06
Jun
16

Little Shop of Horrors

 

Little Shop of Horrors

Luckiest Productions & Tinderbox Productions

In association with QPAC

QPAC Playhouse

June 1 – 12 2016

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

little-shop-of-horrors-photo-jeff-busby

Roger Corman’s The Little Shop of Horrors (1960) was a pretty terrible movie; it was largely improvised on a set built for a different movie, but when Howard Ashman (Book & Lyrics) and Alan Menken (Music) penned a musical adaptation for the stage it quickly became a cult classic on Off-Broadway and on screen. This production, by Luckiest Productions and Tinderbox Productions is the best Little Shop we’ve seen; it’s superbly designed and directed, and boasts a stellar cast that brings the original sci-fi story to vibrant life as if for the first time.

Despite the smart commercial decision to put this tiny set and its enormous plant into QPAC’s Playhouse rather than its Cremorne Theatre – and I don’t know the dimensions, I just loathe the empty space around contained, touring sets – it looks fantastic… Imagine though, what it would feeeeeel like to be literally surrounded by the plant! How much more would that cost??? A sophisticated schlock-injected film noir aesthetic draws us into a black and white world, just like Dorothy’s home in Kansas before she’s tossed into the Technicolor of Oz (I remember when we tried to fix the settings on our big enormous twelve-inch screen the first time we were allowed to stay up late to see The Wizard of Oz televised!). And it’s not just the set, it’s the whole of Skid Row, metaphorically grey, drained of all vibrant colour until Audrey II – and money and fame and true love – enter their lives. This is bold and inspired design (Set by Owen Phillips, Lighting by Ross Graham, Costumes by Tim Chappel and the plant, created by Erth Visual & Physical Inc), right down to Audrey’s on-trend grey hair, the black flower heads and stems, newspaper print with which to wrap them, the white plastic crime scene/Psycho shower curtain, and the shadows creeping up the walls of the shop; a creepy pre-cursor of the horrors to come.

The dark themes of Little Shop are heightened here but not dwelt upon and I wouldn’t hesitate to take ten-year old Poppy, however; Opening Night clashed with a school disco so she had to consider her priorities… The school disco won.

In the iconic roles of Audrey and Seymour, made famous in the movie musical (1986) by Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, Esther Hannaford and Brent Hill stun us. I’ve never seen a truly original take on either character, but Hannaford and Hill have recreated these two, and in doing so, have also discovered an entirely new perspective on the unlikely relationship; it’s a sweeter, stronger dynamic. We love it. I adored Hannaford in King Kong, and as the vulnerable and self-destructive Audrey it’s as if she’s revisited the very essence of that era of filmmaking and also, the shadow of every domestic violence victim in the world. She’s certainly the tallest, leanest bombshell of all time, but at the same time so fragile… Hannaford finds a way to make every moment genuine; it’s about what’s going on behind the eyes, despite her entire time on stage being all about her gangly presence and OTT posturing. Delightfully awkward.

Hannaford has said she didn’t focus on her singing until age 18 but she’s become one of our best, able to move effortlessly between speaking and singing without the irritating change in tone. I’ve never heard Somewhere That’s Green so beautifully shaped to make us ache and hope and remember to breathe. One of the comments Penny Mullen and I have made, as the judges of the Sunshine Plaza Breakthru comp for schools, is that as the kids get older and sing the same songs, the meaning of the songs will continue to change. I’ve heard Audrey’s song sung by so many young girls whom, thank goodness, have no understanding of it as anything more than a dream of having somewhere pretty to live, but Hannaford finds every bruise and broken bone in it. Heartbreaking.

And Suddenly Seymour is a showstopper. Hill and Hannaford are perfectly matched and clearly enjoy every moment of their duet. But before we stop raving about Hannaford, I love love LOVE her breathy lower register, the European immigrant influenced New York twang, and the precision pause-for-effect tactics that have us in the palm of her hand from the outset. Is Hannaford the most underrated musical comedy performer in the country?

Director, Dean Bryant, is brilliant. I love his global view; his ability to hone in on the small and truly epic stuff in a single moment; the comedy and real vulnerability in the tragedy (Sweet Charity for Hayes Theatre, Anything Goes for Opera Australia/GFO, I’ll Eat You Last, Priscilla and GAYBIES, anyone? And Christie Whelan Brown’s Britney Spears: The Cabaret, and Michael Griffiths’ In Vogue: Songs By Madonna and Sweet Dreams: Songs By Annie Lennox). Bryant takes a big bite out of what we thought we’d acquired a taste for before spitting it out and plating it up as a new, stunning winning dish. Amazing. And surprising that he hasn’t yet been lured overseas for a bigger bite of the cherry.

Little Shop of Horrors exceeds all expectations. It’s brilliant. Don’t miss it. 

littleshop2

Hill was an awesome Lonny in Rock of Ages and he doesn’t disappoint as Seymour. A terrific singer and actor, Hill embraces Seymour’s nerdiness without making him pathetic. His tentativeness is endearing and when he finds the strength within to challenge the plant he elevates the character to hero status. He actually voices the plant too, an extraordinary accomplishment, making him a real multi-tasking musical theatre hero. Can you imagine that conversation with Director, Dean Bryant? You want me to do whaaaaaat?! And look, it doesn’t work perfectly – we miss some of the words, which we know are so witty and cheeky and funny, but it’s a very clever device.

littleshop3

The urchins (Chloe Zuel, Josie Lane & Angelique Cassimatis) are suitably too cool for school and emanate a wonderful Hispanic flava: this from Crystal (Cassimatis) and Chiffon (Lane). As Ronette, Zuel raises the cool stakes through the roof, a magnet for the eyes. Together they are Avenue Q’s West Side Story girls. I missed Cassimatis in her show, Guilty Pleasures recently because TIMING, but after this performance I won’t hesitate to reschedule things to see her the next time she’s in town. Together these girls are quite formidable; powerhouse voices and perfect harmonies, slick chorey by Andrew Hallsworth, and sufficient sass to make any secondary teacher’s stomach turn. Yes, I had a moment of gratitude that there are times I get to work with some of the best kids on the Sunshine Coast!

Tyler Coppin (he was pure evil magic in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang), makes Mushnik his Jewish own, easily surpassing all previous efforts I’ve seen to reinvent this role, and Scott Johnson brings us a genuinely dumb dentist (made famous in the film by Steve Martin and on the Sunshine Coast by Sam Coward), drawing on the same level of energy and wit that we saw from Vincent Hooper and Jake Ambrose in Heathers. (American footballers, I’m sorry, but there’s usually a reason a stereotype sticks).

Brisbane’s (and Brisbane’s) Dash Kruck plays multiple characters superbly, and as much as I enjoy Hill’s performance, I can’t resist saying aloud online that I’d LOVE to see Kruck’s Seymour. As Hill’s understudy, if you happen to get him for a matinee or an evening performance at QPAC I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Kuki Tipoki is another enigmatic performer with little stage time, but that’s because he’s a talented musician, and he plays guitar in the band. Under the masterful hand of Noosa’s favourite MD Andrew Worboys, this band is tight and funky and fun. Despite minor issues early on (some vocal distortion, some slow lighting cues, whatevs), the look and sound of the show is terrific.

Bryant is actually brilliant. I love his global view; his ability to hone in on the small and truly epic stuff in a single moment; the comedy in the tragedy (a-hem, Sweet Charity for Hayes Theatre, Anything Goes for Opera Australia/GFO, I’ll Eat You Last, Priscilla and GAYBIES, anyone? And Christie Whelan Brown’s Britney Spears: The Cabaret, and Michael Griffiths’ In Vogue: Songs By Madonna and Sweet Dreams: Songs By Annie Lennox). Bryant is one of our brightest, taking a big bite out of what we thought we’d acquired a taste for before spitting it out and plating it up as a new, stunning winning dish. Amazing.

Bryant’s Little Shop of Horrors exceeds all expectations, setting a new standard in the small scale revivals realm. 

Advertisements

0 Responses to “Little Shop of Horrors”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: