Little Shop of Horrors: “Unusual Story, Fascinating Plant”

This is probably a strange choice for a family favorite but that was what the 1986 Little Shop of Horrors film was for me growing up.  Needless to say I was extremely excited when I found out that Auckland Theatre Company were bringing this comedy horror musical to the stage.  I have been looking forward to this production for months and I am thrilled to say that it did not disappoint!

Based on the original 1960 film by Roger Corman and inspired by the 1982 Off-Broadway production, this Auckland interpretation directed superbly by Simon Coleman, brings to life everything I remembered enjoying about this quirky musical and more.  The story is set in 1960s Skid Row and begins in the failing Mushnik’s Flower Shop.  Seymour is the clumsy, geeky florist assistant who becomes an “experimental botanist” overnight when he discovers a strange-looking plant after an unexpected eclipse of the sun.

Business begins to boom as this mysterious plant becomes a popular local attraction while Audrey, the co-worker he is secretly in love with, is starting to take interest in him. There’s only one problem – the plant, aptly named Audrey II, has an insatiable appetite for human flesh and blood.  As the story unfolds, we see Seymour battle with his conscience and faced with a moral dilemma.  He has his dream life and love but can he live with himself knowing it came at the price of catering to the plant’s carnivorous needs?

What I was most curious about was how the plant was going to transfer from what I have seen on screen to the stage.  Apart from looking slightly obscene, I felt the creative team did an excellent job at bringing the titular plant to the stage.  Kyle Chuen, the man behind the plant and Rima Te Wiata, the voice of the plant, worked together harmoniously to breathe life and personality to this demanding and menacing creature.

Audrey II aside, the other characters are realized by a talented ensemble of performers with impressive vocal chops.  Tim Carlsen was definitely the perfect choice to play Seymour; I thought he embodied everything about the character brilliantly and vocally he was flawless.  Similarly Colleen Davis was fantastic as the sweet but naive Audrey and Paul Barrett was excellent as the cranky, money-minded Mr. Mushnik.

I also really enjoyed Andrew Grainger’s portrayal of Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend and Seymour’s nemesis; he brought great comedy to an otherwise dark and unlikeable character.  Rounding up the cast is the fabulous trio behind Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, the resident street urchins who comment (mostly through song) on actions that take place throughout the story.  I thought they brought great sass and attitude to the stage, enhanced all the more by their many striking costume changes!

The set is stylistically quite simple and there is minimal use of props.  What really made the stage more dynamic and visually exciting was the perfect mix of creative lighting design (including a laser light show), well-timed theatrical smoke and fog, and clever use of visual projections.  The projections were used to not only indicate changes in location and time, but also to mirror street art and graffiti to give Skid Row an edgier, more dangerous feel to it.

Being a musical, naturally the music is an integral part of the story.  Led by musical director Jason Te Mete, the songs are performed impeccably by a four-piece band tucked away backstage.  These numbers are a fantastic collaboration of Howard Ashman’s wonderful lyrics and Alan Menken’s gift of music and are inspired by 60s doo-wop with a dash of Motown and rock and roll.  The melodies are distinct and catchy and you can expect to have any or all of the more well-loved tunes – Somewhere That’s Green, Downtown, Suddenly Seymour and Feed Me – resonate in your head for days after.

Little Shop of Horrors is a slick and colorful production that is visually and vocally stunning, delightfully hilarious and a whole lot of fun.  It succeeds in being both an utterly ridiculous farce and a deliciously hysterical and entertaining musical at the same time.  I don’t necessarily agree that it is best suited to children 12 years plus, but it can certainly be a fun experience for the whole family and it is a definite must-see for all musical lovers.

The Whimsical Banana rates Little Shop of Horrors: 5/5 bananas!

Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the fabulous Rangatira at Q until 2nd December.  For show details and to book tickets, click here.

Full synopsis and cast information can be found here.

This review is also featured on Keeping up with NZ.

This review also appears on the Q website.

Review: The Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Musical

Last weekend, I was transported back to my childhood in a flurry of colorful costumes, energetic song and dance, and a wonderfully dynamic set.  After an incredibly successful season of Jersey Boys, Mary Poppins was easily the next most anticipated musical event of the year and I’m not at all surprised to say it doesn’t disappoint and exceeded my every expectation!

Whether you’re a fan of the 1964 Walt Disney film or the original canon penned by P.L. Travers, this stage musical co-created by Cameron Mackintosh and directed masterfully by Richard Eyre is a whole new magical experience.  Aside from a fabulous top notch cast and fantastic support from a live orchestra, this production makes full use of the stage boasting an array of delightful props as well as visual and special effects that will amaze and enthrall you from start to finish.

According to Mary Poppins herself, you will look like a codfish doing so but I just couldn’t help myself – for most of it, my mouth was hanging open in awe at the magic of it all.  With an impressive constantly changing, ever moving set and featuring both the old classics as well as catchy new songs, this timeless well-loved story is visually breathtakingly beautiful and an absolute joy to hear.

Rachel Wallace is perfectly cast as the titular character, portraying the magical nanny skillfully with an air of grace, unwavering dignity and great finesse.  She really was “practically perfect in every way”!  For many – myself included – Julie Andrews is the visual representation of Mary Poppins but fair warning, this may change after you see Rachel work her magic!  I thought she embodied the physicality and spirit of the character so effortlessly and convincingly.

Just like the Banks’ children who soon become enamored by Mary Poppins’ unconventional but effective nanny style, you can’t help but get spellbound by Rachel’s performance.  She commands your attention with ease and has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand in no time.

The rest of the cast were absolutely stellar too, from the supporting characters to the ensemble.  I thought Simon Burke was great as George Banks, brilliantly depicting the exasperating yet almost comical stuffiness and inflexibility that the character is known for.  Precision and Order, one of the new numbers shines a spotlight on this idiosyncrasy and is a great addition to the song list.

I was also really impressed by the two children that played Jane and Michael.  It’s incredibly inspiring to see such young talent involved in such a major production and giving the adult performers a run for their money!  I especially enjoyed the comedy (with a little hint of mischief!) that the actor who played Michael that evening put in to the character.

Aside from Mary Poppins, the character that I enjoyed the most and who shone the brightest in my opinion was Mary Poppins’ cheery sidekick, Bert.  Matt Lee is simply outstanding as the multi-talented sometimes chalk artist, sometimes chimney sweep.  From opening the show with the recurrent Chim Chim Cher-ee, to being Mary’s trusty best friend and fun companion to the kids, to an astounding gravity-defying stunt, Matt does it all.  He plays Bert with such conviction and his stage presence is second to none; the charisma and energy he brought to his performance was just so enjoyable and captivating to watch.

I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of all the musical numbers.  Every song was beautifully sung and excellently choreographed – a vocal and visual spectacle.  One of the standout numbers for me was Step In Time which featured Bert and his fellow chimney sweeps in an enthusiastic and energetic tap dance routine – it was exciting, dynamic and just so much fun to watch!  Out of all the songs, perhaps the most known and loved one is the catchy mouthful Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.  It certainly would have been the most anticipated number and boy was it a goodie – I especially liked the addition of the hand gestures to mimic the letters.

The thing that had the biggest “wow factor” for me which completely blew me away was that stunning and amazing set.  Pretty much every prop and backdrop is movable and can be interacted with which made each set or scene change become more than just a necessity to indicate a change in location or progression in the narrative; for me it was something I started to look forward to seeing happen.

Every time the scene changed or the set moved, it happened so seamlessly and sometimes with a surprise or two that makes you scratch your head and wonder, “how did they do that?”.  It reminded me a lot of those old school “pop up books”.  The scene where the children are introduced to Mary Poppins’ magical bottomless carpet bag is one of my favorites from the film and how it was translated to the stage was just so remarkable to watch; it really was one of those “you have to see it to believe it” moments.

I do feel like my words will not be able to give full justice to just how exhilarating and truly spectacular this production it is.  I also don’t want to give too much away as a big part of the magic is seeing it unfold for yourself!  All I will leave you with is it is a must-see that is well worth the money and the trip – this renown children’s tale turned stage musical is simply flawless and an absolute theatrical triumph.

So don’t miss out – have a generous spoonful of sugar and let Mary Poppins take you and your imagination on a magical, extraordinary adventure.  Your eyes, ears and inner child will thank you for it.

The Whimsical Banana rates Mary Poppins: 6/5 bananas!

Beautifully crafted, exceptionally staged and superbly performed – a massive well done to the cast and creative team!

Mary Poppins is playing at the magnificent Civic Theatre in Auckland for a strictly limited season.  For more information, dates and to buy tickets, click here.  You can also learn more about the cast and crew, and catch snippets of the music by visiting the official Mary Poppins website.