Before the duo behind the legendary movie animations of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast achieved that fame they transformed Roger Corman’s 1960 B-side Little Shop of Horrors into musical form. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical garnered massive success and in 1983 played at London’s Comedy Theatre, winning the Evening Standard’s Best Musical Award.
ATG have bestowed contemporary audiences with a revival paired with a national tour. Moving on from Wimbledon, Woking (20 minutes on the fast train from London Waterloo) is currently the home for this production. Is Little Shop of Horrors suited to contemporary audiences and what is the current significance of this cult classic?
Skid Row is a town brimming with trouble and ragamuffins. There are florists, teeth pulling shops and record playing studios. Imagine particular towns in the north of England affected by the current economic climate.
Seymour is spellbound over Audrey. Audrey is under the spell of Orin. Orin is under the spell of his own evil mind. Mushnik, Seymour’s father, however, is driven by money, and the ensemble is driven by the acts of these characters. Throw in an ever growing plant, and, if you haven’t seen the 80s film with Ellen Green, Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, imagine a crazy plot that involves all of the above.
ATG’s marketing campaign uses X-Factor’s Rhydian to promote the tour. His face, prevalent in posters, suggests a bigger role in the production; instead his vocals outshine most of his theatrical moments. You wish to see a menacing dentist but, instead, Back to Future’s Doc comes to mind. The audience, on the other hand, welcomes his celebrity status which I assume will continue to gain momentum with each performance.
Often in musical theatre an extravagant number of dancers move from side to side. Little Shop of Horrors, with a cast of eleven, sets an excellent example about what can be achieved with smaller numbers and ingenuity.
Sam Lupton takes Rick Moranis’ helpless Seymour and adds desperation. Lonely and without any real prospect of future prosperity, how can one’s actions be judged?
Stephanie Clift’s Audrey may be simple, but she outshines as an optimist and is the undisputed star of this production. The actor’s predecessors have ensured comedy with this role – Clift goes one step further. With Tara Louis Wilkinson’s direction, Audrey’s character, whilst very entertaining, depicts pain. She illustrates the outlook and attitude of domestic violence victims, whilst not once leaning towards negative energy.
Audrey is the hope that moves the world forward.
Although Paul Kissaun has a large presence onstage, there is no depth to Mushkin’s character due to Kissaun’s pure focus on financial matters. In the second act there is some concern shown towards his adopted son, but the character is swallowed swiftly before any real exploration of feelings can occur.
The traits of Mushkin’s personality relate to those of the Shakespearean era. The 50s setting provides insight into that decade, yet, as a contemporary revival, the repetition of stereotypes is not comfortable to watch. The female ensemble Sasha Latoya, Cassie Clare and Stephanie McConville seem to represent the The Supremes. Effectively, they deliver each tune with much entertainment, whilst demonstrating bravery. By challenging the dentist it feels like a warning that street girls are not ones to be taken lightly.
Neil Nicholas and Josh Wilmott, with an impressive manner, bring alive the magic of Audrey 2: A small Venus Flytrap growing out-of-control, posing a threat of world domination. At times the movement does not sync with the vocals, but the performance is really outstanding so being out of sync is perceived as a mere hitch.
Although the second act fails to match the energy of the first half, the music and Matthew Cole’s choreography puts this production in the top of musicals that currently dominate the UK touring circuits.
Whether it is Mushnik, Audrey or even Audrey 2 that you find appealing, whatever you take from this production, the cast and creative team have done a superb job in delivering an energetic and engaging revival of a crazy story about plant eating humans.