funny though, when I first saw it and the actors were near the plant, I couldn’t help but want to shout out to them to be careful that the plant would eat them! Which is ridiculous, of course, because I know that’s not how the story goes – but for a split second, I truly believed the plant had a mind of its own. Funny, or stupid, I just don’t know.

I loved the added quirkiness of the show. That being, the appearance of SBS’s Lee Lin Chin. I’d love to know the reason why she agreed to do it. Either way though, it got a huge laugh from the crowd. They loved it! I also liked the forewarning that us, the audience, was in trouble of being eaten alive by Audrey II. Very good.

Being such a small show – as it always is – if you’re someone who loves big dance numbers, and numerous sets and costumes – this isn’t that type of show. Nor should it be. There’s only ever a handful of people in the show – I think ten – but that’s how it should be. It’s only a Little Shop, after all, it needs only a little production (I only mean little in terms of size, not for the value or quality of the production itself).

I have spoken to a lot of people, and there is an issue of the assault that goes on. I personally didn’t have a problem with it. It’s there for comedic purposes – and although the situation Audrey is in isn’t funny at all, the violence is needed for the humour and to move the story along. If Orin was in fact a nice guy, we, as an audience, would probably find the idea of his death differently.

Although, I did have a problem with how the killings were played out. This would be my biggest criticism of the whole production. In the movie, Seymour is sweet and kind, and he doesn’t want to kill anybody. I feel like the deaths that do happen in the movie happen without his involvement. Orin dies, yes, but I feel like Seymour would not have killed him – nor could he have stopped it. Whether from shock or not knowing what to do – I don’t think he could have saved him. In this production, Seymour is given the option to save Orin – whether he could have or not is another story – but the song that he sings and the fact that he just sits back and let Orin die really really bothered me. It made Seymour out to be a more vicious person than he’s meant to be.

This also is present with Mr Mushnik – especially after Mushnik and Son. That song had always bothered me because Mushnik reaches out to Seymour, yes for his own selfish reasons, but Seymour doesn’t know that. As far as Seymour knows, Mushnik is reaching out and trying to do right by him. So when Seymour let’s him get eaten, it also sits uncomfortably with me – although, I think this was played more like he was in shock and his back was against the wall type thing. So it annoyed me less than with Orin. Still, that is why I don’t like the number Mushnik and Son, and I probably never will. Although the performance and number was flawless! I’m not going to spoil why – but gosh, it was done well!

I also enjoyed the little added numbers in the show. I don’t remember them all being in the version I first saw – maybe they were, maybe they weren’t – but I liked them. I’ve never been a fan of the musical ending – I prefer the happy movie ending, but that’s up to personal opinion. Some prefer this ending – others don’t. Although WTF was with the plant costumes at the end?! Now isn’t that just bizarre? Puppetry is all kinds of amazing though! And all different sized Audrey’s look great! No complaints here!

The set is simple, but effective. Everything takes place in the Little Shop store or around the stage. I’ve mentioned before how I like a lot of sets, so this did require a little imagination – but what they did worked well. Also, as a pro, it means you don’t have set people coming in every two seconds to move around a set piece.

The casting is fabulous. I can’t fault anyone’s performance. The stand out is definitely Brent Hill playing Seymour. At first I thought he was an interesting choice to play the meek, mild mannered, sweet Seymour – but he really impressed me. Not only that, but in the way he plays both Seymour and voiced Audrey II simultaneously is just mild blowing. How he is able to bring so much power and attitude to the voice without it ever showing in his mannerisms is just extraordinary! I don’t know how he does it – but it definitely shows that he’s someone to keep an eye on moving forward in musical theatre.

There has been a lot of debate whether Brent should also voice Audrey II or not. It is especially difficult when he duets with himself in Feed Me (Git It), and maybe would have been better done with a separate voice. Brent does a great job – but I personally found his mouth moving distracting – but I think that was only due to being told that he did the voice before I saw the show. I wish I hadn’t have been. Although, I found it more annoying the first time. I also don’t like how the plant had a collection of voices after eating – it’s a dead giveaway as to who it’s eaten, but I guess because it only spoke to Seymour anyway, it really wasn’t going to matter so much. So that comes down to personal preference- and definitely doesn’t impact any kind of enjoyment as a whole.

Esther Hannaford, as Audrey, also does an amazing job. Her vocals on Suddenly Seymour had the audience cheering both times I saw it. Her accent compared to Ellen Greene’s in the movie is spot on – although, Esther brings a little more whimsy and ditziness – perhaps not the right world, in this production, Audrey appears to live in her own little whimsical world, which is a delight to watch.

In fact, all the cast do a great job in their respected roles. I also wanted to mention Scott Johnson, who plays Orin. Wow. I think Steve Martin’s role is so iconic, and I never thought anyone could live up to his performance – but Scott proved me wrong. The first time I saw this on stage, Orin was played by an aged bald man. And, although he did a great job, I couldn’t help but think it was the wrong casting choice. Now, I’m not saying an aged bald man could bag someone like Audrey – but in terms of the character, it just didn’t seem to fit. So I think casting Scott in the role was a better choice casting-wise, than I first saw. He just seemed to nail the character, attitude, voice (which is important) and the iconic laugh. Also, he made it a little more sexy … I mean, ‘open wide, here I come’ was played with dirty connotations- the women in front of me the second time we loving every minute on it!

The thing that bothered me most was the black and white first act, before the technicolour second act. Although, it didn’t bother me as much the second time. I understand why they made the choice – as a nod to the original movie – and I’ve heard people who say they like that stark contrast between going from a bad place to a good place – and the colour represents that. But I felt like I needed nee wanted that colour. To me, I see the colour as that hope that things will get better. That even, being in such a miserable place, the colour represents that hope for the future. If that makes sense? I wanted that. That’s why I felt when Audrey II finally makes an appearance, it was such a lift and it felt like, right, now the musical really begins.

Although I nitpick a little, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Being that it is such a cult classic, there is always going to be comparisons and stuff you like better from the movie – but that being said, there will be stuff you like better from the production. That’s just how these things go. Besides, the musical is about a plant that eats people – it’s wacky, it’s unusual, it’s absurd – and that’s how it should be! It’s 2.5 hours of just pure joy and fun.

And, if for nothing else, go see Brent’s performance – it is worth it.

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