Thursday, 2 June 2016

Little Shop of Horrors, Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre.

Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 30-odd year old musical is a perpetual popular favourite (it's also the third of four of their shows that are hitting Canberra-or-nearby stages - Ickle Pickle did "Beauty and the Beast" in Jan, "Little Mermaid" for Free Rain a bit over a month ago, and the pro-production of "Aladdin" kicks off in Sydney in August). And with the production team behind last year's hit revival of "Sweet Charity", this should be a slam dunk.

It isn't. But it's not because of lack of quality casting. Brent Hill in particular is heartwarmingly engaging as Seymour Krelborn - the decision to have him also voice the plant means that the duet between the two, "Feed me", becomes a virtuosic exercise that is deserving of maximum plaudits. Esther Hannaford has the role that is almost genetically imprinted on Ellen Greene, but she also brings a bit of Marilyn Monroe to the damaged, gorgeous and dumb-as-a-rock Audrey. Elsewhere in the cast, Tyler Coppin has a good line in exhausted-jewishness as Mr Mushnik and Scott Johnston has a nice rockabilly idiocy as Orin, The redesigned Audrey 2 puppet by Erth Visual and Physical Inc. is grandly impressive, although it doesn't always lipsync as well as it might.

But there are two production decisions that make this visit to the Canberra Theatre a mixed blessing. First, the mainstage of the Canberra THeatre is big. ANd this is a smallish show that probably would have been served better in the Playhouse. Second, the sound mix is atrocious. I mean really, really, appallingly bad. A professional touring show should not have regular dropouts in microphones, particularly when it's well into the third month of the tour. And the sound balance between band and actors is well out of whack to the point where the girl-group trio narrating, Algenique Cassimatis, Josie Lane and Chole Zuel, become frequently incomprehensible. "Little Shop of Horrors" is one of the centerpieces of Canberra Theatre Centre's subscription season, and it's ridiculous that the performers should be so badly served technically.

So these are good performers and smart design in a venue that is too big and that has not adequately re-teched for the current location in the tour. So this is probably the definition of mixed.

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