Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman’s tongue-in-cheek 1982 musical Little Shop of Horrors tells the Faustian story of a hapless Skid Row florist who wins love, fame and fortune when he cultivates a rampantly bloodthirsty plant.
The partnership of Menken and Ashman – which produced Disney hits Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid – first took root with this Off-Broadway musical, based on a low-budget Sixties film, about a man seeking love and fortune via a bloodthirsty plant. This revelatory revival from Maria Aberg embraces the work’s B-movie dichotomy: equal parts dark, gory fable and riotous carnival of delights.
The joy of Regents Park Open Air Theatre is the elements like the sun setting or the clouds breaking on a soliloquy. The production of Little Shop of Horrors currently on is in a magical setting with all the natural plants and trees as you get into the theatre and the fake plants you get to see in this camp, quirky (sometimes sinister) musical under the stars!
Little Shop of Horrors has toured incessantly and been revived several times, including the 2006 Menier production with Sheridan Smith as good-hearted heroine/victim Audrey. But it has never looked quite as exciting or outlandish as it does here in Maria Aberg’s dynamic new staging, with inspired, witty designs by Tom Scutt.
The man-eating extra-terrestrial plant – named Audrey II after the co-worker whom Seymour, the sweet-natured florist, pines for – is usually evoked by means of outsize puppetry and an offstage voice. Here, though, when it grows to the point where it starts to hanker after world domination, this outlandish creature is played by the divine American drag queen, Vicky Vox. It’s an inspired piece of casting. Prowling around in fishnets and skin-tight green spandex and growling out orders to “Feed me!” from glitter-encrusted lips, Vox is in complete, voluptuous command. It was a clever choice to make Audrey II a person rather than a puppet and Vox nails the character, a real highlight.
Tom Scutt’s impressive design has a monochrome, graphic-book feel in its depiction of crumbling tower blocks, surrounded by rubble, with the down-and-out denizens of Skid Row pushing round model versions of these tenement buildings in shopping trolleys. The set is surmounted by a shattered drive-in cinema marquee, a nod both to the destitution of the neighbourhood and to this musical’s B-movie origins. The choreography by Lizzi Gee is stunning from the word go with sharp and precise moves.
Renee Lamb, Christina Modestou and Seyi Omooba are in terrific voice and have sass and attitude to burn as the doo-wopping trio of street urchins who are the show’s Greek Chorus.
In addition, “Busted” star Matt Willis shows a fearless enthusiasm to play the fool and shows off a versatility of caricatures and accents, as demented dentist Orin in the first half and a host of other over-the-top figures in the second half.
Nicely balancing guileless sweetness and knowing spoof, Marc Antolin (definitely born to play Seymour!) and Jemima Rooper are very fine as Seymour and Audrey I. Rooper’s “Somewhere That’s Green” – in which Audrey longs for the American Dream version of suburban bliss, where there’s “plastic on the furniture” – is heart-stopping in its yearning simplicity obligingly. Likewise, Antolin brings a sweet earnestness to Seymour; their romantic duet, “Suddenly, Seymour”, is exquisitely euphoric.
And stay till the end for the full cast rendition of the film’s “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space” – it is a bonkers delight with elaborate costumes and latex balloons! This is a hell of a show. Fans of the original won’t be disappointed and people encountering it for the first time will be delighted
You may just leave walking through Regents Park a little on the cautious side with all the plants. DON’T FEED THE PLANTS!