REVIEW: Little Shop Of Horrors (Open Air Theatre) ★★★★★
Based on Roger Corman’s 1960 dark comedy film starring a young Jack Nicholson, Little Shop Of Horrors premiered Off-Broadway in 1982. The musical was the brainchild of writing team Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the team who went on to write the music and lyrics for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and The Beast and Aladdin amongst others. Menken and Ashman wrote Little Shop Of Horrors in contrast to shows with similar gruesome subject matter, as explained by Ashman in a 1982 interview with Playbill; “We don’t treat the material in a gruesome way,” states Ashman. “There’s not a drop of blood onstage—just red fabric. Sweeney Todd, which I liked very much, was a serious treatment of horrific subject matter. We’re a spoof. We’re in it for a laugh.”
The laugh paid off as audiences and critics loved Little Shop of Horrors, seeing it’s successful run Off-Broadway for five years. Following the show’s success in New York, a West End production opened at the Comedy Theatre in 1983, starring original New York star Ellen Greene as Audrey. The West End production was also lauded and received the Evening Standard Award for Best Musical. The musical was then given the silver screen treatment in 1986, with well-known actors Rick Moranis as Seymour, Steve Martin as Orin, Vincent Gardner as Mushnik and reprising her role Ellen Greene as Audrey. Since then, Little Shop Of Horrors has seen worldwide success. The musicals much-loved score and hilarious script has enchanted audiences for years proving Seymour, Audrey and a mysterious plant from outer space are still more popular than ever!
In a new production at Regents Park Open Air Theatre Marc Antolin plays Seymour, Jemima Rooper is Audrey, Seyi Omooba, Christina Modestou and Renée Lamb are Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon (respectively), Forbes Masson plays Mr Mushnik, Matt Willis is Orin and rounding off the cast in her theatrical debut as the formidable Audrey II is American drag queen Vicky Vox (of Boy is a Bottom and Magic Mike XXL fame).
As Seymour, Marc Antolin was perfectly cast. Seymour is a fun character to play, giving the actor a geek-ish persona, leading man, love interest plot and a challenging vocal all in one and Antolin rose to meet the character with a subtle strength. Jemima Rooper’s Audrey was lovely. Gone was the traditional squeaky high-pitched Ellen Green-esque voice in favour of a more naturalistic Brooklyn, New York accent that punctuated the character very successfully. Rooper’s vocal was a delight and I thoroughly enjoyed her ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and stronger moments in ‘Suddenly Seymour’. Forbes Masson as Mr Mushnik was every bit the money grabbing, pretending-to-be father figure to Seymour we needed and I found myself cheering when he met his inevitable bloody end. Matt Willis’ Orin was a lot of fun and I practically enjoyed his comic moments during ‘Now (It’s Just The Gas)’. Seyi Omooba, Christina Modestou and Renée Lamb as Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon (respectively), were a collective visual and vocal delight. Opening the show with Little Shop Of Horrors, Lizzie Gee’s choreography was expertly performed and the subtle choreography they performed throughout the rest of the show was very effective. Vocally they blended perfectly and were responsible for giving me goose-bumps multiple times throughout the performance. Brava!
Having seen Little Shop Of Horrors multiple times before, I’m always excited to see how successful Audrey II is. While a drag queen as the character has been done before, I doubt those performances were nearly as incredible as the astounding Vicky Vox. Stealing the show, Vox uses her accomplished vocal to sing her tits off as the carnivorous plant, confidently sashaying around the stage in a sequined leotard and jacket combo by costume designer Tom Scutt. Incorporating Max Humphries and Tom Scutt’s puppet and set design and Howard Hudson’s lighting design this incredible Audrey II brought tears to my eyes and gasps when she ate her victims. So many productions use large bulky, hard to manoeuvre puppets that look… like puppets, needing the audience to suspend belief. This Audrey II design and performance was the first time I’ve ever felt Audrey II has completely worked since the first production on Broadway. This Audrey II is truly original and an utter joy to watch.
Regents Park Open Air Theatre have seen some very well received musicals over the past few years and Little Shop of Horrors is no expectation. Complete with ‘Mean Green Mother From Outer Space’, this Little Shop Of Horrors should be the definitive production. The exceptionally strong cast perform with aplomb and this creative production inspires.
Reviewed by Stuart James
Photo: Johan Persson