‘Little Shop of Horrors’ // Anywhere Festival

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ was bloodthirsty.

Through a secret doorway off a rainy Fortitude Valley street lies Elements Collective, the venue for Cope Creative and De Jager Productions joint production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ as part of the Brisbane Anywhere Festival 2022.

The Broadway musical, written by formidable duo Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman, tells the tale of a sweet flower shop employee who cultivates a bloodthirsty, man-eating plant that changes his life. Set amongst the streets of Skid Row, Cope Creative and De Jager Productions committed to an immersive experience by having cast members welcome audience members to the show, complete with New York accents. They mingled during intermission and kept the atmosphere of the venue jovial and upbeat throughout.

Lighting design by Riley Cope was remarkable, with lighting rigs and complex cues. The lighting choices perfectly complemented the action on stage and the timing of changes was flawless. The use of green lights in Audrey’s heartfelt number ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and UV lights to highlight the dentist and his assistants were inspired choices that influenced the mood and heightened audience reaction.

Set design was clever. The choice to have the static set of Mr Mushnik’s Flower Shop did not detract from the show in any way. Wise use of blocking meant the story could continue on with the set blending into the background when necessary and taking centre stage at other times.

Costumes by Megan Lohrisch were simple and effective. Audrey in her signature black and leopard-print outfit and Seymour in his nerdy checked shirt kept the show classic and conventional. The Urchins’ various costumes ensured the audience could identify them from the rest of the ensemble. Overall, the costumes were consistent and well-thought out and in keeping with the time period and theme of the show.

Audrey II, in her various sizes, was a showstopper. The tiny baby plant that wilted with hunger, the mid-sized Audrey that stood up and danced and the massive, man-eating Audrey with arms that it used to attack Audrey were all superb. The construction of the puppets, from Buderim Youth Theatre of Excellence, as well as the operation of the puppets, taught by Rebecca Dostal, were very professional. Audrey II had a personality of its own. The clever use of haze machines when Audrey II came alive enhanced the eerie mood even further.

Director Riley Cope did an outstanding job with well thought out blocking choices that advanced the plot. He embraced the challenges that come with performing in an unconventional space and made clever choices that kept audiences engaged. The use of various props and set pieces in unique and unexpected ways added to the quirkiness of the show and kept the crowd guessing.

Musical direction by Natalie Ferris was on point. The large ensemble blended well and the lead performers were all sure of what and when they were singing. Harmonies were strong and confident and no performer faltered vocally. Some of the songs were spiced up with added runs or vocal gymnastics. Though some may prefer the songs be sung classically, a production adding their twist to a show is what theatre is all about. At this performance, Ferris also voiced Audrey II and her last-minute performance did not disappoint.

Choreographer Libby Hendrie created vibrant and energetic dance numbers for the show. Her choreographing of The Urchins was clever and gave them a backup singer vibe. The execution of the dancing was sharp and dynamic, however at times the dancing felt very happy and perhaps not in keeping with the subject matter. Despite this, the movements were clever and the claw motif to signify the plant and danger was effective and eye-catching.

From an audience perspective, nothing went wrong in this show and for that technical coordinator David Hayes and stage manager Marina de Jager must be commended. For a show with so many moving parts, it was clear they were experienced and kept things under control.

Sam Henderson excelled as Seymour. His soft and meek mannerisms displayed his commitment to the character and made the audiences care deeply about him. His sweet, wholesome voice shined in ‘Grow for Me’ and the unexpected power and manliness he conveyed in ‘Suddenly Seymour’ is a testament to his vocal ability. A pleasure to watch on stage, Henderson brought a very compelling performance and embraced Seymour whole-heartedly.

Ally Hickey’s interpretation of Audrey as the sweet and clueless shop assistant was wonderful. Her gentle disposition complemented Henderson’s Seymour and they became the perfect naive couple. Hickey’s vocal prowess was on full display in ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and ‘Suddenly Seymour’. Both numbers stand out as powerful renditions of well-known songs. The light and shade Hickey imbued in her vocals in ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ leant a sadness and yearning to the song that made it a very special moment in the show.

Rowan Howard as the dentist, Orin, was twisted and intense. His bravado and powerhouse vocals meant he held the audience captive at all times, especially during his performance of ‘Dentist’. Howard’s commitment to the sadistic and abusive character must be commended, and though the villain of the show, was easily a favourite character.

The rest of the cast and large ensemble were on point at all times and their performances only added to the success of the show as a whole

Overall, Cope Creative and De Jager Production’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ did not put a foot wrong. It was a captivating and enjoyable show with inspired direction and a talented cast that could rival a production on Broadway.

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ performs until 15 May 2022 at Elements Collective. For more information visit the Anywhere Theatre Festival website.

Photos by Vargo Studios

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