If you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing The Little Shop of Horrors in its mid-eighties filmed glory, that doesn’t mean you’ve missed out entirely. The University of Johannesburg’s drama students (and some graduates) have staged the cult favourite – and shown that they’re serious about comedy. By LESLEY STONES.
Just before the interval, a father carried his little daughter out of the theatre.
I’m not sure if she was asleep, or perhaps if he didn’t want her to get nightmares from watching a giant plant voraciously devouring humans.
Killing a plant by neglect is one thing, but The Little Shop of Horrors takes revenge and gives us a plant that kills people deliberately.
It’s a cult spoof and highly macabre musical in the same vein as The Rocky Horror Show, but on a much less flamboyant scale. The songs are less memorable too, yet it’s just as kitsch, and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) students and guest performers have created an entertaining show that deserves a wider audience than friends and family alone.
UJ’s theatrical types really take their theatre seriously – well, as seriously as they can when they keep picking funny, offbeat shows – and they do it brilliantly.
The star is Matthew Counihan as Seymour, a nerdy, downtrodden assistant in a Skid Row florist. Counihan is a former UJ student and now a professional performer, and anchors the show as he develops from a weed into a man faced with moral choices.
For a lighthearted musical, the tale certainly has some deeper offshoots, posing moral dilemmas of how far you will go to climb out of the gutter and make something of yourself.
Shop assistant Audrey (Musa Mboweni) also has her issues, with so little self-confidence that she doesn’t believe she deserves any better than her brutal boyfriend. Mboweni plays Audrey superbly, singing well and exposing her vulnerable, browbeaten nature that only dares to dream the tiniest dreams of frozen dinners in a matchbox home.
The musical almost mocks her modest ambitions, with a harmoniously versatile trio of singers (Natasha Bambo, Kerutse Tlhoaele and Hloni Maduna) supplying guidance about life and how to get one.
Ricardo Pizzi is scarily good as the depraved dentist boyfriend, hamming it up delightfully with a blend of charisma and sadism. He gets his comeuppance in the end, but in this non-discriminatory musical, so does everybody else.
The songs have smart and often gruesome lyrics that emphasise the story, with a live band pumping it up at the back of the stage.
The only lyrics I struggled to hear were those booming out of the malignant flower, but either the sound improved or my ears adjusted to the deep voice of Lonwabo Ganelo, and he was a big hit in the second half.
The well-designed set by Wilhelm Disbergen looks economical yet effective, giving us the shop interior and the street outside, and the colourful costumes are sometimes as wacky as the characters.
The actors, directed and choreographed by Owen Lonzar, are clearly having a ball, and that enthusiasm backing up their talent is infectious.
The serious elements of striving to lift yourself out of poverty and hopelessness fit well with South Africa’s reality, and the abuse of women is another theme that resonates here. Or you can ignore those deeper layers to the plot and just revel the dark humour, the doo-wop and Motown music and the delightful craziness of it all. DM
* Little Shop of Horrors runs at UJ Arts Centre Theatre, Kingsway Campus until September 22.
Photos by Jan Potgieter, article courtesy of www.lesleystones.co.za