On the 21st day of the month of September in an early year of a decade not long before our own the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence, and this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places …
Enter Mushnik’s Skid Row florist, a God and customer forsaken store downtown where the folks are broke and where betterment ain’t a thing. Harassed Mushnik is contemplating closure when his downtrodden employees Seymour and Audrey suggest a move in a new direction showcasing some of Seymour’s unusual exotic plants, including a flytrap like specimen which he has named Audrey II. It’s one strange and interesting plant and an overnight success, with business booming and Seymour an unlikely hero, the media clamouring to interview him. It looks like the answer to his prayers, a shot, a way out of his messy life.
There is one problem. While he has given it sunshine, given it dirt, plant food, potash, it’s given him zip, failing to thrive. To be honest it’s not the only unhealthy thing. Neither of the Audreys are well girls. While Seymour is sweet on his colleague, she has low self-esteem, thinking herself undeserving of her modest aspirations of domestic bliss, the American Dream out of homes and Gardens Magazine. The only fellow she has got is no-goodnik Orin, a semi sadist motorcycling rebel and leader of the plaque dentist with a talent for causing pain, to whom suffering is an occupational hazard.
From the pressures for success a Faustian pact will grow and grow.
With a soundtrack blending pop, Latin and rock it has been described as “the dark side of ‘Grease’” with spoof elements of the early ’60s horror movie which was its seed. The off the wall plot has a cast of engaging characters and it’s rooted by the narrators, a girl group trio derived from the likes of the Ronettes and Shirelles.
The production sticks to the script of course, the only renovation being that Audrey is not played as the customary ditzy breathless blonde, but as more intelligent and relatable. It works, retaining the humour without her being a figure of fun and allowing the character of Orin to revel in the dark side at the expense of her vulnerability.
It's fast moving and colourfully good looking, with strong direction, movement, lighting, and slick design. Enthusiastically performed throughout it features some outstanding vocals amongst the twenty or so numbers.
The musical was a last-ditch effort for composer Menkin, in a deal with himself that if he didn’t make it, he would commit to writing jingles. After a sellout month at its original venue, it transferred to a larger theatre and ran for 5 years, the 3rd longest running and highest grossing off Broadway musical. Some two decades later, with cult status, it finally debuted on Broadway.
While the technical aspects here might not be of Broadway budget it was originally intended to be inexpensive, Ashman thinking that the plant would be dwarfed by larger venues. The anthropomorphised plant here while still of the all singing variety is of lesser stature. In all other respects it has high production values which would rival a touring one and if your only reference is the 1986 movie, it’s better as a stage musical.
Now over 40 years old it is perhaps even more apposite in a world fed by “influencers” who are famous for being famous.
Show times: 23 to 27 January 2024 at 7.30pm (27 additional matinee at 2.30pm). 125 minutes (including 20 minute interval).
Tickets: £9 to £18.
Suitability: Generally rated 13 PG. Contains themes of violence, domestic abuse, death, sexism and uses haze / stroboscopic lighting. Wheelchair accessible.