Little Shop of Little Theatre

Live theatre is sometimes an uncomfortable experience for me, and even when it’s not it’s bewildering if I think about it too much. Can you imagine playing the same role, doing the same lines every day week after week? Sometimes I wonder how they manage it.

But when it comes to little theatre it’s more intimate, and that sometimes feels awkward. When I lived in London I used to review little theatre productions. There were typically only a couple dozen other reviewers there on Press Night, and until the play or musical started I always felt like the show was just for me, and was afraid that somehow I was going to be singled out as a result – don’t ask me why, it’s probably the seed of a phobia just waiting for a chance to shine.

In a major production like those of London’s West End (some of which are truly enormous) you’re just one of the crowd and it’s easier to relax. In fact I loved going to the West End, it’s one of the things I’ll miss most about London.

I can’t recall ever seeing any theatre production that felt “real,” mind you. Theatre takes place in another reality, where people must speak up and enunciate, exaggerate, and almost become a caricature of the character they’re portraying. Compare a great play with the nuances of a powerful award winning film and the play comes off as cartoonish by comparison. I think perhaps that makes it easier to relax in the theatre, too. Well, for me, anyway.

I haven’t been to a little theatre production in quite some time, so when my wife’s parents got tickets to the opening night of Little Shop of Horrors some of those old squeamish feelings came back. In part because, well, this isn’t London. We’re talking about little theatre in a small town surrounded by forest and mountains that requires a ferry to reach. I had fears of the kind of little theatre productions you see parodied in TV and movies, which are just painful to watch but you’re obliged to clap anyway.  (Hot Fuzz has a good example of this).

I was somewhat surprised. The guy playing Seymour channelled a mixture of Rick Moranis and Martin Short brilliantly, and the woman playing Audrey had a great singing voice. They were easily the strongest actors there. The sadistic dentist was played with relish and fun to watch, but felt like he was just short of being comfortable with the role. I’m sure he’ll settle in fine after a few more performances.

There were some sound issues (actors drowned out by ensemble during group singing scenes), some of the singers and actors were weak, and I can picture how the various sizes of the alien plant Audrey II could be improved from a mechanical point of view, but I enjoyed myself.

What this mostly did for me, however, was make me want to rent the movie (the Rick Moranis version), if only so I could enjoy it’s ending again. The play’s original ending is actually pretty damn dark, though played for laughs. It’s actually far more in line with the golden age horror/sci-fi genre it’s an homage to, but what can I say? I’m a sucker for a happy ending.

Actually there is another reason I want to see the movie again, because I forgot just how clever it was. I remembered all of the songs as they were performed, but hearing the lyrics again I realized Little Shop of Horrors is pretty well written, and the characters more complex than I gave them credit for as a kid.