“Don’t Feed The Plants!” A Review Of Little Shop of Horrors (Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Summer Season 2013)

As a major fan of Little Shop of Horrors, I will summarize its history before reviewing Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s 2013 summer season adaptation. This review does contain spoilers, therefore anyone not familiar with the show should look away now!

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Little Shop of Horrors has become a well-loved, cult hit musical over the years since it debuted on the off-Broadway stage back in 1982 at the Orpheum Theatre located in Manhattan. This Science-Fiction, Horror, Romance, Musical Extravaganza originated from the 1960 B-Movie  of the same name directed by Roger Corman; then was subsequently developed into a musical by composers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (of Disney fame). Lee Wilkof and Ellen Greene starred as leads Seymour and Audrey in the original production and these beloved characters have since been played by many talented actors as I will further discuss . The main plot focuses on hard done by florist Seymour Krelborn, living in the grimy, urban Skid Row his luck changes when he discovers a ‘strange and interesting plant’ who he names Audrey II after the girl he desires. The unusual plant soon reveals its blood-thirsty intentions as it seduces Seymour into killing for fame and fortune with dire, moral consequences. Little Shop of Horrors was given the big-screen treatment in 1986 in the Frank Oz screen version starring Rick Moranis in the lead role of Seymour, Ellen Greene reprising her role as Audrey (a first for its time where the original stage actress would transition the part to film), Steve Martin as the demented dentist Orin Scrivello, Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik  and Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs voicing carnivorous plant Audrey II. The film was certainly ahead of its time with Lyle Conway’s magnificent Audrey II puppets and through no fault of its own was forced to differ considerably from the stage version with the change in ending due to the original test audience reactions. It has however recently been restored in full color in time for the brand new blu ray release. If I had to choose, I prefer the stage version’s ending as it brings Seymour’s story arc full circle, behind the tongue-in-cheek comedy and family-friendly horror its a story of moral consequence. Seymour is a likeable character but he does unforgivable things to get where he wants to be, “You know the meek are gonna get what’s comin’ to ’em” as ‘Greek Chorus’ Ronette, Chiffon and Crystal sing.

The film spurned a short-lived animated TV series, Little Shop (1991) and has been parodied and satirized in modern popular culture such as in South Park and Family Guy.

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Little Shop is one of the musicals that I’ve had a frequent history with and have seen on stage a handful of times. It has been tailored to both the professional theater as well as amateur productions. Its been with me throughout my childhood, my first experience being with the 1986 film, then a school production in 2003. In 2004 I saw my first professional version of the show at the Jersey Opera House with former Coronation Street star Tracy Shaw as Audrey and John Altman aka. Eastenders ‘Nasty Nick’ as the Dentist which proved a treat! The last production I saw was performed by a local Youth Theatre a few years ago. Admittedly, it has been nice to re-visit the show and in a sense see a refreshing take on it in Anthony Williams’s current production.

Following on from last year’s popular and successful Hairspray, Williams has chosen to stay within the 1960’s themed genre by selecting Little Shop and bringing it to the Theater-Y-Werin stage. What struck me was the darker turn the production took in terms of its lighting and set design giving off a sense of grimness. Revolving sets between the bleak exterior of Skid Row to the brightness of Mushnik’s flower shop and the blood-splattered dentist’s office transitioned smoothly into each other capturing the story beautifully and strongly helped to contrast the desires for escapism the lead characters sing about in well-known numbers such as Somewhere that’s Green and Skid Row.  The sound effects used such as the dentists drill and Audrey II chomping on human body parts are done very well to a convincing effect. The sets came across as very stylistic and well designed. One issue in the performance I attended on August the 7th was the instrumental music did drown out the singing in some instances.

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Each performer within the show displayed masses of talent. James Gillan plays Seymour, the geeky florist as meek and conflicted as he must commit horrible acts in order to ‘better himself’ until his last minute heroic actions and eventual sacrifice. Gillan has a nice singing-voice and performs his solo and duet numbers e.g. Grow for me and Git It in a 60’s pop style manner. Sarah Earnshaw fits the part of Audrey beautifully, she makes the role her own and provides compassion and empathy for the character which makes her death scene all the more heartbreaking, I definitely choked up. Earnshaw and Gillan have convincing chemistry, their rendition of Suddenly Seymour is both powerful and emotional. Jimmy Johnston plays a self-indulgent Mr Mushnik with much humor, his duet with Gillan Mushnik and Son is one of the show’s comedy highlights and a fantastic opportunity to showcase their dancing skills. Richard Hurst takes the challenge of playing a number of parts throughout the show, a tradition for the actor playing the dentist and does it well, he is mostly humorous but ventures to the dark side during his scenes with Audrey as the abusive boyfriend to disturbing effect. Edward Baruwa voices the man-eating plant and sings soulfully in a performance just as fantastic as Levi Stubbs. Brett Shiels is the other man behind the botanical monster, both of them give Audrey II a grand stage presence that really stands out. I had a smile on my face every time the carnivorous plant appeared. Amy Coombes, Rachel Ann Crane and Mary Fox are sensational singers and remain charismatic throughout the show; they belt out the title number and give off a morbid vibe dressed in funeral attire and clutching lilies at the end of the first act. An interesting addition is Sam Giffard who opens up the show as a character titled ‘Demonic Child’, an otherworldly, sinister presence who informs us of an impending “deadly threat to the human race”. Reminiscent of Regan from The Exorcist (1973), with pigtails and a lollipop in hand, she laughs maniacally and is in place as a conscience for Seymour, chillingly appearing at the window each time he provides Audrey II with human flesh. To my knowledge this character hasn’t appeared in any other version but definitely provides an eerie tone.

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Anthony Williams’s Little Shop of Horrors is a must-see, he has managed to bring in traditional elements from past versions including the spectacular finale and the omission of Mean Green Mother From Outer Space (a song written for the film which admittedly I did miss!) while putting his own vision into it. I now look forward to seeing more of this talented cast in The Magic of the Musicals on August 18th, a yearly show that showcases the individual talents of its current summer season casts. The show is dark, creepy, funny and entertaining. Don’t miss it unless you want to be fed to a hungry plant!!

Hayley Alice Roberts.

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