Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics – Howard Ashman [based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles B. Griffith]
Music – Alan Menken

Audrey – Sheridan Smith
Seymour – Paul Keating
Mushnik – Barry James
Orin Scrivello [and others] – Alistair McGowan
Chiffon – Katie Kerr as ChiffonCrystal – Melitsa Nicola
Ronette – Jenny Fitzpatrick
Audrey II – Mike McShane (spoken role)

Andy Heath – Puppeteer Andy Heath
Matthew Eames & Cathryn Davis – Ensemble

Toby Higgins (piano & musical director, keyboards), Leon Rossiter (guitar), Geraint Roberts (bass) & Ed Carlile (drums)

Matthew White – Director
David Farley – Designer
Lynne Page – Choreography
Caroline Humphris – Musical supervision
Paul Anderson – LightingGareth Owen – Sound

Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 14 March, 2007
Venue: Duke of York’s Theatre, St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2

Roger Corman is a film producer-director who is always cost-conscious about his output. Back in 1963 he finished the filming of Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Raven” early, so used the remaining two days’ studio time by improvising another film, “The Terror”, with Boris Karloff and Jack Nicholson. It cost practically nothing and probably fed the hunger for exploitation drive-in movies for many moons. A couple of years earlier Jack Nicholson was in another ‘weekend’ Corman production, “Little Shop of Horrors”, playing a masochistic dental patient. It was hardly Oscar-winning stuff but it had a charm of its own and the cheapness of the production only added to rather than detracted from its interest. Again it was the stuff of drive-in movies – cheaply made pictures with an action, crime, sci-fi or horror backdrop, the stuff of most US genre movies. It also became a minor cult film in Britain, even playing the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street. Who, back then in 1960 would have thought a ‘cheapo’ exploitation film would be the inspiration for a Broadway and subsequently Hollywood musical?

The late Howard Ashman saw the possibilities and adapted the screenplay into a musical with composer Alan Menken. It opened off-Broadway in New York in July 1982 and ran for over 2,000 performances. The success was repeated in London where it ran for two years from October 1985. The original production never reached Broadway as Ashman felt it was more a fringe production. However, another production did eventually open on Broadway in 2003, but for only 372 performances. A Hollywood film of the musical was made in 1986 with Steve Martin, Ellen Greene and Rick Moranis, but the ending was changed to make it a feel-good movie. The first London revival of the show was last November at the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory fringe-theatre near London Bridge. So successful was it, as was theatre’s previous production of Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George”, that it has now transferred to the West End. Whether this is the making of it or a bad move is debatable. The nature of the piece is such that it needs a small space to make it work. Although the audience appeared to be enjoying it, whether it has the legs for a long run remains to be seen.

Although this reviewer liked both the original film and the Hollywood musical version, the stage-show seems to lack a vital ingredient. The songs are all a bit samey and are fairly unmemorable, written and sung in that “Grease”/“Rocky Horror Show” manner in pastiches of ‘Motown’ and ‘doo-wop’ styles. The basic plot remains although it extends that of the original screenplay. Seymour, a nerd who works at Mr Mushnik’s flower shop on Skid Row, is given an unusual plant that he calls ‘Audrey II’ after his would-be girlfriend of the same name. Is it really a female plant with the voice of Mike McShane? Anyway it begins to grow out of all proportion and, being constantly hungry, demands food, preferably human flesh. To satisfy the plant’s voracious appetite, Seymour has to feed it with the bodies of people he doesn’t like – the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello among others. Things come to a head when ‘Audrey II’ eats ‘Audrey I’, and then Seymour gets really mad … but the plant has another trick up its leaves…

It’s entertaining enough but the humour is so forced, the acting so over the top and the music so loud and in your face, that you long for a quiet patch just to enjoy the company of ‘Audrey II’ (expertly manipulated by puppeteer Andy Heath and voiced by Mike ‘feed me’ McShane) – which is the best thing on stage all evening. It deserves a show on its own. Sheridan Smith makes a cute Audrey, Paul Keating is a credible nerd as Seymour and impressionist Alistair McGowan makes his mark portraying multifarious characters including the aforementioned sadistic dentist Orin, dubbed ‘the leader of the plaque’. But the real star is the plant, which grows to cover most of the stage and with its giant tooth-capped maw and wriggling tendrils – is it really the work of some 34 operators? – resembles some giant Muppet creation that has simply got out of hand. In ‘Audrey II’ a definite star is grown.

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