by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
Clipped Right Wing Productions
Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island
August 4-13

Little Shop of Horrors originated as a 1960 movie by schlockmeister Roger Corman. It featured Jack Nicholson in one of his earliest roles and became a cult classic. The stage musical appeared in 1982 and the movie musical in 1986, with Rick Moranis as Seymour and, most memorably, Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist. I wonder, after seeing this new production, how much sense the show still makes in Vancouver in 2005.

It’s essentially a satirical/nostalgic look at late 1950s–early ‘60s America: its paranoia and pop-culture, black leather motorcycle jackets and girl-groups, big city vs. burgeoning suburbs, and the American Dream of success whatever the cost. The enterprising orphan Seymour pulls himself up by the bootstraps in Mr. Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop by raising an exotic plant. But it has to be nourished by human flesh and blood, and it eventually devours Seymour along with his and Audrey’s dream of a life “somewhere that’s green.”

The music and style are fun, and so is the giant talking, singing plant. But it’s definitely more fun if you get the cultural references.

I grew up watching Donna Reed and Howdy Doody, and I actually lived in Levittown. But those allusions mean nothing to young audiences here. The night I attended Aaron Caleb’s production at the Waterfront, the specific ‘60s girl-group names and style of the energetic chorus that drives the show—Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (Kalyn Miles, Johannah Kalema and Jennifer Braund)—failed to resonate in any particular way. For satire and nostalgia to work, the audience has to recognize their targets.

Along with the rockin’ chorus, the show relies on the sweet naivety of the two principals, Seymour (Keegan Macintosh) and Audrey (Jennifer Guglielmucci), the manic energy of stage-Jew Mushnik (Ashley O’Connell) and sicko bad-boy dentist Orin (Ian Harmon), and the comic grotesquerie of Audrey 2, the ever-growing plant with its insatiable demand, “FEED ME!” Nicole Deslauriers risks serious heat-stroke manipulating the killer plant puppet from inside it, and Richard Ogilvie does nice work as its voice.

The other voices in the large cast of theatre students and recent grads are all okay but don’t always seem in sync with the four-piece band, and the sound mix sometimes drowns out the vocals. I would have liked a clearer, crisper, more dynamic and powerful sound.

This is still a charming little show, though like the plant, it’s looking increasingly alien.

Jerry Wasserman

last updated: Tuesday, August 9, 2005 7:42 PM
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