Lead performances that will rock your cotton socks are let down by a lack of bizarre in this rock’n’roll horror spoof
The classic cult musical about a riches-dispensing plant with a horrific price tag comes to Melbourne with less bargain than it promises. Originally developed in the early 1980s by soon-to-be legendary Disney writing team Howard Ashman and Alan Menkel, Little Shop of Horrors is a horror-comedy-60s pop rock fusion that cleverly parodies fame and success. Off the back of their popular collaboration on Sweet Charity in 2014, Dean Bryant, Andrew Worboys and Andrew Hallsworth take to the bizarre flower shop on Skid Row with a tremendous cast but some big dreams that don’t quite come together in the end.
We turn our gaze to a rundown little florist in the wrong part of New York. Optimist orphan Seymour (Brent Hill) and sweethearted sufferer Audrey (Esther Hannaford) are desperate to get out of the slums; Seymour has a huge self-doubting crush on Audrey and Audrey arrives at work every day with a new set of bruises courtesy of her sadist/dentist boyfriend (Scott Johnson). But can they ever escape? A mysterious plant arrives upon a peculiar series of events, and it just might be what the unrequited two need to finally be free of Mr Mushnik’s (Tyler Copping) little shop. But this strange and interesting plant has other plans, and a deep thirst for blood.
Our two lead players are magnificent. Brent Hill is so strong as the feeble Seymour that from his first nerdy strut he’s got you right between his teeth – in a loveable way. He is astounding in the surprising art of playing both man and the voice of the plant, two vastly different vocal styles expertly delivered. Esther Hannaford has premium comedic value, yet real gravitas as the awkward doll-faced victim of abuse, and she carries her songs with expertise and power.
On the supporting actor front, Tyler Coppin has a vaudevillian charm as the swindling shop owner, and Scott Johnson is eery, biting and perfectly contemptible as an Elvis-inspired psychotic dentist. Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane and Chloe Zuel are solid as a Greek chorus of the street, though more dynamism between them may have made their performances stand out.
No doubts about it that the performers have incredible talent and play their parts out with a heart-load of confidence. But this rendition is troubled in a way that even standout performances ultimately can’t make up for. Dean Bryant makes a strong attempt at bringing this cult show to life as director, though it never fully fulfils the chills, heart and clever parody that the script provides. The scary elements lack conviction, while all relationships except that between the two would-be lovers feel underdeveloped and lacking in spark. The abundant horror spoofs and tropes seem to fly under the radar for no apparent reason, so that what could be vibrant and zany is not necessarily either.
The different phases of Audrey Two’s puppetry growth are visually excellent, though the movement is often stilted, unconvincing or generally uninspired. Puppetry production company Erth have created an interesting model to look at, though it maybe could be said that the plant’s tacky animatronics serve a purpose on a parody front. Maybe.
Andrew Worboys is a superstar musical director, and the show’s rock’n’roll vibe puts a swell in your chest for any fans of anything 1960s. Jeremy Silver has also done pretty splendid work with sound design, though it must be said that for the uninitiated, some sung lines may be hard to discern.
Choreography by Andrew Hallsworth is generally good, though the chorus moves in a jagged and potentially overcrowded battle for stage space at times. The set design by Owen Phillips is creative and fun apart from a monochromatic first act, which might have been interesting had it really gone anywhere before the second act rolled in.
Ross Graham’s lighting is at its best when the colour gets turned on, but there are many obscured faces at times that make it hard to really engage with them. The costumes of Tim Chappel are beautiful, charismatic and perfectly encapsulate personalities across the rag tag bunch of a cast.
If you can forgive production issues for the sake of some stellar performances, the two leads of Little Shop of Horrors have a lot to offer. Some chuckles and catchy ’60s tunes can be found, but the show seems to lack the required heightened parody humour and has some other niggling show factors. At the very least, Brent Hill and Esther Hannaford are serious voices that we should all keep at least one eye on in the future. The cult Off-Broadway musical has been brought back to Australia for some horror-shtick fun, though much like a certain alien plant it doesn’t quite offer the ride you were hoping for.
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