BWW Review: Two Green Thumbs Up for the Stratford Festival's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
If you are in Stratford, Ontario and are looking for a good time, look no further than this season's production of horror-comedy-rock-musical LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. There aren't a whole lot of shows that can call themselves a horror-comedy-rock-musical, but if you frequent these parts...or, you know, have a pulse, chances are you saw one last year too. The success of last season's THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW has sent the message that audiences get a kick out of the subversive escape that this kind of show can offer, and so, Director/Choreographer Donna Feore is serving up another delicious hit in the same vein as ROCKY HORROR (puns intended).
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS tells the story of the employees of a struggling flower shop on New York's skid row. When meek and shy Seymour Krelborn comes up with the idea to show off an exotic plant he has found, the shop starts to find some success. He soon discovers that this plant doesn't enjoy the typical plant food and instead has a taste for human blood. Suddenly, Seymour has the chance to attain everything he has always wanted, including the love of his colleague Audrey-but at a terrible (and oddly hilarious) cost.
As someone who thoroughly enjoyed THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW, I attended the opening of this one actively not wanting to compare the two. It turns out that I really didn't have to worry, as I quickly got swept up into the ridiculous ride that is LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. It's just So. Much. Fun. This said, there are some ghosts of THE ROCKY HORROR SHOW still lurking on the stage of the Avon Theatre in the form of mini easter eggs that are planted within this show-Nothing major, but just enough to make knowing audience members smile. In fact, the mere presence of Dan Chameroy (last season's Frank) is almost like an easter egg. He is hilariously over the top and horrifying as the sadistic dentist Orin, and he continues to get the laughs when he pops up again later in the play. This musical is all about the camp, and my entire row can attest to the fact that I was nothing short of delighted by his over-dramatic quick changes that begin even before he leaves the stage. This minor gimmick was thoroughly entertaining, so kudos to whoever came up with it.
The musical, originally performed on Broadway in 1982, with the Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, offers a variety of musical stylings from doo-wop, to rock and roll, to Motown influences, to more classic music theatre show tunes. As always, the band, with music direction by Laura Burton, is top notch. Audiences will find themselves clapping their hands and bopping along to the music all the way out to the street.
The casting of André Morin as Seymour, immediately seemed like such an inspired choice and I was shocked last night to discover that he is even more perfect for the role than I had imagined! His rendition of "Grow for Me" is fantastic and I was particularly impressed with his performance of "Git It" with Matthew G. Brown as Audrey II. Another inspired choice was the always-fantastic Steve Ross as grumpy shop owner, Mr. Mushnik.
Gabi Epstein makes the audience root for Audrey. She brings a good-hearted innocence to the role and is captivating when she sings "Somewhere That's Green." This number is fascinating in that it is literally just a list of things she wants...and sad, simple things at that...but she is so engaging and her performance is so heartfelt, that she makes us deeply want them for her too.
The design, puppetry and voice work for Audrey II are all so well done, that it is challenging to speak of those three elements separately. Audrey II truly felt like just another well-performed character in the show, and this is the ultimate compliment to the work of everyone involved. Matthew G. Brown's voice work is not only wonderful, but you can just sense that he is having the time of his life-which is fitting, because Audrey II also seems to be having a pretty good time! Shout out to puppeteers Henry Firmston, Evangelia Kambites, Jordan Mah, and Jason Sermonia for making me forget that the plant isn't actually alive (or...is it?).
In addition to the design for Audrey II, the set design by Michael Gianfrancesco and the projection design by Jamie Nesbitt are key to helping immerse audience members into the world of skid row. Nesbitt's projections were particularly effective, from the gritty NYC backdrop before the show with people moving around in apartment windows, to the sequence with Orin the Dentist, they helped set the tone and convey the story in an amusingly campy way.
Also setting the tone, and guiding us along through this bizarre story, are Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon, portrayed by Vanessa Sears, Starr Domingue, and Camille Eanga-Selenge respectively. Performing as a Ronettes-type girl group, the three blend well together but each one of them has moments to shine throughout the show. The entire ensemble does well to bring this show to life.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is the show to see if you are seeking to escape the world for a little while with some quality music to dance along to, big production numbers to sink your teeth into, or a strange combination of a horrifying, tragic, and hilarious story.
BWW gives it Two Green Thumbs Up!
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS continues in repertory at the Avon Theatre until November 2nd.
Photo Credit: Chris Young