Stratford Festival review: Little Shop Of Horrors is frighteningly good

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Stratford Festival). At the Avon Theatre, Stratford. Runs to November.

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

Stratford had a monster hit last year with The Rocky Horror Show, which ended up being the longest-running production in the companys history. So this year they mounted another campy musical with the word horror in its title. And wouldnt you know?

Little Shop Of Horrors is frighteningly good, too.

Alan Menken and Howard Ashmans 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 Nesbitts projection designs and Michael Gianfrancescos set, the orphaned nebbish Seymour (Andre Morin) works at a flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Steve Ross). Secretly, Seymours in love with fellow employee, Audrey (Gabi Epstein), whos dating a sadistic dentist named Orin (Dan Chameroy).

Business isnt great, but when Seymour displays a mysterious plant in the shops 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 its a critique of capitalism and conformity Seymours fame increases as he feeds the id-like plant but its 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 Thats Green.

And Morin, whos been excellent in smaller parts over the years, brings an enthusiasm and genuine emotional depth to Seymours need for affection from Audrey and Mushnik. Hes a joy to watch, and hes 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. Browns 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 itll be hard to match this Stratford production for sheer bloody good times and tunes.


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