Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region   , ,

photo: Maria Vartanova

Theatre  Kraken  has never been my favourite Community Theatre but this new production of  Little Shop of Horrors just changed all that.   The show  began with a surge of vocal and musical  energy  blasting from the  five piece stage band under the direction of Chris Lucas. There was also the impeccable precision of  director Don Fex  and  choreographer Brenda Solman  whose efforts were right on the mark.

This story of Mr. Mushnik,(with the  ever powerful  and oh so versatile Lawrence Evenchick ) owner of a flower shop in the skid row district of New York, becomes the site of a strange event that suggests the War of the Worlds except that it is a hillarious  drama and love story,  peppered with Jewish jokes   and Yiddish expressions  and an underlying  tragic history of the second world war. Something that Mel Brooks himself could have created but this  musical was adapted from the film  by  Alan Menken- music,  and Howard Ashman-, book and lyrics. With strong musicians (the keybords were particularly noteworthy),  director Don Fex’s  captured the  underlying seriousness of these campy characters with great style to produce a very strong show.

The hired help young  Seymour, played by an extremely talented  Kodi Cannon displaying his gifts as a strikingly dramatic singer and   versatile actor, has developed a new species of plant –  Audrey II.  It   not only sings like a hyped up rhythm and blues and jazz  artist (thank Chris Lucas for  the  scruntchy speaking voice and that very  hot singing voice) but also exerts its  evil  will over  Seymour  to get fresh bodies for dinner.  Yes it’s a flesheating species . While this strange new plant brings fame and fortune to Mushnik’s business, Seymour falls in love with Audrey  the girl after whom he named his plant, who also works in the flower shop.

Seymour   is  then  tortured by  guilt as the demands of the  plant suddenly take on monstrous proportions.   Puppeteer, Rachel Rumstein  as well as set and puppet designer  Grace Solman  went overboard to create this excitingly repulsive thing on stage. One special moment of gobbling transformed Audrey II into a  shadow puppet behind  the screen. This  was particulary  well done as the forms and music behind the screen  inflamed our imaginations with gory details without showing any detail at all.    Thanks  to lighting designer John Solman, we see how expressionist lighting should work, even in musical comedy.

Audrey, the  employee with low self esteem,  and a young lady   battered by her viscious biker boyfriend  was sung by Andréa Black whose  delightful voice and local New York accent ,  contributed to her nuanced and multilayered performance, as a slightly ditzy but over the top  blond who was suffering at the hands of a sadist. As well, the  contemporary  references  to the sadistic doctor’s  antics with the laughing gaz , in the context of a work full of references in Yiddish,  became  almost  uncanny, given  the  recent suggestion  in the White house  that Hitler never used gas on prisoners.  The play becomes a warning about growing antisemitism and it couldn’t be more timely.

The three  young ladies from Skid Row(Allison Harris as Crystal  had her own very slick and classy  style)   became  a  raucus chorus  of saucy white  women (they were black in the original) but style was the thing here and , in spite of their impeccable work,  they  might have tried to adopt the local accent of the  streets of New York as Audrey/Andréa  managed to. The chorus sounded a bit too upper middle class which was fine later in the show but when they were the street ladies   it didn’t quite work.

One might also say that the musical  mix was  at times uneven , especially when the wild rock and the hard drumming  overwhelmed the voices and  drowned the lyrics.  Nevertheless, that outpouring of sound usually took place during the final moments of a number where  this  resounding roar of joy  became perfectly  appropriate and we already understood all that was happening.

There were so many excellent musical moments. “Down town to Skid Row”, “Please Grow for  Me”, and on and on.   Andréa Black’s rendering of  “Suddenly Seymour”  was one of the  exquisite moments of lyrical tenderness in a sea  of more hard core sounds and it all  worked

An evening of grotesque joy, of wildly energetic musical numbers that fill you with excitement and carry the show along. And such a cast!!  The Gladstone  and Theatre Kraken  have  brought back the atmosphere of Tim Oberholzer’s  cult musical performances,  something I would never have expected.   Bravo!!

Little Shop of Horrors plays from April 12 to 22 at The Gladstone theatre. Show times at 7h30

Music composed by Alan Menken

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman  adapted from the film

Directed by Don Fex

Choreographer  Brenda Solman

Musical director Chris  Lucas

Costumes Amanda Logan

Lighting   John Solman

Puppet designer     Grace Solman

Set    Grace Solman

Sound design  Jason Sonier

Band under the direction of Chris Lucas

Keyboard 1   Mark Allen

Keyboard 2 Kenny Hayes

Guitar  Corey Thomas

Bass  John Corkett

Drums  Trevor Curtis


Mr. Mushnik                                      Lawrence Evenchick

Seymour                                            Kodi Cannon

Audrey                                                Andréa Black

Orin, dentist and others              Nicholas Dave Amott

The chorus of Skid Row  ladies :

Crystal                                                 Allison Harris

Ronette                                              Victoria Luloff

Chiffon                                                 Brenda Solman