Review: Little Shop Of Horrors (Luckiest Productions / Tinderbox Productions)

Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 18 – Mar 19, 2016
Book & Lyrics: Howard Ashman
Music: Alan Menken
Director: Dean Bryant
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Musical Direction: Andrew Worboys
Cast: Angelique Cassimatis, Tyler Coppin, Esther Hannaford, Brent Hill, Scott Johnson, Dash Kruck, Josie Lane, Kuki Tipoki, Chloe Zuel
Images by Jeff Busby

Theatre review
When Roger Corman’s original film of Little Shop Of Horrors appeared in 1960, it was seen mainly as a science fiction comedy about aliens from outer space invading planet earth, a popular genre believed to represent the USA’s anxieties about the spread of communism in the middle of the twentieth century. By the time of its evolution into an off-Broadway musical in 1982, and the many subsequent revivals, Little Shop Of Horrors had taken on greater poignancy. It is now ironically a story about the horrors of capitalism, and the insatiable voracity of money. Seymour’s sacrifices for fame and fortune begin cautiously but they are soon beyond his control, and Audrey II literally takes on a life of its own to usurp much more than Seymour had ever intended. It is debatable if economies anywhere were ever as innocent in purpose as our protagonist, but Audrey II is a clear and unexaggerated parallel for the seemingly incessant threats of financial crises that we are warned about in the daily news.

Dean Bryant’s vision for this 2016 staging is wildly imagined and beautifully realised. There is great sophistication to be found alongside his exuberant showmanship, offering a night of sensational entertainment, the quality of which is admittedly rare. Bryant’s boldness in attitude meets with the material’s unbridled extravagance for a production that enchants and excites. Although fundamentally a very dark tale, its theatrical executions here aim for a wide appeal, ensuring that musical enthusiasts and general audiences alike would be equally captivated. Aided by a phenomenal team of designers (most remarkably Owen Phillips’ set and puppetry by Erth Visual & Physical Inc), the show is a visual feast resulting from daring dreams and big ambitions that the intimate space has very clearly failed to hamper.

Thoughtful casting brings together a group of vivacious personalities who fire up the stage with vibrant humour and immense energy. There are bigger voices to be found in the industry for sure, but prioritising characterisations over technical ability pays off in spades. Brent Hill is an endearing Seymour, with a convincing purity that connects well with his audience. Leading lady Esther Hannaford’s comic timing is outstanding, and the Audrey that she manifests is a real and irresistible joy. It is a coupling that we cannot resist championing for, and that ensures the plot’s effectiveness from start to end. Supporting players Angelique Cassimatis, Tyler Coppin and Scott Johnson too, leave excellent impressions with brilliantly funny performances in their respective roles. It must be noted that sound designer Jeremy Silver’s achievements in finding the perfect sonic balance for the show is quite an accomplishment, helping the ensemble provide an engrossing and exhilarating experience that will prove to be unforgettable.

Revisiting classics is always a tricky exercise. Having to live up to standards set by two classic films and innumerable stage adaptations, is without a doubt a formidable task, but this version of Little Shop Of Horrors is quite possibly the best rendition that this generation can hope to see, and maybe for several years thereafter. It exceeds not just expectations, but also our fantasies of what the show could possibly look like before our own eyes. The artists have created a work of great spirit and surprising poignancy, and along with a good deal of wonderful singing and dancing, this is a show that will have you suddenly falling in love with musical theatre all over again.