**Disclaimer: Contains Some Spoilers**
Boy loves girl, girl dates sadistic dentist, boy grows a strange and exotic plant with a sinister plan of world domination, the plot in question is of course the cult classic Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musical Little Shop of Horrors.
Originally based on a black and white 1960’s B-Movie starring a very young Jack Nicholson, Little Shop of Horrors fast became one of the most popular off-Broadway musicals by the 1980’s. In 1986 it was adapted into a big screen extravaganza directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and a then relatively unknown comedic actor Steve Martin. The movie soon became notorious for giving in to test audiences and completely re-writing the original tragic ending. The film has since been re-mastered with the director’s cut so it can be experienced as originally intended.
Little Shop of Horrors continues to eat its way through theatres in this latest UK tour courtesy of Sell-A-Door Theatre Company. This mean, green mother of a show recently landed in Wales’s Capital Cardiff at the historical New Theatre; proving to be the perfect pre-Halloween treat for all the family! Starring Welsh classical singer Rhydian Roberts as demented dentist Orin Scrivello, this production of the well-known musical is vibrant and slick from start to finish.
Down on his luck florist Seymour Krelborn (Sam Lupton) experiences a change of fortune when he stumbles upon a “strange and interesting” plant one day. Business is soon blooming at Mr Mushnik’s flower shop until Seymour discovers he’s bitten off more than he can chew when his new project affectionately named Audrey II after the girl of his dreams develops a taste for human blood! It’s a comedy of terrors as Seymour commits the unthinkable to maintain his new successful status and impress the woman he loves, Audrey (Stephanie Clift).
The entire cast in this production are outstanding and exceptionally talented, bringing their own quirks and nuances to their roles. Sam Lupton and Stephanie Clift are strong leads with layers of chemistry, creating a loveable Audrey and Seymour that the audience can root for. Lupton has a sensational singing voice which shines in solo number “Grow For Me”, duets Suddenly Seymour” and “Feed Me (Git It)” and ensemble pieces “The Meek Shall Inherit” and “Skid Row (Downtown)”. Stephanie Clift proves to be a dynamic Audrey, certain quirks are reminiscent of Ellen Greene’s iconic performance in the film however she brings her own dimension to the role, a blend of comedy and vulnerability. She is easy to empathise with as we see in the more tender moments such as “Somewhere that’s Green” where she daydreams of a life “far from Skid Row” with nice guy Seymour over the abuse she is subjected to by her dentist boyfriend. This is of course a bittersweet moment when already knowing the outcome and fates of the characters.
The casting of Rhydian as Orin Scrivello is genius! A love to hate character, Rhydian brings energy and eccentricity to the part and is hugely entertaining. As well as the biker-clad, bad boy dentist, Rhydian plays a succession of characters including Bernstein, Mrs Luce and Skip Snip who all want a piece of Seymour’s success offering him television spots and university lectures. He goes through quick changes during one musical number to bring all these characters to life which is both impressive and a whole lot of fun. He also has an incredible voice that he is able to utilize to the max in his big musical number “Dentist”, even treating the audience to his signature operatic vocals along with an Elvis Presley flair!
Sasha Latoya (Crystal), Vanessa Fisher (Chiffon) and Cassie Clare (Ronnette) stand out as the trio based on 1950’s/1960’s girl groups. They belt out opening number “Little Shop of Horrors” which sets the bar high from the start. They work well as a dynamic throughout the show while also showcasing their own individual talents. Each of the girls encompass powerful vocals and dance skills. They inject their own humour into the show during scenes with the lead characters. The costumes they wear during the Finale Ultimo “Don’t Feed the Plants” are absolutely stunning adding in some glamour to the down and out setting of Skid Row. Paul Kissaun makes an excellent Mr Mushnik, he’s the fatherly type with an ulterior agenda. His duet with Sam Lupton “Mushnik and Son” is a great moment that reveals more about their relationship and what lengths they will go do to keep the flower shop a success.
But it’s the character of Audrey II that is most impressive with two actors performing the task of bringing the alien plant to life. Working together, Neil Nicholas (Voice) and Josh Wilmott (Puppeteer) ensure that Audrey II is one menacing mother with its movements complementing the voice acting. With a big villainous laugh, Audrey II is the epitome of dark comedy. Little Shop of Horrors is a show where the villain is rooted for just as much as the protagonists and it’s hard not to enjoy Audrey II’s sinister plotting. Audrey II’s design is fairly close to the film version, the detail of the mouth is remarkable with sharp teeth, an uvula and a fleshy tongue.
The production team have gone all out to recreate Skid Row with precise little details that add to the embodiment of what Little Shop of Horrors is all about. For example, there’s “Dead End” written in white on the stage emphasizes the hopelessness of the characters being stuck in a grimy back street. As the plot unfolds we know that there will be nowhere out other than death so this works as a nice little touch. There’s squirm-worthy sound effects played for laughs including Orin’s brutal teeth pulling and Seymour mutilating him and feeding his limbs to Audrey II at the end of the first act, achieving the right balance between the macabre and the comedic. There’s a cartoonish feel brought in as Audrey fantasizes about a life away from Skid Row with a screen behind her flashing up with imagery of the ideal life. There’s also some edge of the seat moments of nervous tension thrown in for the audience guaranteed for shrieks and laughs!
Sell-A-Door’s Little Shop of Horrors is currently one of the best horror shows in town, it captures the essence and heart of the musical while incorporating its own style and oozes that B-Movie goodness. With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, it’s infectious 1950’s do-wop musical numbers, Little Shop of Horrors is a love story, a horror story with a singing man eating plant, what’s not to love!
Little Shop of Horrors runs until November 2016, check out their website for info and tickets! https://www.selladoor.com/productions/little-shop-of-horrors