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