Last year the Menier Chocolate Factory sent their production of Sunday In The Park with George to the West End where it scooped up armfuls of awards. And while their new musical, also West End bound, may not quite be up to Sondheim standards, it deserves to do just as well.
Little Shop Of Horrors is Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s entertaining riff on the 1950s Roger Corman flick about a killer plant with a taste for human flesh. The songs are witty, joyous parodies of the music of the period, complete with a finger-clicking, shoo-whop chorus supplied by a trio of gum-chewing, streetwise girls (led by the superb Katie Kerr).
The story is classic B-movie stuff – after poor orphan Seymour discovers a rare and unusual plant during a solar eclipse, his luck immediately starts to change. Business improves at the flower shop where he works and he sees an opportunity to rescue the love of his life, Audrey, from her nasty, violent boyfriend. But the plant wants something in return for all this good fortune, it wants to be fed and not just on Baby-Bio, no, it has a taste for human blood.
The Menier’s production transfers smoothly into the larger West End space of the Duke Of York’s, filling the stage comfortably. The plant, the fearsome Audrey II, grows menacingly in size with every scene change. But though superbly voiced by Mike McShane, it’s a little too cuddly for my liking, it looks like an escapee from Avenue Q which is playing just up the street. (I concede I may be alone in feeling this way, the girl sitting beside me, aged about fifteen or so, seemed genuinely creeped out when the plant started to show signs of life).
The only new addition to the cast is Alistair McGowan who plays Audrey’s evil dentist boyfriend Orin (memorably played by Steve Martin in the 1980s film version). Despite a moment of near-corpsing triggered by a misbehaving prop, he acquits himself well, both as the leather-clad sadist who slaps Audrey around, and in the several smaller roles he takes on in the second half, after Orin meets a messy end.
The rest of the cast remain unchanged from the Menier production. Paul Keating makes an endearingly nerdy Seymour, but it’s Sheridan Smith who really stands out, as the breathy, bottle-blonde Audrey. When she perches on a Skid Row dustbin to sing Somewhere That’s Green, she manages to sob convincingly and heart-breakingly, while never losing the tune, something I imagine takes an incredible amount of skill to do well.
Kitcsh, slick and just a little sick, this Little Shop is a production that works on numerous levels. It never tries to be anything it’s not, it just gets on with the business of keeping its audience entertained, something it does very well indeed.