Little Shop of Horrors (Melbourne, 2016)
Almost every time The Hayes Theatre in Sydney announces their latest show I hope and pray that it will soon be on its way to Melbourne (I’m still waiting for the RENT announcement, k thx bai). I didn’t have to get my knickers in a knot this time around, however, when a full national tour was announced for Little Shop of Horrors from the get go.
Little Shop is another one of those weird pieces, not dissimilar to The Rocky Horror Show but set a decade on. Based on a film from 1960, the action is set in Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist, where the hapless Seymour (Brent Hill) pines after the dipsy Audrey (Esther Hannaford). The shop is at risk of closing when Seymour finds an unusual looking plant for the shop window that starts to attract more customers. Unfortunately, the plant – named Audrey II – feeds only on human blood, and things get messy. By the end, it’s all rather ridiculous, but in the most delightful way.
Dean Bryant, director extraordinaire, is at the helm after recent successes, Sweet Charity and Anything Goes. He’s probably the best Australia has to offer right now and he imbues this eighties gem with something fresh and fierce. The first act, with the exception of the plant at the centre of it all, is all in black, white and grey, before the stage comes alive with colour in act two. Far from being a drab and unexciting set to look at, it pops in all the right ways from start to finish courtesy of set designer Owen Phillips. The costumes by Tim Chappel (responsible for some of the best costumes ever seen on stage in Priscilla Queen of the Desert) are fabulous in both acts. Andrew Hallsworth’s choreography is sassy and sharp, and corny when it needs to be. And Audrey II is as silly and over the top as you could ask for. You know the show is good when a giant scrotum-cabbage-vagina consumes the whole stage.
Brent Hill does some of his best work yet as Seymour as well as voicing Audrey II AT THE SAME TIME. It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but he absolutely nails the dual role. He’s no ventriloquist and audience members can clearly see his lips moving in parts, but it doesn’t matter. The transitions back and forth between the two are seamless and if Australia actually had a theatre award worth mentioning, I’d say he was in with a real chance.
Esther Hannaford is a dream as Audrey, which was never in doubt. She is perfection personified and that singing voice of hers is too much to put into words. Unlike some actresses who have played the role (and yes I most certainly am talking about Ellen Greene) she doesn’t keep doing the heavily accented schtick in the musical numbers, instead letting her own phenomenal voice shine. And thank god for that.
The remainder of the small cast are all fine additions. Tyler Coppin dons the mo for Mushnik and provides laughs in his big number, ‘Mushnik and Son’. Scott Johnson (Jersey Boys) is hella creepy as Audrey’s boyfriend and sadistic dentist, Orin, and every time he’s onstage it’s unsettling. Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane, and Chloe Zuel belt it out as the trio of street urchins, and can someone give Chloe Zuel a lead role already? Thanks.
In one of his few non-Disney scores, Alan Menken contributes some terrific songs to this rock musical. ‘Suddenly Seymour’ is the big one, but the score is filled with many other gems including ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, ‘Skid Row’, ‘Be a Dentist’, and Audrey II’s ‘Git It’. Some numbers are more memorable than others, but there’s no weak link amongst the thoroughly enjoyable score.
I attended the first Melbourne preview and there were a few minor issues with the sound design, making it hard to understand all the lyrics that were sung. Hopefully this was only an opening glitch. There is little to fault in this production, and no doubt Dean Bryant will be snatched up by Broadway in the near future. But while he’s still a local hero, make sure you see every single damn thing he does.
Little Shop of Horrors plays in Melbourne for a VERY limited season until 22nd May SO HURRY THE HELL UP!