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Production

Little Shop of Horrors

Company

Dream Academy and Dim Sum Dollies

Reviewer

Amos Toh

Date

18/11/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

Victoria Theatre

Rating

***

The Little Shop That Couldn't

To borrow shamelessly from fellow Inkpotter Boon Chan's review, Little Shop of Horrors is a tale of a Faustian bargain with a horticultural twist. Nerdy Seymour (Hossan Leong) buys and tends to a unique breed of orchid that blossoms into an extraordinary plant, which he affectionately names "Audrey II", after his co-worker (Denise Tan), also the girl he is besotted with. Bringing fame and fortune to the previously "God and customer forsaken shop" he works in, he is hailed as a botanical genius, his deepest desires fulfilled... but at what costs? With satirical edginess, Little Shop of Horrors explores the delicate balance of good and evil through a florist's epic tussle with a "bloodthirsty mutant evil orchid".

However, the only indication that Dream Academy's latest offering would be a local adaptation of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 tragicomic musical was in its title, Little Shop of Horrors. Everything else, from the huge banner at Raffles Plaza to the glossy posters on the walls of Victoria theatre led me to expect an irreverent comedy starring the Dim Sum dollies. And much like the way these rambunctious chilli padis eclipsed the actual drama in the advertisements, they also upstaged the main characters in the musical itself.

Spoofing chao ah-lians, over-made Singapore girls, buxom nurses and nuns with OTT habits, the Dollies enjoyed themselves lustily in a variety of supporting parts as "kaypoh-chee storytellers". While all of them were wildly personable, Pam Oei was the dolly that shone, disappearing under the skin of her caricatures with effervescent wit and the most au naturel of accents. At the height of their (Singaporean) crowd-pleaser thrills, a hunched Oei scrunched up her face in sadistic glee as she jabbed at a ticketing machine before issuing her car park mancik riposte, "Sorry, press alreadi" to a disgruntled motorcyclist. Also doubling as the chorus, the dollies captured the sexy, close-harmony earnestness of Menken's 1960s pastiche score and the doo-wop melodies that sneaked into the back of your head and stayed there.

But the dollies' success also proved to be ironic, accentuating the skin of blandness enveloping the musical. Sure, under Glen Goei's slick direction, the cast had agreeable voices and synthetically precise comic timing. But a little more vulgarity might have been welcomed. This version of Little Shop was sanded to such a smooth finish that it hardly bit, nicked or pricked, lacking the oomph and eccentricity that made the 1982 off-Broadway musical and Frank Oz's 1986 movie adaptation cult hits.

As meek geek Seymour, Hossan Leong had neither the vocal power nor prowess to flesh out the emotional range of his character. At times, he was overpowered by the live band, and as the lead, strained to assert authority over most of the songs, no thanks to the Dollies' powerful, robust chorus. This vocal fatigue seemed to spill into other aspects of his performance and I often wondered whether his disheveled, flustered look in the latter half of the play was in character or a result of genuine burnout after a strenuous run of sixteen shows.

Dave "Electrico" Tan was effective as the voice Audrey II, but far too synthetic and never quite gritty enough to embody one of the most monstrous egos in theatre. His "Feed me FEED ME!" seemed more like a well-practised growl on playback than a famished plea asserting its stranglehold over the puny resolve of Seymour, and the musical at large. However, the proverbial limbs of Audrey II, Frankie Yeo and Michael Chong, were faultless, portraying a very convincing evil orchid with perfectly timed puppeteering. Throughout Little Shop, they kept Audrey II's menacing sepals in rhythm with the rumbling beat of its hunger pangs and cries; and even the piteous wilting of mini Audrey II at the beginning was a delightful touch.

The supporting cast was generally competent; and while Lim Yu-Beng's Dr. Orin Chew was personable enough, he failed to add any sort of edgy dimension to his uniformly maniacal rendering of the role. More ominously for Lim, comparisons were inevitably drawn between his performance and Steve Martin's virtuosic depiction in Frank Oz's 1986 adaptation - a comparison he could ill-afford. Sean Worrall was efficient as Mr. Mushnik, Seymour's money-whoring boss, even if the dash of Singaporean wit clashed awkwardly with this essentially Western expatriate character.

Only a wide-eyed Denise Tan managed to hold her own against the dollies on stage, successfully walking the tightrope between Audrey's Stepford wife ambition (she dreams of living in a neighbourhood with the "same little gardens at the front and same little patios at the back") and self-sacrificing heroics. Endearingly campy yet valiant and vulnerable, she spoofs the traditional role of the heroine without compromising her character's genuine heroism.

But what united the uneven performances of the cast was this Little Shop's woeful knack for suffusing local humour at every turn of the play. It was more weird than funny to see Mushnik, a Caucasian immigrant, spouting essentially Singaporean phrases like "You don't need a date with that guy. You need Medisave." and the cringe-worthy "with the right marketing, (my shop) could be better than kaya toast!". Comic relevance is obviously not Tan Kheng Hua's strong suit: the local jokes should have been left to the dollies; these flat one-liners amounted to overkill.

And why try so hard to contextualize the musical when it proves, in other aspects, to be fine as it is? Tan Ju Meng's eclectic set design encapsulated the rough urban insolence of the production's setting on Skid Row (without the needless embellishment of "Lorong", please.). The haunting mix of purple and blue lighting, paired with the smoky effects, conferred a sinister aura on Tan's gritty aesthetic.

Such painstaking efforts could also have been better placed in regulating the perplexing pace of the musical, which climaxed and ended too abruptly. Ultimately, I was on the edge of my seat not to see who Audrey II would consume next or the unfolding of Seymour's dismal fate, but for the inimitable Dollies' next spoof. In the horticultural spirit of the show, the dollies were mighty orchids consuming the drama and devouring the rest of the cast. The most rapturous of applause was reserved for them, and rightly so - it was this trio of street urchins that propped up this little shop.


"Ultimately, I was on the edge of my seat not to see who Audrey II would consume next or the unfolding of Seymour's dismal fate, but for the inimitable Dollies' next spoof."

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

More Reviews by
Amos Toh

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