(Just as a foreword, all persons mentioned within this review shall remain anonymous out of respect and privacy reasons.)
Last night (Saturday 2nd November 2013), I went to see the student-run production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre (LPAC). The show was directed, by one of my fellow third year Drama students who had allowed only a month for those she had cast to rehearse, choreographed, block and stage such an ambitious musical.
However, it was apparent from the first number that the cast – and the director – had needed much longer than a month to pull the whole show together. The three girls whom had been cast as Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette (two third years and one second year) had very little presence on stage during the opening number Little Shop of Horrors and relied heavily on their microphones and not enough on projection of their voices or harmonising with each other. From the initial onset of this one song, it set the tone of the entire performance as being something similar to that you’d seen in an amateur dramatics production, which is unfortunate as the LPAC houses some absolutely amazing performers within it’s three year groups.
However, things soon perked up when the lead roles were introduced and acting began to take place. The second year student cast as Mr Mushnik certainly looked the part but lacked a certain level of presence of conviction on stage, whereas the post-graduate student cast as Seymour exuded thrill, excitement and dedication to his role; he certainly had the most presence and the most apparent sense of timing and talent out of the whole cast. Audrey, played by a third year student, was directed to play the role as comical. This worked but, for me personally, I felt that the actress relied far too much on this comical aspect and didn’t fully convey a character to whom the audience could feel a real sense of emotional attachment too. Additionally, I felt the accent she tried to hold throughout could have had more work on.
Accents in general for good for the most part of the performance, with the majority of the cast holding their American accents throughout, with a few little mishaps in the way of pronunciation of particular words and occasional slipping into their normal dialects and accents.
The musical numbers in which Seymour was solo or apart of the ensemble were by far the better songs in the performance. For me, the actor playing Seymour was one of the few on stage that could actually hold a tune for the entire duration of a song and was one of the few cast members who didn’t miss cues or come in too early with the backing tracks provided – this was a particular problem with the songs featuring the three chorus girls or Mushnik; it almost seemed as thought their songs had often been overlooked in the rehearsal process and they hadn’t had the opportunity to fine-tune or adjust to their musical cues. Little things like this affected the overall performance and, for me, made it often uncomfortable and cringe-worthy to witness.
Audrey’s only solo in the entire show, Somewhere That’s Green, is one of my favourite songs from the show and I was most looking forward to hearing it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as satisfied with it as I would have liked to have been. The actress is known to be a very good singer – which I personally had heard on several occasions and can agree with – but within the context of the performance she masked her singing voice with the accent donned to her character of Audrey. Although she was successful in keeping the accent throughout the number, I felt that it affected the way she sung in general and her voice was lost through the characterisation of her character. Whether this was through personal choice or from the director, I felt that the music should have been more prominent than the accent and that it is very doable to sing that particular song well with a slight hint of the accent credited to Audrey – take professional singers, for instance, they can have a particular accent when they’re not singing and it’s somewhat gone once they are!
Some of the ensemble were a little lack-luster for my taste and I felt that they may also have had the least amount of attention drawn on them during the rehearsal process, due to the short amount of time offered. However, the costumes and overall set were to a good, high standard and made up for the fact that some of the performers weren’t quite up to scratch. I can only commemorate the graduate who designed the set for her interesting and workable performance space, as I know how a good set can really transform a performance. Additionally, the costumes, that were sources and selected by the director, were interesting to look at and fit well with the 1950s setting of the show, as did the overall set too. The lighting was particularly good too as it conveyed different tones and moods throughout the performance and was used effectively throughout. A big thumbs up goes to the third year student who came up with the amazing lighting design!
However, the main spectacle of the show is the progression of the Audrey II plants. For first Audrey II we saw was a remote controlled plant was interesting to look at but appeared to jerk a lot throughout the scenes in which it was used. I’m not sure if this was intentional or not but I felt it often detracted from the acting as audience members were more fascinated by the jerking little plant on the window sill, when it’s meant to be still and motionless at that particular part in the show. The second sized Audrey II, however, was not present and the first one was used twice. Whether their was a reason behind this or not, I do not know, but it didn’t detract away from the overall performance other than the fact that it hadn’t grown after being fed Seymour’s blood. The third Audrey II was just as I had expected, but it was apparent that it was a different design from the first one used just by looking at colour alone. The puppetry was good, if not a little off beat at times and often coming in before the voice of Audrey II, but worked well for the purpose of a student-run production. But the one Audrey II I was particularly looking forward to was the fourth, giant Audrey II which dons a vast majority of the set in the Second Act. Again, the puppetry was good and the two occurrences where Mushnik and Audrey are eaten were done effectively. However, there was a lack of an apparent struggle between the plant and Seymour at the very end of the show, which was a little disappointing. Finally, the voice of Audrey II was just as you would expect: deep, rich and fascinating. Much like that featured in the movie version, the voice of Audrey II was bold and caused an emphasis of focus for the audience as they witnessed the scenes between Seymour and the puppet Audrey II on stage. However, within the last number Don’t Feed the Plants, the ensemble brought on other version of Audrey II that hadn’t been used in the actual performance before. It was clear that they were the Audrey II plants distributed across America, as suggested in the performance itself, but it showed that along with the third and fourth Audrey II puppets, the company which provided them also provided the first and second puppets that matched them. Obviously, it must have been the directors choice to use the remote control plant, as it did look interesting, but it would have perhaps looked more effective to have the same design on plant throughout and might have also saved a bit of money along the way!
Quickly, before I move on to talk about the Second Act, I just want to mention the graduate who had been cast to play the Dentist in the show. His characterisation was remarkable and very well imagined and depicted. Despite his accent not being as strong as some of the other characters, his overall presence on stage, much like Seymour’s, was one of the highest. Although his song You’ll Be A Dentist was interesting to watch as an audience member, it was evident that his talents weren’t as strong when it came to singing but this small fact didn’t matter as his characterisation and dedication to the part made up for it. He was able to convey the funny, misogynistic, sadistic man that is Orin Scivello, which I was very happy to see.
The Second Act was much stronger than the First Act. The numbers featured were definitely stronger and had more conviction, and it was much more interesting to watch and be a part of than it had been in the First Act – I was very nearly tempted not to return to the auditorium after the interval because I’d been so disappointed with the First Act, but I’m glad I didn’t (I wouldn’t have been able to complete this review if I hadn’t).
However, on of my most favourite songs in the entire show, Suddenly Seymour, wasn’t done as well as I’d hoped. Much like in her solo Somewhere That’s Green, the actress playing Audrey didn’t quite have the rocky tone needed to sing her part in the song and often switched between her chest and head voice oddly when the notes got a little too high or low. This was unfortunate because I have personally seen it done well and wanted to see it done well again.
By no means do I wish to slate this performance within an inch of it’s life, but I do feel that it required a much longer period of rehearsal time in order to get it to the standard in which it both needed and required. Additionally, I come from a position where I, myself, have been involved in a production of Little Shop of Horrors before so I understand and am aware of the vast amount of hard work that is required to pull it off effectively. My advice for the director is that they should have cast the show before the Summer break and then schedule rehearsals over the Summer months, continuing through into September and October and then have a show that was definitely ready for an audience in November. With this being said, in the time that they did have to pull it all together, it wasn’t a bad effort and I commemorate all of the cast and crew for their efforts in the final performance.
If I was to rate this show out of a possible five stars, I would award it a two star rating; good effort, but needs a touch more work and a longer rehearsal process!