The Menier Chocolate Factory’s Whatsonstate.com Theatregoers’ Choice Award-winning production of the sci-fi musical spoof Little Shop of Horrors transferred this week (Monday 12 March 2007, previews from 6 March) to the West End’s Duke of York’s (See WOS TV, 13 Mar 2007).
In the West End, the original Menier cast – including Sheridan Smith, Paul Keating, Barry James and Mike McShane – reprise their performances in the West End, with one notable exception. TV impressionist Alistair McGowan, who made his musical debut in December, appearing alongside Judi Dench in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of The Merry Wives of Windsor – has taken over from Jasper Britton as sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s musical is loosely based on Roger Corman’s popular low-budget 1960 film. 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 Menier revival – which won this year’s Whatsonstage.com Award for Best Off-West End Production, prior to its current transfer - is directed by Matthew White and designed by David Farley. Other roles in Little Shop of Horrors are played by Jenny Fitzpatrick, Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Matthew Eames.
The production 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.
Overnight critics loved the campy, up-tempo, bouncy feel of the musical, and were impressed with the performances of the cast, particularly noting Sheridan Smith and Paul Keating for their fun and cartoony but touching portrayals. Some were slightly less convinced by new cast member Alistair McGowan, and said the sound system was occasionally too overpowering, but they enjoyed the show as a whole and warmed to the central green monster plant, Audrey II, in David Farley’s new design.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (3 stars) -
“I have two immediate big caveats. The sound system is terrible, harsh and too metallic, rendering the last 20 minutes of the show inaudible. And Alistair McGowan is okay as the sadistic dentist (and in other minor roles)… but not a patch on Jasper Britton whom he has replaced; his comic mania is not deliciously out of control. The main thing is that the two leads are still in place, and both are brilliant. Sheridan Smith is a definitive abused shop girl, Audrey, who suffers at the hands of the dentist but dreams of “Somewhere That’s Green”… What she does with that one song, on four layers of sentiment – suburban fantasy, regret, camp pathos and innocent charm – is quite amazing. And Paul Keating as the nerd turned champion botanist, Seymour, is even more delightful and impressive than before. Their big duet, “Suddenly Seymour”, is a total gas and newly animated by the use of the fire escape: very Tennessee Williams – “Suddenly Last Seymour”, perhaps…. David Farley’s design looks better in the proscenium, and the voracious Audrey II… is a wonder in itself, a sexual predator with fangs for the mammary. The plant is vocalised by Mike McShane in splendid black and bluesy style, and operated by Andy Heath who is pleasingly regurgitated for the curtain calls. Matthew White’s bouncy production is hilariously launched by the finger-wagging, butt-banging girl group trio of Katie Kerr, Melitsa Nicola and Jenny Fitzpatrick.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - An unwell Spencer was so enamoured of the production that even “the most spectacular bout of projectile vomiting since The Exorcist” didn’t put him off: “It says something for the excellence of this show, first seen at the Menier Chocolate Factory last year and now a most welcome arrival in the West End, that, despite my discomfort and embarrassment, I still find myself capable of regarding Little Shop of Horrors with great affection. Impossible not to take your cap off, too, to the Menier's artistic director David Babani. His small south London theatre dominated the recent Olivier awards…. And I have a hunch that… Little Shop of Horrors is going to give the Menier a prolonged box-office pay day. The show offers schlock of the most joyous kind…. The plant proves an absolute knockout in David Farley's design, getting ever bigger as each scene passes…. It's spectacularly voiced, too, by Mike McShane, but it's a mark of the show's strength that the human characters aren't upstaged by the botanical monster. As well as Paul Keating's touching, accident-prone Seymour, there's a gem of a comic performance from Sheridan Smith as Audrey, a blonde, busty Marilyn Monroe lookalike who totters round the stage in tiny dresses and somehow combines humour, dignity and poignancy…. I can't see how anyone could fail to have a good time at Matthew White's exuberant show.”
Maddy Costa in the Guardian (4 stars) - “Some Fringe transfers look hopelessly dwarfed by their new West End homes; watching this exuberant production of Little Shop of Horrors, you wonder how it ever squeezed into the tiny Menier Chocolate Factory…. The cast have the larger-than-life quality of cartoons - not least the bequiffed bad-girl chorus, who seem to have arrived on stage straight from John Waters' cult camp movie Hairspray. The one new performer for the West End, Alistair McGowan, enters into this effervescent spirit with undisguised glee: his sadistic dentist is shamelessly self-adoring, sleazily aping Elvis' pelvic thrusts, then ripping open his shirt to fondle his chest. If McGowan's motley collection of television producers and magazine editors in the second act are slightly less successful, it's only because they're more buttoned-up. Elsewhere, it's the details that make this such a charming production. Lynne Page's crafty choreography tempers the most saccharine lyrics by marrying them to raunchy moves. Although too loud at times, the band impressively handle the shifts from 1950s doo-wop to dirtier 1970s funk. And there's lovely work from Mike McShane, the molasses-rich voice of Audrey II, sneakily sliding from dulcet to needling to monstrously arrogant. It's remarkable that two shows with puppetry at their heart should be on the same West End street simultaneously; like Avenue Q, Little Shop is kooky, irresistibly feel-good and deserves to run and run.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (3 stars) – “Still bearing ample traces of its origins as Roger Corman's classic Fifties sci-fi movie, this Off-Broadway and on-West End musical was extravagantly praised at its Chocolate Factory revival in November. Perhaps the comic-book hideousness of Audrey II, that human-eating plant, which thanks to animatronics turned more than a bit human, appealed to the vulgar teenager in us. The plant does, after all, resemble a cross between gargantuan penis and giant caterpillar. Now, in the West End, Matthew White's production strikes many witless, dull and gross notes. The songs are reckoned witty and might have been if the singers were not overwhelmed by the band. The lead performers, apart from Paul Keating's geeky flower assistant, Seymour, engender little fun. The voice of unseen Mike McShane, who thickly croaks and sings Audrey II, proves the one inventive, star attraction in this morality musical about the lures of greed and sexual desire…. The Duke of York's aisle-seat sight-lines are abysmal…. Smith… ought make a far funnier impression and be far more of an air-heady, squeaky, sexy love-victim…. She sings touchingly, though. Alistair McGowan… (who) ought to engender delirious amusement when he gets Seymour in his dental chair… turns farcical-grotesque rather than black-comedyish.”
- by Caroline Ansdell