I was amazed to discover that this excellent evening’s entertainment was staged in 3 days with prior music rehearsals only. The team of Mike Mullen, Louise Hodson, Ian Partridge, together with the late Nigel Finch, should feel immensely proud to have put together this complex and challenging work to such a high standard.
Starting out as a 1960 low budget non-musical B-movie by cult moviemaker Roger Corman, the film was adapted as a musical back in 1982 for an independent “off-off-broadway” theatre, and it’s clear that for this production, CPYT have very much taken the show back to its roots, focusing on telling the story effectively, intimately and introducing a young chorus that the show is not designed for, effectively and without distraction. “Closed for Renovations” was particularly innovative in the chorus use and was perfectly in keeping with the upward turn of events.
The show tells the story of down-trodden Seymour Krelborn, who works in small, failing florist shop in Skid Row, one of the roughest areas of Downtown Los Angeles. All looks bleak: his well-meaning employer Mr Mushnik is planning on closing down the shop; and his co-worker, the put-upon Audrey – who Seymour secretly is in love with – is being beaten up by her violent dentist boyfriend Orin. And then, he accidentally gives a strange and interesting plant – named Audrey II – a few drops of blood…
Outrageous and blackly comic, the story incredibly combines murderous schemes, domestic abuse, and giant singing killer plants, with moments of genuine tenderness, emotion and self-sacrifice. It’s a tremendously ambitious show, but CYPT have made it entirely accessible to today’s audiences despite its themes and the age of its performers generally. Very well disciplined and vocally accurate, the chorus of all ages did so well with this material which is exactly as written for the professionals: this is not a child friendly re-written version.
The main cast all deliver incredibly polished performances, with each of the leads having a few spotlight moments to shine, and each successfully stepping out from under the shadow of the famous movie adaptation or previous song vocal interpretations.
Gracie J Hales is simply superb as Audrey, emphasising her character’s vulnerability, while at the same time having an incredibly powerful singing voice and putting her own less ditzy interpretation into the role which worked perfectly. Tyler Convery as Seymour more than matches her, very much making the role his own, juggling the witty lyrics with seeming ease, interpretation and vocal range. “Suddenly Seymour” was vocal perfection from both of them.
Strong support is given by Karcsi Wright as Mr Mushnik, vocally adept during the very difficult “Mushnik and Son” duet, and adding a softer, kinder well-rounded interpretation than usually portrayed, yet very much in keeping with the overall tone of this production generally.
As the rogue Orin with his crowd pleasing lyrically brilliant pastiche “Dentist” song, Harry Taylor brought high energy and oomph to this part, perfectly balancing the violence against the humour to become an audience favourite. His versatility was positively proved with a series of further cameos.
Holly Standfield, Lily Rochard and Izi Lee have to be highly commended for not only the perfect harmonies as Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette (not always on show in other productions, resorting to unison) which were a joy to hear, but managing the same alongside continual, sometimes what seemed like momentary, costume changing.
With them, although behind the scenes, Alicia Lambert brought vocal dexterity to Audrey II, again, no carbon copy of previous known performances, combined with the excellent complimentary puppeteering of her colleagues and stage crew support which is not easy for this show.
Staging and costumes were very much in keeping with the high value production needs, the cast coping well with occasional errant door closing. Choreography and direction were well thought out and executed.
The evening was tinged with sadness but despite only being able to attend limited ensemble music rehearsals, Nigel’s stamp is musically all over this production. Ian Partridge managed to keep the essence of Nigel’s flare with the leads, allowing their own vocal interpretations, making the songs seem fresher, relevant and new, conducting a complimentary band to the production.
Seeing youngsters embracing music theatre at such an age, both on stage and off (there were many in the audience who were cheering enthusiastically) gave Nigel an immense source of pride and pleasure, the CPYT team more than matching these values. And that is the legacy of Nigel’s passion which this production more than generously reflects, and no doubt will continue to do so, way into the future.