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by Alan Menken & Howard Ashman
Uncle Randy Productions
Centennial Theatre, North Vancouver
Jan. 6-17
604-984-4484 or 604-980-7942 m

Boy meets girl meets man-eating plant.  Like Hairspray twenty years later, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s 1982 Little Shop of Horrors turned a cheesy movie into a happy musical marriage of Sixties-style pop and campy spoof. Like Hairspray, Little Shop exploits our endless appetite for poodle skirts, Elvis imitations and other clichés of early 1960s Americana.

But instead of race relations it focuses on sci fi paranoia: the Cold War fear of alien invasion. At work in Mushnik’s Skid Row florist shop, nerdy Seymour and sexy sad-sack Audrey pursue their reluctant romance while the plant from another galaxy satisfies its bloodlust and advances its nefarious plan to conquer the earth. 

Brought to us by Uncle Randy Productions, North Van’s factory for producing future musical theatre stars, this Little Shop showcases a sure thing.  Jayme Armstrong, who plays Audrey, has generated national buzz with her top-three finish in CBC-TV’s How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? She’s gorgeous with a voice to match, and just kills with the show’s two best songs, “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly, Seymour.”   She also flashes her comic chops, squeaking with pleasure when Seymour names the special plant “Audrey Two” in her honour.

The killer plant itself--four puppets, from small to gigantic--is always one of Little Shop’s stars.  Here, designed by Martin P. Robinson and operated by Craig Alfredson, its most impressive feature is the basso voice of full-grown Audrey Two (Aaron Junior Turner) as it rocks out its theme, “Feed Me!”

Brandon Eddy’s Seymour is a little too wimpy for his own good. He hardly makes an impression until coming alive in “Feed Me,” accompanied by the girl-group chorus (Chelsea Powrie, Isabelle Grant, Shira Elias) whose doo-wop vocals are a constant strength of this production along with Courtenay Ennis’ fine four-piece band.  Fred Galloway is a delightful Mr. Mishnik, but the character’s borscht-belt Yiddishisms fell flat for the opening night North Van crowd.

Director Richard Berg would have been wise to steer his cast away from accents altogether.  In the great role of Audrey’s boyfriend Orin, the sadistic dentist (remember Steve Martin’s brilliant turn in the movie?), Matthew Baker upstages himself with a peculiar cartoonish drawl, and the white girls of the chorus mistakenly turn Skid Row into the ghetto.

A lot of the humour has dated badly, relying on cultural references that have no resonance with the young audience Uncle Randy is developing with shows like High School Musical.  When Audrey sings of her imagined suburban paradise, “I’d cook like Betty Crocker / And I’d look like Donna Reed,” who’s going to get it but us old farts?

Jerry Wasserman