Little Shop of Horrors is a Little Disappointing

Little Shop of Horrors is a Little Disappointing
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism and Performing Arts from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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It’s hard to complain about such a wonderfully fun show like Little Shop of Horrors. While the first-rate production offers some great moments, it betrays some of what makes the show so likeable. And it feels like many parts don’t match.

Being the largest repertory theatre festival in North America, the sheer number of plays the Stratford Festival produces means not every production is going to be a home run. It’s just unfortunate one of this season’s few misses is what should be among this year’s most exciting titles.

Little Shop is famously known as an Off-Broadway hit that launched the careers of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The plot concerns a skid row florist named Seymour Krelborn (André Morin) in 1960s New York. He’s navigating a tough job, tough neighbourhood and a co-worker he’s got a crush on.

As the shop he works at is on the verge of bankruptcy, he shows off a new plant he’s been growing. Called the Audrey II, the shop is suddenly popular…until his discovery the plant only feeds on human blood. Seymour has some tough choices to keep everyone happy, including a now talking plant – but when is enough really enough?

The production is a rare misstep for director/choreographer maestro Donna Feore. Her productions are normally displays of candor, dignity and jovial showmanship. Instead, this Little Shop (Writer Ashman has a preface warning actors of this exact downfall in the published script.)

Photo: Stratford Festival

Many actors have been unwisely coached against Ashman’s words. Several jokes were topped off with different actors literally winking at the audience. Another was a reference to a character struggling to make a quick, onstage costume change. It doesn’t come off as funny to the audience. It looks tacky.

What stands out the most, unfortunately, is the famous Audrey II plants. Most productions use elaborate puppets to show the menacing plant as it grows bigger. Stratford, instead, has chosen to employ mechanical puppet/robot hybrids.

My best guess behind creating robotic creatures was heightening the realism, showing off the cool special effects of the Stratford prop shop, or some combination of both. The end product, however, looks insultingly fake. The plants look nothing like plants whatsoever, and come across as tacky robots from a poorly maintained sideshow carnival.

It’s almost like some members of the team were and are embarrassed about being in the production. Audiences looking to see another edgy, blockbuster hit like last season’s dynamite Rocky Horror Show will likely be disappointed. This play is not Feore’s same display of wit and slick storytelling like her 2017 Guys & Dolls.

The production itself is still a grand display of showmanship with a nifty set and some swanky costumes. The band sounds great and the Feore’s choreography is as sharp as ever. But tacky direction, missed jokes and robot plants greatly take away from the parts that are done well.

Previous seasons at the Avon have proven Stratford can produce and stage edgier works of classic music theatre. But this isn’t it. It’s still fun to see done so largely, and you’ll have fun if you aren’t familiar with the show.

It’s just disappointing if you go in expecting Audrey II to have a much larger bite.

Little Shop of Horrors
2 out of 4 Stars

Rated 10+. 2hrs 5mins. Sci-Fi Musical Comedy.
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman. Music by Alan Menken.
Starring André Morin, Gabi Epstein, Steve Ross, Dan Chameroy and Michael G. Brown.
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore.

Now Playing at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie Street, Stratford, ON. Runs until November 9th 2019. Tickets range $15-160. Tickets available online here or by calling 1-800-567-1600.


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