Stratford Festival review: Little Shop Of Horrors is frighteningly good

The festival has another monster hit musical on its hands with its campy, colourful and beautifully acted production of the Ashman and Menken show


LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Stratford Festival). At the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Runs to November 9. $35-$167.23. stratfordfestival.ca. Rating: NNNN


Stratford had a monster hit last year with The Rocky Horror Show, which ended up being the longest-running production in the company’s history. So this year they mounted another campy musical with the word “horror” in its title. And wouldn’t you know?

Little Shop Of Horrors is frighteningly good, too.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1982 off-Broadway smash is an irresistible blend of doo-wop, broad satire and horror that seems perfectly suited to a rep company like Stratford. 

In an urban skid row, effectively evoked by Jamie Nesbitt’s projection designs and Michael Gianfrancesco’s set, the orphaned nebbish Seymour (André Morin) works at a flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Steve Ross). Secretly, Seymour’s in love with fellow employee, Audrey (Gabi Epstein), who’s dating a sadistic dentist named Orin (Dan Chameroy). 

Business isn’t great, but when Seymour displays a mysterious plant in the shop’s window – which he nicknames Audrey II – business suddenly picks up. Only problem? The plant, Seymour soon discovers, has a taste for human blood. And with each feeding, its appetite increases. 

Sure it’s a critique of capitalism and conformity – Seymour’s fame increases as he feeds the id-like plant – but it’s also just a lot of fun. 

Director Donna Feore knows that any successful production needs to take the characters, and situations, seriously. The performers accept their extreme situations without condescending to the material. The result is so affecting that Epstein elicits both laughter and tears with her “I want” song, Somewhere That’s Green.

And Morin, who’s been excellent in smaller parts over the years, brings an enthusiasm and genuine emotional depth to Seymour’s need for affection – from Audrey and Mushnik. He’s a joy to watch, and he’s fully present for every moment – comic, dramatic or musical. 

Chameroy sinks his teeth into the role of Orin, playing him like a gleefully bad Elvis impersonation, but he also gets to display a lot of range in a series of bravura quick-change cameos.

And a chorus (Vanessa Sears, Starr Domingue and Camille Eanga-Selenge) help lead us through the show, delivering their doo-wop songs and dance routines (choreographed by Feore) with sass and style. 

The character that changes the most, however, is Audrey II, designed by Dana Osborne to take on different sizes, with an increasing amount of puppet manipulation. Matthew G. Brown’s voicing of the plant adds to its funny-scary effectiveness. 

Little Shop is getting an off-Broadway revival this fall featuring lots of starry names. But it’ll be hard to match this Stratford production for sheer bloody good times and tunes.

@glennsumi

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