Little Shop of Horrors by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

Dates and Venue 6 January 2008 - 17 January 2009 (Wed - Sat at 8pm, Sunday 2pm) | Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver

Director Richard Berg, Costume Design Richard Berg & Tierney Milne, Lighting Rob Sondergaard Stage Management Tierney Milne

Reviewer John Jane

On the day that Uncle Randy Productions opened the musical adaptation of Roger Corman’s 1960 film, with the slightly misleading title, Little Shop of Horrors, Broadway closed nine of its shows for good. Like many industries, live theatre is suffering from financial malaise and is in dire need of re-tooling.

However, I’m happy to report that Richard Berg has once again risen to the challenge and helmed this sublime production of Little Shop of Horrors to satirical comic perfection. The show's implicit charm has been revitalised and let loose at the Centennial Theatre.

Alan Menken’s audience-pleasing hits always manage to get into your head and stay there and Courtenay Ennis’s quartet, visible on stage through a “window” feature of the skid row set, gives the music as much breadth as the catchy sixties doo-wop tunes allow.

Über -nerd Seymour Krelbourn works in a Skid Row flower shop run by Mr. Mushnik and discovers a “strange and exotic” plant. When the plant grows bigger, so too does its appetite – for human blood. Seymour names his plant Audrey II in honour of his winsome co-worker Audrey, whom he also happens to have a secret yearning for, but alas, she is stuck in a turbulent relationship with a sadistic dentist. A storyline like this cannot possibly end well, and so, Audrey II (that’s the plant) ultimately takes control of her nebbish owner with the predictable calamitous results.

Regular television viewers might already be familiar with Richmond, BC native Jayme Armstrong from the CBC talent search for a Maria in a new version of “The Sound of Music.” Ms Armstrong is an absolute delight as the naive Audrey with serious self-esteem issues who dreams of a standard house in the suburbs and “a 12” big screen television.” She evinces precise comic timing matched by a great voice. If there is a single fault, it’s that she comes across as too elegant to convince an audience of Audrey’s garish sexuality.

Brandyn Eddy works hard to be convincing as the schleppy Seymour and generally does well in the difficult central role, but he often appears far too self-assured for the geeky botanist. I couldn’t resist recalling Rick Moranis, the quintessential geek from the 1986 film version.

Matthew Baker, whom, when I last saw him in the role of Porthos in an EXIT22 production of The Three Musketeers, impressed me with the unique energy he brought to the role. As Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello he is scrumptiously over-the-top; getting high on “giggle-gas” as he extols the joys of inflicting pain with the show-stopping “Dentist!” Baker also takes on the roles of a half dozen subordinate characters.

The trio of street urchins (Shira Elias, Isabelle Grant and Chelsea Powrie), cleverly named Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon essentially function as a close-harmony, Motown-esque girl group who go most of the way in capturing the earnestness of Menken’s score.

But it’s Seymour's carnivorous plant Audrey II who really steals the show. (Her) voice is provided with booming baritone effect by Aaron Junior Turner combining with flawless synergy alongside puppet master, Craig Alfredson.

Rob Sondergaard and Richard Berg’s well-constructed sets add much to the overall quality of this production, but are perhaps just a little too pristine to be representative of the downtown squalor of skid row.

So, drop in at the “Little Shop” and take a look at Audrey II. She’ll be pleased to “meat” you.

© 2009 John Jane