Actor, comedian and TV impressionist Alistair McGowan joined the cast of gruesome musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors at the Menier Chocolate Factory at an event to launch the West End transfer of the show this afternoon, which opens at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 12 March (previews from 6 March, See News, 19 Jan 2007).

McGowan will take over from Jasper Britton in the role of sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, abusive boyfriend of flower shop assistant Audrey (Sheridan Smith, who reprises her role in the West End alonside other original cast members Paul Keating, Barry James, Mike McShane, Jenny Fitzpatrick, Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Matthew Eames.)

McGowan and Smith have previously worked together in a television sit-com, Dark Ages, and McGowan said he is looking forward to working with Smith again, who he said sings the Titanic theme song “better than Celine Dion.” He added he is thrilled to be joining the West End transfer of the production – which has been nominated for the Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award for Best Off-West End Production.

McGowan, who made his musical debut appearing alongside Judi Dench in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor, which continues in Stratford-upon-Avon until 10 February, told Whatsonstage.com: “It’s one of those parts that you dream about if you’re sort of angular and tall like me. At the back of my mind I always thought ‘I quite fancy doing that’, so when they asked me I said yes straight away.

“The part makes a big impact and I have a lovely song that sums up what everyone feels about going to the dentist in a way - we’ve all sat in that chair and thought ‘this guy is enjoying this, who becomes a dentist, what sadistic person wants to look into people’s mouths and inflict pain on them?’ And then of course you know really that they’re only trying to help you, but the other side of it is this dark fantasy that we all think they’re evil.

“As well as the dentist, in the second half I then become three different parts in one number and it’s a kind of quick-change show-off tour-de-force so that appealed to me as well because of my background in impressions and quick changes. Doing Merry Wives has certainly given me the best possible warm-up for singing on stage and has given me a lot of confidence.”

He added: “Musicals should fill a room and Little Shop of Horrors definitely fills this one, and I know it’ll fill the Duke of York’s.”

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Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s sci-fi spoof musical is loosely based on Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 film, which was filmed in under a week and featured a young Jack Nicholson in a bit part. Nerdy orphan Seymour (Keating) works in Mr Mushnik’s Skid Row florist shop, along with girl of his dreams Audrey (Smith), who is dating Scrivello. After a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers a peculiar plant with a bloodthirsty appetite, which he names Audrey II. As his infatuation with the real Audrey grows, so does the plant. The show was last seen in the West End at the Comedy Theatre, where it ran for two years from October 1983. In that premiere production, Barry James, now playing flower-shop owner Mushnik, starred as Seymour.

Little Shop of Horrors, which completes its sell-out season at the 150-seat Southwark venue on 25 February 2007, is directed by Matthew White (The Last Five Years) and designed by David Farley. It has choreography by Lynne Page, musical supervision by Caroline Humphris, lighting design by Paul Anderson and sound design by Gareth Owen. It’s presented in the West End by Chocolate Factory Productions, along with co-producers Bob Boyett, Richard Frankel, Steve Baruch, Thomas Viertel, Marc Routh and Stephanie McClelland.

The Menier’s artistic director David Babani told Whatsonstage.com he is hoping Little Shop of Horrors will follow the success of Sunday in the Park with George, which transferred from the Menier to the West End’s Wyndham’s theatre last year: “We’re all very excited about the West End transfer; there’ll be a few new surprises, but we’re going to keep it fun and intimate and small.”

Currently at the Duke of York’s, Trevor Nunn’s premiere production of Tom Stoppard’s latest play Rock 'n' Roll - nominated for four Olivier Awards and winner of two Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle Awards - finishes its extended season on 25 February, ahead of a planned transfer to Broadway in the autumn (See News, 5 Jan 2007). It currently stars Dominic West, Emma Fielding and David Calder.

- by Caroline Ansdell