Book & Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Director: Matthew White
Reviewer: John Roberts
A film about a man eating fauna from out of space, it could never work, I am sure that was the cry many years ago when the original idea of Roger Cormans 1960's black and white film was pitched, but to the pleasure of millions of people worldwide I'm glad it did. For it was picked up by Alan Menkin & Howard Ashman to turn the film into a smash Broadway musical, winning the critics circle award for best musical in 1982-3. It then transferred to London's Comedy Theatre in 1983. The musical was also turned into an Academy Award nominated musical in 1986 although changing the original darker ending for a much happier Hollywood finish starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Green ( who reprises her role from creating the original musical version of Audrey) and Steve Martin.
This production by London's Menier Chocolate Factory is in keeping with this fringe theatre's mission of bringing High quality entertaining shows back to the public eye brought Little Shop back into London for the first time since the 1983 production, a year long run at London's Duke of Yorks theatre followed, and it is this production that is being toured across the nation - albeit with a new cast and slightly trimmed back set and original ending firmly back in its rightful place.
This show is sensational from start to finish, from the rousing first bar of dramatic musical chords of the Prologue to the final ending of the Finale the music stands strong, and this is only testament to the tremendous talent of the writing team Alan Menkin & Howard Ashman.
Matthew White's direction is first rate, bringing a manic energy and perfect comic timing from all of his cast. White has also added some new little touches which makes sure this production leaves its original mark on those of us that saw the London production. Lynne Page also gives the production a great choreographic flair.
The atmosphere of back street Cleveland is effectively brought to life, not only by the fantastic set by David Farley and amazing lighting design by David Howe but also starting pre-show by bringing on the cast in various guises of prostitutes and highly amusing but tuned to perfection drunks, even using them in the background during the scenes visible from the shop window. One couldn't help feeling a little done by the original Mike McShane Video used as the reporter at the beginning of the show, why not use the new cast?
This is a cast that fire on all cylinders, from the exuberant energy of the fantastic trio of Cathryn Davies, (who really does have a voice that wows) Nadia Di Mambro and Donna Hines as the Ronnettes. Sylvester McCoy shows why he is still getting work by being a consummate professional from start to finish. His rendition of Mushnik & Son being a particular favourite. Alex Fearns brings multiple role playing to the forefront with some excellent comic creations, but his main role of Orin Scrivello is a blast, providing us with a character that you just love to hate and his final scene is splattered with as much laughter as the blood that will be provided to Audrey 2, but one does worry about his voice that is already showing heavy signs of strain, will he be able to carry this on for the rest of the run?
Which brings us onto Clive Rowe who lends his voice to the Man eating plant, and what a voice he has! Giving us a silky smooth and soulful Audrey 2, which allows for much more vocal subtlety and inflection which you sometimes loose by playing it with a heavy rock voice. With first rate puppetry and a fantastic design this is a plant will stay firmly in your memory for years to come. Damian Humbley as Seymour is a real joy and you can't help but feel emotionally attached to all that happens to him as Humbley gives us a performance that is clear and honest from the off.
One of the biggest joys of the evening came from Clare Buckfield, gone is the Ellen Green renditions of Audrey (Thank God) and we say hello to a much more sexier and captivating rendition of the hard done by florist assistant whos performance is a revelation. Having seen Clare in various guises over the years, this is her at her best and her rendition of Somewhere That's Green was laced with emotion, enough to bring a lump to this reviewers throat.
So why don't you go Downtown and get yourself a ticket to Skid Row before this show leaves for another town!
Photos: Catherine Ashmore
Little Shop of Horrors runs at The Theatre Royal Brighton until Sat 21st Feb