Move over RENT-heads, make way for the Shoppers! While it may never reach the same cult status of its more serious distant cousin, the comedy horror musical Little Shop of Horrors still has its loyal following. Fortunately, the Fighting Chance Productions presentation currently on stage at the Jericho Arts Centre has enough going for it to satisfy even the most avid Shopper.
Based on Roger Corman’s low budget 1960 film of the same name, composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman capture the source material’s era with music that includes 1960s rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown to tell its Faustian story of skid row flower shop clerk Seymour Krelborn who earns fame and fortune by keeping his man-eating plant satisfied with human blood.
While the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors may have its origins on stage, it is the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene (who also originated the role of Audrey on stage) that will no doubt be more familiar to audiences. With familiarity though comes the worry that anyone stepping into the roles made famous by their movie counterparts will become an impersonation; thankfully that is not the case here at all.
With perhaps the toughest challenges in making the role her own, Melissa Clark manages to pay tribute to Greene without imitation. While Clark could easily have played Audrey as a vacuous blonde, she gives her a more genuine innocence as someone who dreams of greener pastures far from skid row. And while Kerry O’Donovan also tries to ground himself in reality as the awkward plant-geek Seymour, he tended to spend a great deal of time between the extremes of his character resulting in a more one-dimensional performance. Both Clark and O’Donovan handle Menken’s music with ease although there was a sluggishness through the night that may have been partially compounded by sound issues.
While David Nicks may not be as strong vocally as the other members of this cast he does bring a certain appeal to the down-on-his-luck florist. As the trio of street urchins, Ria Manansala, Nicole Stevens and Veronika Sztopa become a tight doo-wop Greek chorus cleverly floating in and out of the action, benefiting greatly from choreographer Angela Cotton’s 1960s dance moves. Greg Delmage brings the right amount of restraint to his performance as the sadistic Orin Scrivello which makes his reveal in “Dentist” that much funnier.
Nick Fontaine’s vocals are the highlight of the evening as he brings the blood-thirsty Audrey II to life with the help of puppeteer John Lee. But his vocal performance also highlights one of the biggest weaknesses of the show as the only amplified member of the cast. While a necessity given he must perform off-stage, the contrast between his amplified singing and that of the rest of the un-amplified cast was stark.
In his program notes director Ryan Mooney declares Little Shop of Horrors as one of his favourite musicals of all time; his love of the material is evident as he helps to successfully guide his company through this campy black comedy, wisely ensuring they check any irony at the door.
A quirky trip down on skid row, Little Shop of Horrors makes for a great Halloween treat that won’t rot your teeth.
Music by Alan Menken. Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. Directed by Ryan Mooney. A Fighting Chance Productions presentation. On stage at the Jericho Arts Centre through October 27, 2012. Visit http://fightingchanceproductions.ca for tickets and information.