By BRUCE DENNILL
Little Shop Of Horrors / Directed by Steven Stead / Pieter Torien’s Montecasino Theatre, Fourways
There’s something about cult musicals that suggests audiences should expect manic entertainment rather than genuine craft. If that turns out to be true, then no harm, no foul, as singing and cheering as characters in unlikely situations pursue even unlikelier outcomes sing catch tunes and pump out punchlines is as good a way to spend a couple of hours as any.
But the Pieter Torien and KickstArt production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s (who, incidentally, also wrote the music for Sister Act, which ran concurrently at another Johannesburg theatre) Little Shop Of Horrors takes B-grade alien invasion schlock and surrounds it with packaging and performances of the very highest order.
Set designer and puppet creator (the latter along with Wendy Henstock) Greg King creates an incredible environment in which the action can take place. The ever-growing Audrey 2 – the carnivorous plant at the heart of the story – is a work of art in itself, but details that are never as central to the story receive the same attention, down to the mysterious liquid that’s oozed across the Skid Row pavement in front of Mr Mushnik’s flower shop and the worn, torn film posters that telegraph the plot twist (for the few souls in the theatre who don’t know the story going in).
The ensemble/chorus of Chantal Herman, Dionne Song and Lelo Ramasimong seque effortlessly from glammed-up pop trio to sassy street commentators, linking the various story threadscreatively and effectively.
Michael Richard plays Mr Mushnik with a touch of his award-winning Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof, even adding a few improvised steps from If I Were A Rich Man to one of his scenes to the delight of that (small) portion of the audience who make the link. And Alan Committie extends his already massive range to include playing the lead in a musical, giving his character Seymour just the right mix of diffidence and drive and comfortably handling the singing duties (even with a hint of flu towards the end of the run).
All of the above is superb, but there are a couple of slightly less central performances that lift the production another couple of notches. Candice van Litsenborgh as Audrey has a convincing line in squeaks and whimpers, giving her character a believable, loveable airhead quality. But when she drops the tittering and opens up during her musical solos, she shows off a voice that requires an arena or even a stadium to do it justice. She exhibits a wonderful knowledge of vocal dynamics and uses all those techniques to thrill listeners.
Stealing every scene he’s in is Zak Hendrikz as Orin, Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend. Styled as a sort of evil Johnny Bravo (his hair alone deserves above-the-title billing) Hendrikz minces, pouts, swivels his pelvis and giggles with such maniacal glee that he steps over the line defining “over the top” within ten seconds of arriving on stage and spends the rest of his time writing new, ridiculous, hilarious definitions for that phrase. It’s a comedy high water mark for the production, the reward for complete commitment to the character from Hendrikz.
Little Shop Of Horrors has run around the world for decades, but you’ll do exceptionally well to track down a better production than this one.