By: Rob Thomson

Here’s a Halloween treat for the Island: Little Shop of Horrors plays over the end-of-October weekend, staged by ACT (a community theater) in the grand new Florence Simmons Performance Hall.

This is the story — told with music and action-drama — of the little flower shop where a plant which appeared during a solar eclipse changes lives … and indeed the world!  It’s a sci-fi horror story, just the thing for Halloween, but one that is (mostly) a tongue-in-cheek spoof. It’s a comedy, a good show for a family to have fun at.  (There is a bit of strong language and themes, so let’s consider it PG-10.)  And would you believe it’s a love story?

The Little Shop musical was created by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman — the duo famed for The Little MermaidBeauty and the Beast and Aladdin.  It won the Best Musical award and became the third longest running off-Broadway show of all time.  A movie adaptation starred Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.  Performances continue all over North America.  This is a very popular show, and now it’s in Charlottetown!

It’s a classic premise — Seymour the nerdy clerk makes a deal with the devil. Mr. Mushnik’s grubby flower shop blossoms; the sadistic dentist Orin gets his reward; naive Audrey finds love; and Seymour becomes a hero … while ‘Audrey II’, the mystery plant, grows its blood-thirsty way into a monster bent on world domination.

This production has 30 on-stage performers.  The pit band plays infectiously catchy music that ranges from rock-and-roll and doo-wop to touching ballad, and the smart lyrics carry the story.  There’s great dancing by the full company and particularly by the trio of street girls who link the scenes with a sort of Greek chorus commentary.

ACT’s creative team is led by director Peter Krauskopf, who staged so many of Colonel Gray’s hit musicals.  Music direction is by Rowan Fitzgerald and Owen Aylward. The choreographer is Morgan Wagner, and Pam Jewell is the lead costumier.

The star of the show is Audrey II, the plant with attitude and appetite.  She/He/It grows from a coffee can to a two-metre monster that can actually devour people on-stage.  This is the remarkable creation of Deb Erb of Woodstock, Ontario.  Alongside her daughter, she built the four puppets over several months in her home and then in the back of a theater in Windsor.  Those puppets are astonishing — a rainbow-coloured Venus Flytrap with a visual personality which develops from cuddly to voracious.  “The other actors are really good,” says producer Rob Thomson, “but Audrey II will steal the show.”

Little Shop is not entirely comic sci-fi.  There are strands of lessons-in-life commentary here which give the show depth.  Life is a dull grind for many: these characters are stuck on Skid Row in the drab rut of poverty, pointlessness, and non-opportunity.  They ‘know’ they are ‘losers’: they have zero confidence or expectations.  That lack of self-esteem leaves them open to bullying and abuse.  And then there’s the Faustian sell-your-soul theme: what would we do, how far are we willing to go to get success and the good life?  For Seymour, it’s a bloody awful decision!

Little Shop of Horrors plays October 27th to 30th … Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings (7:30), plus matinees (2:30) on Saturday and Sunday.  This is the first staging of a major theater production in the wonderful new Florence Simmons Performance Hall of Holland College’s downtown campus, and the Hall has provided significant support.  A bar service will be offered at the evening performances.  A special feature of the Saturday and Sunday performances: a candy treat for audience members who come in a Hallowe’en costume (but no mask).

Tickets are $28 and $25 (for seniors, students, limited income).  The purchase can be made online at www.ticketpro.ca.  There is no HST charge.  A portion of the price is contributed to Holland College’s Florence Simmons Scholarship fund. Some tickets may be available at the door (if there is not a sell-out).