It’s rather difficult to believe that the songwriting pair responsible for iconic scores such as Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid had their breakthrough with a gory rock musical about a flesh-eating alien plant. Even 35 years after its Off-Broadway premiere, however, there still seems to be just as much voracious appetite for Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s cult classic as ever.
This summer in Montreal, two-time META award-winning community theatre troupe The Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society brings a first-rate production of Little Shop of Horrors under the direction of Anisa Cameron – the acclaimed company’s latest musical endeavour since successfully budding The Producers and Hairspray in previous seasons. The fresh creation is snappy, sharp, and brimming with verve.
The outlandish Little Shop takes place in a skid row store owned by the stingy and cantankerous Mr. Mushnik (here played by producer and Côte Saint-Luc Mayor Mitchell Brownstein). In an attempt to salvage the withering floral business, his employee – the hapless orphan Seymour (Benjamin Warner) – discovers and introduces him to an exotic “new breed of fly-trap”, which Seymour affectionately names after his colleague, the tragically misguided Audrey (Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz). Upon setting the human-hungry Audrey II (voiced by Kenny Stein and puppeteered by Elisabeth Nyveen and Noam Barsheshat) on display, the once forsaken floral hub instantly ripens into the most popular spot in town, with Seymour becoming an overnight sensation.
What ensues is a bloodstained story of greed, corruption, and exploitation that prompts the ageless question of the price one is willing to pay for success – whether its seductions come in the form of celebrity, wealth or, most crucially, love.
Kulaga-Yoskovitz in her vocal prowess is a standout, endowing the helplessly insecure but endearingly hopeful Audrey with a defectless dosage of fragility; Warner fully amps up the idiosyncrasies of the nerdy Seymour, delivering an embodied and expressive performance of an agonizingly timorous character; Stein’s charismatic and commanding voicing thoroughly confers Audrey II the beguiling quality such a predatory plant begs for; but, it is perhaps Franco DeCrescentis as Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend, Orin, who takes home the highest accolades for his madcap sadism that is by turns hair-raising and side-splitting.
The total cast of 24 wrap their formidable voices around the eclectic score that features tinges of rock, pop, doo-wop, Motown, and even klezmer/tango, played by a bare-bones but lush-sounding six-piece band adroitly spearheaded by Musical Director David Terriault. The original girl-group Greek chorus has been tripled to be played by 9 urchins, and it works. Terrific sound mix by Evan Brown in tow, Little Shop is a technical triumph.
The intimacy of the space at the Harold Greenspon Auditorium is at times galvanizing; how delightful to be able to take in with proximity the consistent aesthetic details of Elyse Malo’s costumes, Linda Babins’ lighting, and Sabrina Miller’s set, prop, and puppetry design. More often than not, however, we find ourselves desperately wishing the production had more room to breathe and burst forth, particularly given Alexia Gourd’s wonderfully rip-roaring choreography. Despite the infusion of ebullient energy that comes with the presence of a large, encompassing ensemble, there were numbers that were eclipsed by the abundance of bodies and movement. Expected showstopper “Suddenly, Seymour,” for one, even in its soaring emotional crescendo, might have done with a simply staged moment of intimacy. The context of others (“Feed Me” comes to mind) also seemed to have been lost in the sea of wading performers. The minor “less is more” adage aside, though, there is little to fault in this visionary production.
(Note, however, that the raunchy proceedings that arise from the black comedy’s narrative itself might not appease the faint of heart. While the show is not overtly graphic, audiences may be triggered by themes of domestic abuse, violence, and paraphilia).
Akin to its thriving and growing green protagonist, Little Shop of Horrors here successfully extends the Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society’s body of professional quality theatrical works as one of their most polished to date. Check out the marvellous creature on display – a highlight in the Montreal community theatre circuit this season – until Sunday, June 25th.
Review by Montreal Theatre Hub Editor-in-Chief Camila Fitzgibbon
The Côte Saint-Luc Dramatic Society presents
“Little Shops of Horrors”
When: June 8 – June 25, 2017
Where: Harold Greenspon Auditorium
(5801 Cavendish Blvd, Côte-St-Luc, H4W 3C3)
Admission: 32$ General | 28$ Students, Seniors and QDF Members
Box Office: Online at www.csldramaticsociety.com
or in person at the Côte Saint-Luc Library or Aquatic and Community Center
Director: Anisa Cameron
Musical Director: David Terriault
Choreographer: Alexia Gourd
Production Manager: Reesa Rosenfeld
Costume Designer: Elyse Malo
Technical Director: Scott Drysdale
Set/Puppet Designer: Sabrina Miller
Lighting Designer: Linda Babins
Sound Designer: Evan Brown
Assistant Choreographer: Ari Sterlin
Stage Manager: Emma Loerick
Assistant Stage Manager: Naomi Salama
Design Assistant: Bailey Cohen-Krichevsky
Design Intern: Noam Barsheshat
Benjamin Warner, Sarah Kulaga-Yoskovitz, Franco DeCrescentis, Mitchell Brownstein, Kenny Stein, Nicole Arrage, Caeleigh McDonald, Patrick Park, Megan Magisano, Alisha Ruiss, Brandon Schwartz, Chelsea Cameron, Sam Boucher, Tiana Malone, Charlotte Clement, Justin Johnson, Cassandra Bluethner, Marc Ducusin, Wan-Li Gibson, Nadine Steiner, Elvi Dalgaard, Shaun Nishmas, Elisabeth Nyveen, Noam Barsheshat