Russ Hunt's Reviews

Little Shop of Horrors
August 1998

[from a posting to the HUNTS list]

This production of Little Shop of Horrors was put on by a newish local outfit called "Front Row Productions," which is the creation of Leigh Rivenbark, who's done a whole lot of wonderful stuff around here. His aim in life is to direct musicals, and he's not just another pretty face. (He was also the director of the Krapp's Last Tape I raved about last spring.) This Little Shop was every bit as good as the one we saw at Neptune some years ago -- professional quality right through. The best thing about the production was the pace: there was never a moment when we were waiting for the next thing. It was choreographed right down to the eyebrows. The basic set was just a raised platform with a garbage can on it: when they needed the shop they just whipped out a couple of counter-sized bulks and put a phone on one and a cash register on the other -- and when they didn't need it it disappeared, moved by the cast in the process of getting on and off.

The chorus of urchins was a sort of sleazy five-girl group with just dynamite voices, led by Sarah Murphy, in fine form, and including one of my favorite bit characters from STU productions, Alison Mesheau. They carried hand mikes and were amazingly energetic and focused (and when, toward they end, they played parts -- petals? tentacles? -- of Audrey II, they were pretty good, too). Audrey (I) was played by Erika Buiteman, a veteran of a lot of good local shows, who was great -- the best role I've seen her in; I had no idea she could sing in this wonderful tiny, breathy voice -- "Somewhere that's Green" was just, well, lovely in a ridiculous way ("It's not fancy, like Levittown"). Shawn Henry and Ryan Rogerson as Seymour and Mr. Mushnik were powerful, too ("I used to think you left a stench, But now I see you are a mensch.") In fact, all the major roles were strong -- no, everybody was strong ("no weak sisters," Anne said).

But it was Tania Breen as Audrey II that blew me away: I've admired her work in a whole lot of STU productions, but this was something else again. When we saw Shop at Neptune the plant was a sort of Frank Oz-like large puppet, or a series of them. Here, once the plant got bigger than a pot on a stand, it opened to reveal Tania in a leotard as the plant, and I haven't heard anybody in Fredericton with a lower-down, dirtier delivery. Maybe nobody anywhere. "Feed Me" and "Suppertime" were as sexy as anything Holly Cole ever sang.

The band -- Don Bosse on drums, with Jared Hartt on piano and Dave DeDourek and Will Davidson on guitar and bass -- was just fine: professional and supportive.

The only real complaint I had was that the whole show was miked -- I don't think anybody actually needed the miking; it was part of making it feel appropriately rock 'n' rollish and glitzy, and I guess it made sense, but there were times when it was way more volume than I needed -- I haven't spent enough Saturday nights in bars, I guess.

There were also some inconsistencies around that -- the five urchins carried hand mikes and everybody else was body-miked except for Piet DeFraeye (he directed the St. Thomas Trojan Women last year) as the opening narrator and "Patrick Martin," the guy who comes in with the licensing proposal to sell cuttings of Audrey II around the world, who also carried a hand mike. Why? Couldn't tell. Mr. Bernstein from NBC wasn't miked at all. Why? Couldn't tell.

There were also a few weaknesses in the second act. The momentum was broken a couple of times when they had to move the big Audrey II around -- you could see that it was hard work getting her out front for the finale, for instance, and I'm still not sure they really needed to do it. The moment when Audrey's almost eaten by Audrey II seemed to get lost, so that when she announces that when she dies "which should be any minute now" Seymour should feed her to Audrey II it's a real surprise. And when she reappears inside Audrey II to lure Seymour in it seemed to me more could have been made of her appearance -- lighting change, pause in the music, something to mark the Occasion. But really this didn't matter a lot: I can't remember a more engrossing couple of hours of just sheer fun in the theatre.

To discuss or comment on this review, send email to
Back to reviews of amateur and other productions
Back to main list of reviews
Back to Russ Hunt's Web site