Guest Reviewer - Michelle Jacobs
From the moment one enters the auditorium, bedecked in trailing ivy leaves, bathed in a verdant light and with botanically themed hits ringing in one's ears for Ingatestone Musical and Operetta Group's (IMOG) production of Little Shop of Horrors, one is ready to be taken on a journey from Ingatestone and Fryerning Community Theatre to 'Somewhere That's Green'.
Director Angie McGlashon's staging of Howard Ashman's comic but creepy and allegorical tale of the mythical plant that offers fame and fortune at a cost, doesn't disappoint. The strength in this production lies in tight choreography, a diverse, flexible but tight-knit ensemble and some well-cast leads as well as carefully chosen costumes. It is hard to believe that such a wealth of talent originates from this small Essex village and not Skid Row in downtown New York. The sight and sound of the all singing and dancing 'Ronettes' delivering their infectiously catchy rendition of the Prologue against a backdrop of slumbering, staggering winos makes a striking and atmospheric opening.
There are a few noticeable pauses as the action begins in Mr Mushnik's failing florist shop which jar a little, but these are soon forgotten as we are introduced to Jeremy Martin's dry, quirky Jewish immigrant shopkeeper and his staff: Mike Spall-Hancy as Seymour Krelborn and Denyse Donnell as Audrey. Spall-Hancy is every inch the downtrodden, lovelorn but lovable nerd while Donnell oozes glamour alongside a tenderness and a powerful singing voice as demonstrated in her heartfelt paen to escaping to a better life. Chemistry is also strong between the pair in the empowering duet, 'Suddenly, Seymour'. Spall-Hancy also shows a remarkable athleticism in a visually arresting and life-affirming rendition of 'Mushnik and Son'.
Steve Critchell is both cocky and menacing as the evil dentist, Orin, and shows a particularly mesmerising affinity with physical theatre on 'Now (It's Just the Gas). Juliet Ware shows a remarkable range of vocal ability as an enthusiastic and versatile 'Ronette' and later, the soulful and dominant voice of the irrepressible Audrey Two. The technical and physical feat of bringing the giant plant to life on the stage is all the more remarkable being achieved in an amateur production and Michael Johnson and Tash Burridge deserve praise for what was obviously an extremely physically demanding task.
Steve Hanning, Jacqui De La Salle, Lynne Johnson and Richard Pennicard have to be credited for their characterful portrayals of several cameo roles that successful serve to drive the story forward. It was a joy, too, to see the accomplished musicians of the band taking so much pleasure from their energetic interpretation of Alan Menken's well-judged score.
IMOG should be rightly proud of this production of Little Shop of Horrors. They have shown that success comes from team work, talent and dedication, rather than from a blood-thirsty plant