Home
Reviews
Archive
Listings
About Us
Email

Production

Little Shop of Horrors

Company

Dream Academy and Dim Sum Dollies

Reviewer

Boon Chan

Date

07/11/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

Victoria Theatre

Rating

***

Feed Me, Selena

Before their string of Disney hits came along, Alan Menken and Howard Ashman were best known for a raucous and rollicking musical called Little Shop of Horrors, the tale of a Faustian bargain with a horticultural twist. Meek and geeky Seymour Krelborn's fortunes take a dramatic turn for the better after he buys a mysterious plant that appears out of nowhere after an eclipse. Business booms at the flower shop he's working in and Seymour finds fame as a botanical genius. All he wants, though, is the girl, his co-worker Audrey. He even names the plant Audrey II after her. But in return for having his deepest desires fulfilled, Seymour will have to pay a price... Given the show's longevity, it's not uncommon for people to have watched more than one version of it, or even to have taken part in a school production. For me, Frank Oz's 1986 movie adaptation remains a favourite for its pitch-perfect casting. Rick Moranis' Seymour was nebbishy and yet had one rooting for him; Ellen Greene reprised the role of Audrey from the original off-Broadway production and was equally adept at milking laughs and eliciting sympathy; and Steve Martin was a revelation in his huge performance as Orin, Audrey's unhinged dentist boyfriend. In other words, comparisons are going to be inevitable.

So how do you stage a familiar and beloved musical and keep it fresh and exciting? Dream Academy's solution was to turn the trio of doo-wop back-up singers into a showcase for the Dim Sum Dollies. Mostly, it worked. Selena Tan, Pam Oei and Emma Yong zipped in and out of costumes and personalities and accents with such sass and pizzazz, they lit up the stage every time they appeared. They were SIA girls pulling trolley bags, Ah Lians spouting Singlish, car park makciks chattering in Malay, ladies who lunch oozing accented English, and nuns in habits for the heck of it. Unfortunately, the high-voltage energy of the Dim Sum Dollies segments altered the pacing and flow of the musical as the rest of the show failed to measure up to their standard. We were just waiting for the next appearance, and persona change, of the Dollies.

In retrospect, using the painted backdrop with the show's title and logo for several of the scenes was perfectly appropriate given that the entire musical was a backdrop for the Dim Sum Dollies. At the time though, it was a constant, annoying and unnecessary reminder that one was, in fact, watching Little Shop of Horrors. If different backdrops were out of the question, perhaps a generic Skid Row background would have worked as well.

It didn't help that director Glen Goei's staging felt rather static at points with the action concentrated on one or two spots downstage, including for Audrey's showstopper number Somewhere That's Green. He was more successful with the inspired and very funny finale which featured the entire cast in Audrey II costumes. If only there had been more of such moments...

The Dim Sum Dollies aside, the attempt to inject some Singaporean flavour into the musical had decidedly mixed results. The weak efforts to localise the American context (by substituting Lorong Skid Row for Skid Row, kaya toast for sliced bread etc.) soon wore out their welcome and even the laughter-on-cue from a vocal section of the audience dried up towards the end. The subtler lyrical tweakings, in Somewhere That's Green for example, worked better. "I cook like Betty Crocker and I look like Donna Reed" became "I cook like Violet Oon and I look like Zhang Ziyi." On second thoughts, it was Denise Tan's delivery that made it work. On his part, Tan Ju Meng managed to pull off a set that was a mix of Skid Row USA (walk-up stoops) and Joo Chiat (low-rise buildings, accented with under-construction green netting).

Denise Tan, as Audrey, was the clear standout among the cast. She struck the fine balance between camp and genuine emotion and brought it all home during her rendition of Somewhere That's Green. She made the part hers and more than held her own against the Dim Sum Dollies. Compared to Ellen Greene's brilliantly mannered vocal performance and more fragile Audrey, Tan gave an earthier interpretation while retaining the character's sense of vulnerability.

Dave "Electrico" Tan, aided by the puppeteers, brought Audrey II to life with a swaggering vocal performance spanning the gamut from pleading, cajoling plant to triumphant evil monster. Of course, credit has to go to Mascots and Puppets Specialists as well for constructing Audrey II, a mutant orchid with a disturbingly humongous chin that was either bulbous, or um, ballsy, depending on your point of view. A minor quibble: Audrey II's mouth movements were not always in sync with the vocals.

The rest of the cast didn't fare as well. Hossan Leong played, or rather underplayed, to type and his Seymour was not very engaging. This was a problem faced by Lim Yu Beng as well, whose turn as dentist Orin lacked the manic and maniacal over-the-top energy the part demanded. Sean Worrall, as Mushnik, the flower shop owner, seemed, for some reason, to be shouting most of his lines.

Ultimately, this Little Shop left me hungry, like Audrey II, for more... of the movie.


"We were just waiting for the next appearance, and persona change, of the Dollies"

Credits

Book and Lyrics: Howard Ashman

Music: Alan Menken

Director: Glen Goei

Executive Producer: Selena Tan

Producer: Tan Kheng Hua

Cast: Selena Tan, Pam Oei, Emma Yong, Hossan Leong, Denise Tan, Lim Yu-Beng, Sean Worrall, Dave Tan and Robin Goh

Puppeteers: Frankie Yeo and Michael Chong

Music Director: John Lee

Choreographer: Erich Edralin

Set Designer: Tan Ju Meng

Lighting Designer: Yo Shao Ann

Sound Designer: Shah Tahir

Puppet Design: Mascots and Puppets Specialists

Costume Designers: Frederick Lee and Moe Kasim

Hair Designer: Ashley Lim

Makeup Designer: MAC

Vocal Coach: Amanda Colliver

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.