It’s just over forty years since Little Shop of Horrors made its stage debut to much applause and critical acclaim. With music and lyrics by the renowned Disney musical maestros Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, it has excellent credentials. Having said that, and for reasons that I cannot quite fathom, this is my first time seeing the show on stage. Given that I have been on this planet almost exactly as long as it has, this is a conundrum to me. Billed as a ‘comedy horror rock musical’, and in some quarters as ‘a campy noir,’ it seems right up my street. After all, I grew up on a diet of Carry On and Hammer Horror films! I am interested to see if it will live up to its heady reputation here at the beautiful Mansfield Palace theatre.
The plot unfolds in a dingy florists’ shop on Skid Row, and centres around a down-on-his-luck botanist named Seymour, who unwittingly raises an extra-terrestrial plant that feeds on human flesh and blood (as you do!).
This Heanor Musical Theatre Company (HMTC) production opens with that famously catchy theme and three street urchins – Chrystal (Sarah Bright), Ronnette (Alana Moran) and Chiffon (Katy Gaskin). These three act as our guides throughout the unfolding story and do a great job of explaining the plot to the audience. They have a real sassiness in the way they interact with each other and the other players, and their voices complement each other’s splendidly. They are assisted by the Shadow Ronnettes who give volume and depth to their pieces.
It isn’t long before we are introduced to Seymour, the main protagonist of the piece, played here by Jack Readyhoof. He brings out the best in the nerdy nurseryman, blending the heroic and self- despairing spectacularly throughout the piece. The whole audience finds itself rooting for him throughout (if you will pardon the pun!). Readyhoof invests Seymour with a zany cartoonish energy -especially skilfully expressive in an early scene when out buying the plant- but also a sweetness and total believability.
Seymour’s colleague and crush is Audrey (Megan Hill) who elicits chuckles and commiserations from the audience in equal measure. Hill adds pathos in all the right places. Her voice is, for me, the standout performance of the evening, especially in Somewhere That’s Green. Her boyfriend, the Nitrous Oxide inhaling demented dentist Orin Scrivello (Robert Stott-Marshall) is vile towards her and we all find ourselves cheering when he meets his match later in the show. This scene especially pleases the children on the front row!
Scheming Mr Mushnik (Ben Riley) is the owner of the eponymous little shop. Riley gives him a twinkle in the eye and makes him likeable even when we know he is only out for himself. His dance routine with Readyhoof in Mushnik and Son is nothing short of spectacular.
Credit must be given to the excellent puppetry of choreographer Cat Howourth and splendid voicing of Audrey II by Kheenan Jones. It is notoriously difficult to invest inanimate objects on stage with life and personality, but these guys manage it with aplomb. Jones’ voice is rich and smooth and fits the part perfectly. The set design is simple but effective and lends itself perfectly to the feeling of desperation in this dark little corner of town.
The band under the direction of Dave Dallard is excellent. The sound balance between instruments and voices for the best part works, although at times they are a little overpowering. There are a few first night technical issues (some mics not brought up in time, lighting cues missed) but on the whole this is a pretty flawless piece of theatre.
Would I recommend you go and see this show? Well, if you have a phobia of dentists or man-eating plants it might be best to give it a miss. Otherwise, it’s a resounding YES from me! It is campy for sure. It is full of earworm melodies that you’ll be whistling all the way home. But on a serious note, it does make you think about the things in your life that you are needlessly nurturing that you’d be better off without. Do go and see it. But whatever you do while you are there – DON’T FEED THAT PLANT!