'Little Shop of Horrors' Music by Alan Menkin. Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman. Directed by Rob Kempson
Now onstage until September 3 at Port Hope's Capitol Theatre
Credit: Sam Moffatt. Pictured L-R: Joel Cumber as the Puppeteer and Amir Haidar as Seymour
Guest writer Geoffrey Coulter, actor, director, arts educator
“Little Shop of Horrors” is a hot super shrub of a show. It’s Big. Bright. Silly. Sad. Schlocky. Nutty.
Take a particular man-eating plant bent on human destruction, mix in a nerdy flower shop worker, his self-conscious, dreamer of a co-worker, a manic dentist, three harmonious street urchins, and a toe-tapping Motown-inspired score, and you’ve got yourself a crowd-pleasing Broadway classic at the Capitol Theatre in beautiful Port Hope.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is a hot super shrub of a show and delighted fans with its mix of dynamite vocals, clever choreography, and prodigious performances—a hugely enjoyable summer evening of musical theatre.
Because of its small cast, “Little Shop” has become popular with community theatre, schools, and other amateur groups. Artistic director Rob Kempson’s professional treatment soars this show to new heights. He has assembled some of the finest performers, designers and technicians from Toronto, Stratford, and Broadway for his version of this genially gruesome classic. His inspired vision and tight direction keep the pace of the show flowing. His press package promises to be the “biggest summer show” at the Capitol.
It’s a promise he’s on track to keep.
If you’re unfamiliar with this horror, comedy, rock musical or are one of the few who haven’t seen the 1986 feature film (itself based on Roger Corman’s 1960 cult film), the show centres around Seymour Krelborn (Amir Haidar), a poor young man and orphan living in an urban skid row. Audrey (Tahirih Vejdani) is a pretty gal whose fashion sense leans towards tacky. They’re co-workers at a run-down flower shop owned and operated by the cranky Mr. Mushnik (Tyler Murree).
After a sudden eclipse of the sun, Seymour finds a mysterious plant that looks like a giant Venus flytrap. Seymour is secretly in love with Audrey, but she doesn’t seem to notice, so he names the plant Audrey ll to capture her attention. It does - and everyone else’s.
This production doesn’t have the scares or plethora of guts and gore from its original Broadway iteration, but it’s every bit as campy if more sweet and sugary. This isn’t a bad thing. This is a family-friendly show with “planty” to keep the younger set laughing and clapping. The two little girls sitting in front of me were proof positive.
Visually, it’s beautiful, starting with Brandon Kleiman’s brilliant, forced perspective tenement block. A colour scheme of bright primary colours and a severely angled door stoop (and garbage can!) is unconventionally quirky. The walls open like a giant storybook to reveal the interior of Mushnik’s struggling flower shop. It’s roomy and minimalist, but I wanted more evidence that it’s a struggling business. The walls and sign, “Mushnik’s Flowers,” seemed too fresh, clean, and bright from where I was sitting. Though ingenious in design, the set seems a tad too big for the Capitol’s stage. Scenes on stage left, right, and downstage seem crowded and confined.
Lighting by designer Michelle Ramsay nicely enhances the set with colourful gels, adding texture and mood with subtle window gobos and breakup patterns. Costumes by Joshua Quinlan add authenticity to the swinging 60s era, although Orin’s red leather jacket seems at odds with his narcissistic persona of a sadistic greaser. Sarah Kolody’s props mainly were spot on, though Orin’s portable gas mask and Seymour’s snub-nosed revolver looked like flimsy plastic toys from my vantage point in the 6th row.
Genny Sermonia’s high-energy do-wap choreography is right on the money, high energy and period specific, starting with the delightful number “Little Shop of Horrors” and never lets up! Musical director Jeff Newberry and his band are perched atop the tenement set and accompany the vocalists wonderfully, although sometimes the band was too heavy to hear lyrics. Even the last-minute addition of a borrowed keyboard, due to a power failure earlier in the evening that took out their original, couldn’t keep this cadre of musicians from happily delivering Alan Menken’s (Little Mermaid) terrific score.
The cast worked hard making sure we had a great time on opening night! As klutzy nerd Seymour, Amir Haidar has a pleasant enough voice and a good enough handle on his character. However, I wanted to see a more distinct transition in his journey from schlubby store clerk to reluctant, murderous psychopath. As Audrey, Tahirih Vejdani plays the confidence-challenged damsel with an abusive boyfriend with equal parts charm and chintz. Despite struggling with a barely-there Bronx accent, she's in excellent voice and performs a flawless, emotionally grounded rendering of “Somewhere That’s Green.”
More excellent voices (and moves!) come from the fabulous Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette played by Taylor Lovelace, Michelle Yu, and Sierra Holder respectively. These gals appear in almost every song, acting as narrators or “Greek Chorus.” This trio of highly talented young ladies have incomparable synchronicity, heavenly harmonies, and girl power attitude to spare. Phenomenal! A highlight!
As the sadistic dentist Orin, Michael De Rose is unapologetically scene-stealing. He’s manic, loud, and brazen - mugging, gyrating and chewing the scenery in this and other roles. Mirvish and Broadway veteran Tyler Murree is thoroughly entertaining as the unsympathetic but loveable Mr. Mushnik. His impressive tango-inspired duet with Seymour in “Mushnik and Son” is a hoot and reveals he’s remarkably light on his feet.
As the voice of Audrey ll, Chris Tsujiuchi channels his inner Chuck Berry/Barry White. While his singing voice is bang-on, his speaking voice curiously lacks the same resonance. Kudos to Joel Cumber for doing double duty as an over-the-top store customer and gonzo puppeteer for the large Audrey ll, manipulating that gulping, carnivorous maw with hungry aplomb.
“Little Shop of Horrors” at the Capitol is a gas. Big. Bright. Silly. Sad. Schlocky. Nutty.
A feel-good show with a dark side that doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is the musical comedy our climate-denying age requires. Who knows?
You may be rooting for the murderous shrub by the show's end.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ runs until September 3 at Port Hope’s Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street. For tickets, call the Box Office at (905) 885-1071 or visit: https://capitoltheatre.com/events/little-shop-of-horrors-2023-08-17-800-pm/