Rockdale Musical Society’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a deadly, under-fed, big green plant load of fun. It’s got some great singing and acting and lots of well-loved songs, great thought and execution in the tech and a really lovely vibe about the audience and foyer. This is community theatre that shines.
Before the show there are some very naughty skid row residents in the auditorium who, to the delight of the children, are throwing stuff at people and generally being loud and skid row-ish. There’s lots of community support here as the crowd goes wild when the overture starts, right on time I might say! The first thing one notices about Rockdale Musical Theatre’s production of LITTLE SHOW OF HORRORS is the quality of the tech. The Star Wars inspired lyrics scroll up the screen and then we meet our guides to this story. A girl group. Crystal , Chiffon and Ronette and beginning with their ‘Da-Doo’ they are going to be very important to our enjoyment of the macabre fun of a people-eating plant, innocently raised by Seymour.
Seymour is played by Dave Collins and despite his clumsy, self-effacing character, this performer carries himself with the stage presence of a leading man and a voice perfectly suited to the role. Those tempi and beat changes in ‘Grow For Me’ are handled with aplomb and his, and the puppeteer’s, comic timing for the first bloodletting is hilarious. And, man, has he got the moves? His dancing is a real delight, Seymour can be very smooth when he puts his mind to it. He also handles very empathetically the comic/ tragic requirements of a song like ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and his held notes are particularly good here. In that particular song, Emily Engeman as Audrey, matches his pathos. Lovely notes from both as the duet ends.
There’s a real vulnerability to Engeman’s work as Audrey. She manages to be a sexpot without the squirmy tropes and the audience are as much on her side as our Dreamgirl guides are. Engeman has a lovely voice and her solo ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ held the audience enthralled. I could have watched that song a couple of times more. Well done there too, to mini me Seymour and Audrey ( Tommy Blair and Billie Rose Brotherson) who did some fine work in a very strong ensemble.
As the Dentist Gabriel Burke is obviously having a great time and is cool and hip from his first ad lib. He also brings the sleaze in degrees with his sashaying, hair smoothing, self-loving ego maniacal going ons. He’s damn good at being bad. Also enjoyable was Tim Martin as Mr Mushnik who doesn’t shy away from the venal side during ‘Mushnik and Son’.
Sharonne Lipman (Crystal), Jade Montalvo (Ronnette) and Julia Hyde (Chiffon) have real sass as the do-wop girls. They begin as very street, brash and volatile, before morphing into the girl group we all recognise. Their voice blend is great, despite a bit of a problem with the audio mix the night I attended, and they have lovely rapport with each other and engagement with the other characters. I loved the way they could be uniform and controlled and choregraphed yet each have personality plus without any loss of coherence. They were really enjoyable every time they came on.
And here is a good time to mention the costuming which is uniformly excellent as are the wigs and makeup. (Costume Design: Donna Brotherson, Rhiannon de Margheriti. Wigs and Makeup: Carina Herbert). Especially with our do-wop chickies who have notoriously many costume changes. The glam gowns, red or diamond belted or full sparkle … all these dresses fit to perfection, form fitting and figure hugging and very well cut, and serve not just to look good but to contribute to the consistency needed by the three characters. Shimmer plus creations, or the simplicity of black and green for the dancers, the costumes look great.
With the sure directorial hand of Rod Herbert, there are some real wow moments in this show, like the screen slowly rising as the lights pick up the stage filled with orange overalls. The lighting works well and adding in a followspot really adds effectiveness. There are some colour choices I really appreciated, like using hot pink for the Latin music of ‘Mushnik and Son’ which keeps the blood red much more striking for the final chomp. Many would overuse the red in such a bloody show.
And the lighting never spilled onto or interfered with the projection. There is a delicious amount of skilfully hidden technical excellence here. The use of a semi passerelle gives extra stage space and the set design (Jason Blair, Rod Herbert) seems extremely workable. It leaves lots of room for the excellent ensemble to work with the equally well-designed choreography (Georgia Herbert). There’s some really entertaining choreo, beginning with the first big number ‘Downtown’ where the steps and moves suit the cast and the energy of the song and gets them in and around the stage without losing the impact of the girls out front. And there are some cracker lifts from the dancers in the Latin number.
Every entrance in RMS’ LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is pinpoint, especially given there is a screen going up and down and Stage Manager Janelle O’Connell has exceptional cueing skills to get the cast on around that screen entry with no ducking, just a natural flow.
The graphics (Digital Projection Design: Chae Rogan, Adam Ring) are out-of-the-box thinking and the choices behind ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ are so much fun to watch. And this song is just one of the times Musical Director, Anthony Cutrupi and his orchestra shine. The arrangements are complex without being showy and volume wise the band, even the brass is, kept nicely under. The plaintive flute under Audrey’s longing is a fine adjunct to the emotional punch and I loved the drum work under the Finale.
Of course, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is all about the puppets and they are really fantastic. (Design of Audrey II: Rod Herbert, Lead Puppeteers: Rachael Milburn, Tim Murphy). Both for practical and for aesthetic purposes they look terrific and the Audrey heavy finale is lovely touch. Plus big Audrey, voiced by Daniel Kenyon, even has a vibrato move which the crowd really loved.
There’s a bit with a dog. Now you can’t go past that for winning appeal!