SIGHTLINES: Leads flourish at Horrors premiere show

David Nicks as Mushnik, snaps a photo of Kerry O’Donovan (centre) flanked by two Doo Wop Girls (left) Nicole Stevens and (right) Veronika Sztopa. - Contributed photo
David Nicks as Mushnik, snaps a photo of Kerry O’Donovan (centre) flanked by two Doo Wop Girls (left) Nicole Stevens and (right) Veronika Sztopa.
— image credit: Contributed photo

The Fighting Chance/White Rock Players’ Club co-production of Little Shop of Horrors is a bright, bold, fun show for those who like their musicals a little twisted – and aren’t too squeamish about large people-eating plants from outer space.

Director Ryan Mooney and his team are to be commended for bringing together all the elements of a bang-up entertainment that seemed just shy of hitting its stride at the Aug. 10 official opening of the White Rock run.

If that performance, while enjoyable, seemed a bit tense and tentative, it likely had something to do with a hectic preview week in which, among other tribulations, Mooney himself had to take on the additional, strenuous role of ‘plant manipulator.’

While this feat of puppetry didn’t quite work last Friday – at times we had to be content with the largest version of alien life form, Audrey II, opening and closing its mouth in only theoretic synchronization with Nick Fontaine’s marvellously rich vocal characterization – there’s every indication it, like everything else, will click in subsequent performances.

This is a smart, funny show – courtesy of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s clever pastiche of ’60s musical styles and pop culture references and Mooney’s knowing direction – with an appealing cast, a great set and production dress, and a sizzling five-piece band led by noted music director Vashti Fairbairn.

It’s a calibre of effort that the local audience deserves, and which, in turn, deserves to be supported by that audience, particularly in an era in which live theatre –  much more stimulating than canned, virtual entertainment, after all  – is forced to beg for sustenance.

Indeed, there’s more than a slight political edge to reviving this ’80s parody of a ’60s-style B horror movie in today’s economic climate.

Even in Roger Corman’s savagely funny 1960 original – a black and white movie with a ‘$1.98’ budget – the black comedy barely conceals metaphors for materialism and economic exploitation.

The irony is inescapable when an alien ‘plant’ promises skid-row florist’s assistant Seymour Krelbourn wealth and fame beyond his dreams, but demands, in return, that he either open his own veins or find a suitable victim. (“What do you want from me – blood?” asks the hapless hero at one point).

At the heart of the success of the current production are the two leading performers: Kerry O’ Donovan (as Seymour, who discovered and must nurture Audrey II) and Melissa Clark (as the original Audrey, co-worker at the shop and object of Seymour’s unrequited love) and their singular aptness for their roles.

The slightly-built O’Donovan – returning to his hometown White Rock stage for the first time in 15 years – is just right physically for the put-upon Seymour, but more importantly, the show also allows his first-class singing talent and musicality to shine, while his intelligence as an actor discovers a certain reality at the core of what is essentially a cartoony ‘nebbish’ character.

Clark, too, is an excellent singer, and also manages to find a truth inside a cartoon image, adeptly balancing a world-weary pin-up girl voluptuousness with a quality of still-untarnished innocence and vulnerability (her version of the ironic, yet wistful, ballad, Somewhere That’s Green, is a particularly touching highlight).

Clark’s Audrey is a star-making turn that will likely garner her attention when the show moves to the Jericho Arts Centre for an October run, and I’ll be surprised if Vancouver-area audiences don’t hear a lot more of her in future.

David Nicks (well-cast as Seymour’s bullying boss, Mr. Mushnik), seemed just on the verge of relaxing and fully occupying the role on opening night – although he did have many strong moments. These included a ludicrous mock tango with Seymour (one of choreographer Angela Cotton’s notable contributions), prompted when Mushnik, fearful of losing control of the young man after he becomes a media celebrity, makes a desperate bid to adopt him as his son.

Greg Delmage, on the other hand, seemed a little too relaxed as Audrey’s ‘boyfriend,’ psychotic motorcycle-leathers-wearing dentist Orin Scrivello. His bad-guy characterization, while entertaining, lacked the manic drive that would push it right over the top (not a bad place to be in a show like this). His assorted multiple supporting roles are also amusing, but, again, restraint is not what’s called for in this kind of vehicle, and one can only hopes he abandons it completely during the course of the run.

The Doo Wop Girls (Ria Manansala, White Rock’s Nicole Stevens and Veronika Sztopa) – who serve as an expository Greek chorus at key points in the plot – are all strong singers who have developed the necessary vocal blend and sense of camaraderie to make a telling contribution to the show (and Oriana Camporese’s costumes succeed in giving them a uniform look, while still highlighting individuality).

Overall, Camporese’s costumes – not challenged to reproduce a specific year in the real world –  do a good job of evoking the kitschy era just prior to the rise of ‘Flower Power’ in the U.S., as well as a certain shabbiness appropriate to the run-down urban setting.

Andrea Olund’s excellent set gives a nod to Moderne architecture – but 25 years of grime later –  well decorated by fellow White Rock stalwarts Vanessa Klein and Lisa Pavilionis, while reliable Players Club properties supervisor Naomi Mitchell has come up with a lot of fun pieces, including Scrivello’s daunting arsenal of dubious dental equipment.


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