Brimming with camp, B-Movie schtick, damsels in distress and botany with a bite, Little Shop of Horrors has long been a cult favourite. Liverpool Empire’s Youth Theatre group has done itself proud in bringing this quirky and energetic musical to the stage.
If you’re not familiar with the story, it follows the nerdishly charming Seymour Krelborn, a flower shop boy who comes into the possession of a strange, exotic-looking plant during a solar eclipse.
Seymour wants nothing more than to win the heart of his fellow shop assistant, Audrey, but the plant’s unusual feeding regime soon gives him something far more gruesome to focus on.
Surrounded by an excellent set, with spot-on costumes, and supported by a superb band under the ever-reliable baton of Musical Director Paul Lawton, director Natalie Flynn has guided her ensemble to a show that would give many a professional production a run for their money.
All of our principal cast have brilliant singing voices and tackle their roles with confidence, with great support from the ensemble. From the opening strains of ‘Skid Row’, our troupe sets out its stall with style.
Paulo Infante is first rate as Seymour, stumbling and nervous and bounces nicely off Jessica Jane’s Audrey, bringing great physicality to his role.
Jane settles for a slightly subtler ‘Noo Yawk’ lilt rather than the higher-pitched squeak you might expect – occasionally this feels a bit of a loss in the more comedic moments – but the pair’s rendition of Suddenly Seymour is a highlight and draws riotous applause.
Oliver Bigley brings lots of swagger to Audrey’s deadbeat dentist boyfriend Orin. His villainous ways draw plenty of muttering and boos from the audience as his abuse of Audrey is laid bare and he gives a solid account of his main song, Dentist!
There’s room for his accent to be more akin to an Elvis-style rock and roll greaser than just generic American but he has some nice, comic moments, particularly with Seymour.
Interestingly our other two principal parts of shop owner Mushnik and our carnivorous, cabbage-like Audrey II, are played by females – Grace Hunt and Amy Tennant respectively. Both, again, possess outstanding vocals (Hunt’s coming to the forefront in spectacular fashion during Mushnik and Son) and bring bags of character.
Sometimes, this can get a bit lost, with the characters sounding a bit too ‘nice’ (as someone who has seen the show multiple times, I don’t think I quite get used to the lack of brassy bass that normally characterizes Audrey II’s voice). But she makes it her own and all of our cast work brilliantly together to bring the perilous plant to life (including some sterling work by an uncredited puppeteer).
The story is moved along by our outstanding singing troupe, The Ronettes (Ruby Elise Garforth, Isabel Cosgrove, Erin May, Amy Lyons, Catelin O’Hanlon and Athena Florence Mensah). The girls are in perfect harmony, delivering top notch backing for many of the shows biggest songs and excellently showcasing Laura Meeson’s slick choreography.
Perhaps it’s a sign of where we’re sat in the auditorium rather than a reflection on the production, but sometimes it is difficult to hear the lyrics as they muddy together with the music. It’s the only real mark-down on an otherwise brilliant show. Little Shop is a tough one to get right and the Empire’s Youth team have certainly hit a home run, bringing heart and energy as well as a peek at the talent I have no doubt will be gracing professional stages in the future.
For tickets and further info on what’s on at the Empire, visit www.atgtickets.com/venues/Liverpool-empire
Reviewer: Lou Steggals
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★