Little Shop of Horrors

Tue 10th – Thu 12th December 2013

reviews

Olivia Lace-Evans

at 10:40 on 11th Dec 2013

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With catchy songs, laugh-out-loud jokes and a sparkling cast, MTB’s Little Shop of Horrors was always going to be a winner. Everything impressed, from the wonderful band and the quality of the singing voices, to the comic timing and the creative set, and I urge anyone to catch the show before the run ends.

What made this production so remarkable was the quality of the leading roles. Many individual performances were approaching a professional standard and highlighted the impressive group of budding musical theatre actors Bristol is harbouring.

Luke Ward was spectacular in the leading role of Seymour, a shy florist and ex-orphan who suddenly finds fame through a man-eating plant (haven’t we all been there?). In a couple of musicals I’ve seen in the past, musical theatre actors have a tendency to either be very good at singing but somewhat lacking when they act, or vice versa. Ward proved this was clearly not the case. The detailing of his characterisation was superb, with charming ticks like picking at his cardigan and pushing up his glasses bringing a wonderful sincerity to the character. It is also worth noting that he has one of the most brilliant singing voices I have had the pleasure to hear on stage, both in student and professional theatre. The slight rocky edge to his tone and the impressive range of his voice made it appear effortless, and he never slipped out of character.

Jamie Budgett’s performance as the greedy, selfish Mr Mushnik who ‘selflessly’ takes Seymour as his own son was priceless. Budgett was hilarious from start to finish and demonstrated an equally impressive vocal ability. One of the best moments of the whole production was his performance in the song ‘Mushnik and Son’. The quick switches between trying to charm Seymour into being adopted and the true slimy nature of his character were done so fluidly, and with such brilliant comic timing, that the whole audience was in stiches by the end of the number. Indeed, I had to wipe tears from my eyes I was laughing so hard.

It is also worth noting Edward Richards' brilliant portrayal of Audrey’s abusive boyfriend and sadistic dentist. Richards has a remarkable stage presence and, again, a voice many performers would be extremely jealous of. Like Budgett’s song, Richards’ song ‘Dentist!’ was side-splitting. The choice to throw out some fake teeth into the audience was a particularly nice touch.

The cherry on top of the metaphorical cake was the wonderful rich tones of Fred Ward, taking on the task of giving a man-eating plant soul. The plant, brilliantly designed and executed on stage may I add, was brought to life by Ward’s excellent singing and subtle characterisation. Despite never actually seeing Ward in the production his acting ability shone through, moving effortlessly from a poor vulnerable plant that just wants to be fed, to a maniacal monster seeking to take over.

Abigail Marrow made a good attempt at the character of Audrey. Her voice has a pleasing clarity and sincerity to it, which suited the character well. Equally, the ditsy and naïve portrayal was endearing and worked against Ward’s Seymour. However, particularly when Marrow sang, there was a definite sense of nerves coming through. This is understandable - as far as I’m aware this is Marrow’s debut musical performance and first nights can always be nerve-wracking. Her voice and performance were charming and have potential. If more energy and confidence was adopted for future performances, there is every chance her performance could equal those of her male counterparts.

Although I loved the production, there were a few criticisms which prevented me from giving the production five stars. The show was peppered with appearances from the female trio, acting as the chorus and helping to drive the plot forwards. Of the three Sophie Stott shone, making the vocal licks and runs seem effortless and demonstrating a remarkable singing ability. However, all three lacked energy from the outset and I felt they needed a little more ‘oomph’ to really bring the show to life; when their presence was compared to the leading actors they simply faded into the background. Furthermore, a couple of lighting cues were slightly off leading some parts to be poorly lit, but that may just come down to first night glitches.

As I left the theatre, I found myself with a wide smile on my face, merrily humming the songs over and over and (embarrassingly) even dancing a little bit in the street. Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect show to go and see this Christmas, and is the ideal antidote for all of those deadline blues.

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Anwen Jones

at 12:04 on 11th Dec 2013

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I had never actually had the pleasure of watching Little Shop of Horrors before MTB’s performance at the Bierkeller Theatre last night and so was a little apprehensive as to how the music and storyline would unfold. Worried that a gimmicky American musical would prove no match to the romance of West Side Story, the trauma of Phantom of the Opera or the tender beauty of A Muppets Christmas Carol (it’s a ‘cracker’…excuse the pun), I was intrigued as to why Musical Theatre Bristol had picked this particular show for their end of term extravaganza. However, upon discovering the previous talents of the musical’s songwriting team (Howard Ashman and Alan Menken also wrote songs for Disney’s the Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin – which are, coincidentally, three of my top 5 Disney films) I was pretty sure that director Nat Mayne, producer Ollie Feather and musical director Harry Zundel had struck metaphorical gold with their choice.

I wasn’t disappointed. The whole show was filled with infectious hilarity, melt-in-your-mouth musical voices and a whole load of characters who were simply addictive to watch; never has a botanically-based storyline been so entertaining.

Based in a flower shop in the dodgy Skid Row, the story takes us on a strangely sadistic yet hilarious ride through the rise and fall of Seymour, a down-on-his-luck socially awkward botanist who happens to find fame through a hybrid plant with a love for human blood. Rather than taking us down the sexy Edward Cullen route however, the plot is filled with dark humour and unsettling subject matters, perfectly swaddled in a number of catchy, foot-tapping songs that, dare I say it, are almost more contagious than ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘Tale as Old as Time.’

The cast, on the whole, was exceptional with the vast majority of actors moving perfectly between exquisite vocal showcasing and enthusiastic, convincing performances. Indeed, leading the show was unquestionably Luke Ward. His effortlessly soaring voice was like melted gold (a compliment I’ve only ever bestowed on the wonderful Michael Buble) and I could have listened to him for hours upon hours. However, his talent did not stop here as he convincingly portrayed the lovable yet doomed Seymour so effectively that I feel a few members of the audience (myself included) were, like Audrey, falling hopelessly in love with him.

Another stand out performance came from Jamie Budgett – a university favourite who delivers again and again. He is a truly incredible comic actor who continues to grow on stage whenever I have the pleasure of seeing him perform. His performance as the selfish, stomach-bulging Mr Mushnik was side-splittingly funny, making the musical number ‘Mushnik and Son’ a particular favourite of mine. In addition, Edward Richards’ performance as Orin, the sadistic Dentist was another highlight of the evening. He was enthusiastic, totally committed and therefore thoroughly entertaining. The confetti-like scattering of teeth during the number ‘Dentist!’ had the audience in fits of laughter, causing me to unleash my terrible cackle reserved for only the funniest of stage moments.

Abigail Marrow, who played the ditzy, not-all-there character of Audrey, was also impressive. A newcomer to the Bristol musical scene, she held her own beside the over-whelming talent of the male parts. Her rendition of ‘Somewhere that’s Green (reprise)’ reminded me of Eponine in ‘A Little Fall of Rain’, Les Miserables, only Marrow was able to effortlessly portray both emotion and implicit humour in her performance. A few nerves may have rocked her towards the beginning of the show, but after her and Ward’s well-timed, comic performance of ‘Call Back in the Morning’ at the start of Act 2 she went from strength to strength. I have no doubt that we can expect much more from this young talent.

Lastly, I cannot fail to mention the exceptional power of Fred Ward’s voice as the man-eating botanical monster. Although never actually seen in person during the show, Ward’s immense ability to use his vocal inflections as modes for expression ensured Audrey II was not only a larger-than-life character (both metaphorically and literally) but also a source of fear and humour. At times, his Elvis-Presley-esque voice was enough to make me want to climb inside the plant mouth myself.

The set itself was brilliant, and I must applaud lead carpenter Joe Lewis who I assume was responsible for the creation of Audrey II. It was incredibly professional and impressive, a difficult thing to achieve in a student-run production. The band as well were equally fantastic so congratulations to Harry Zundel for ensuring the background music matched the quality of the singing on stage.

However, as much as I loved the production as a whole, there were a few aspects that, if taken on board, could catapult the show to perfection. Firstly, the singing trio, comprising of Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon, was slightly lack-lustre. In some senses, they had the toughest job of all – narrating parts of the story, constantly appearing on stage, whilst at the same time singing in perfect close harmony. The issue was that, although they sang beautifully, during some of the musical numbers they seemed unsure as to their direction or movement, causing them to appear a little unenthusiastic. If only their energy and vigour were more consistent (they were parts of the show when they truly shone) then I am sure they could reach their full potential. In addition, a few technical issues regarding sound of microphones during solos caused small problems throughout the production.

Having said that, I honestly was blown away by the dedication and vibrancy that made Little Shop Of Horrors, in my opinion, such a success. MTB have once again delivered, and I had a fantastic night. There are still two performances left, so get down to the Bierkeller and ensure you experience the talent of Bristol’s finest.

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