Little Shop Open for Business

Little Shop of Horrors - QPAC
Little Shop of Horrors – QPAC

Quintessential nice guy Seymour works in a failing florist on skid row. He is hapless, invisible and helplessly in love with his beautiful co-worker, Audrey, until one day he discovers a mysterious plant on the sidewalk. As the plant, named Audrey II, grows and attracts throngs of interested people to the florist, suddenly Seymour’s dreams start coming true – but at what cost?

Little Shop of Horrors is a musical written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (The dream team behind Disney classics The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin). It was inspired by the 1960 B- grade film of the same name and while the musical began life off Broadway, its 1986 film incarnation truly helped it to achieve cult status. The music is an incredibly toe-tapping, snappy combination of 60’s rock and Motown, but under the exuberant exterior, the show tells quite a dark story. Not only does it touch on the psychology of domestic violence and the danger of greed, but it also asks questions like ‘how far you would go for love?’ and ‘Is murder ever ethical?’ All with a dollop of dark humour, of course.

This is a beautiful production. Esther Hannaford’s Audrey exudes an unconscious, almost naïve sexuality and her comic timing is spot on. It’s easy for this character to be a caricature, but instead Hannaford makes her understandable, vulnerable and likeable.

Brent Hill captures Seymour’s morally questionable journey from meek and unassuming florist to something entirely more sinister, and keeps the audience onside the whole time. He also deserves a shout out for voicing Audrey II and singing a couple of powerhouse duets with himself.

At this point I would praise Scott Johnson, but his performance as Audrey’s psychotic dentist boyfriend was a little too believable and unsettling. All other members of the cast also do a splendid job (especially providing tight harmonies and taking turns working the giant 3m Audrey II puppet)- but Dash Kruck does deserve a special mention for his portrayal of four (I think!) characters in five minutes or so (he ran around the back of the set and would enter a few seconds later with a different jacket, a new wig and a totally different voice and demeanor). I also appreciated veteran SBS reporter Lee Lin Chin’s brief but special (pre-recorded) appearance as the narrator.

Under the direction of Dean Bryant, all the production elements unite to create something aesthetically striking. For the first act it feels as if we are watching a black and white TV show – all costumes, set pieces and even hair are black, white or shades of grey. Even skin is made to look pale and dull. In the second act, however, the whole show changes to vibrant Technicolor. I’d love to see it again to be able to analyse the lighting more closely- but I’m certain it is very clever. It creates the sci-fi feeling the show needs, as well as shadows that both foreshadow (ha!) and conceal violence.

This is a neat little show that (I feel sure) is deceptively simple. With a small cast and set, this Little Shop still manages to feel like a high-octane, big budget musical.  Catch it before it catches you.

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