It's not always smart to say or sing what you wish for; you might just get it. Audrey, the girl from the flower store in Skid Row, America, wants a life surrounded by green. Ultimately she gets her wish, but not in the way she meant. Audrey is the heart and soul of the rockish musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," now playing at the Ghent Playhouse in Ghent, New York. Whenever Audrey leaves the stage, a little something inside me dies.
The truth of the matter is this, and it's in answer to a question I hear very often: When a show is really well written you cannot see it too often. Each new viewing brings new understanding and appreciation for the material. No two productions are the same, even though the script, the story, songs, ideas all stay the same. Each director and each designer bring new vision to the work and each actor playing each role makes the end-result of all this work just a little bit different from the ones that came before. This is the second time I've seen this show this season and the two editions could not be more unlike.
Two months ago I had a fine time with the Sharon Playhouse production. This was a slick, professional, regional theater production. At the Ghent Playhouse the work seems much more an Off-Broadway presentation with a top-notch young professional company. There are many unusual choices in this version: the chorus, for example, are all blonde white girls instead of the usual black girl-group trio. The set is flimsier, with jagged edges and a less than fluid way of moving and changing. Some of the fun in this production emerges from the few minor set changes and the approach of potential disaster. At the Ghent Playhouse you are always aware that you are at live theater and not canned, filmed, or perfected performances. There is a beautifully raw experience at hand and it's wonderful.
The three girls in waitress uniforms are Kate Duff Snyder, Nellie Rustick and lead vocal, Elizabeth Corey. Apart, together, in harmony or very close harmony, these girls put over their number and play the joint role of chorus ever so nicely. Each has a moment to shine and each one emerges perfectly stellar glowing miraculously, like Venus in the lower night sky.
Audrey is played with a clear and romantic vision by Kelly Sienkiewicz. She brings a lot of deep-felt humanity to the role and at the same time she sings like a music hall diva, her tone clarion and her interpretation pure Barbara Cook. Her plaintive rendition of "Somewhere That's Green" is quite touching and her joy in "Suddenly Seymour" is palpable - you can feel it from wherever you're sitting in the theater. Seymour, like Audrey, is presented with clarity and feeling by Joseph Sicotte. This young actor proves himself to be emotionally worthwhile in the final scenes of the play while bringing a fine, strong voice to the many songs he has to sing. Together Sicotte and Sienkiewicz are an adorable couple.
Mark Fingar as Mushnik, the florist, is not quite up to the role. He plays for caricature instead of for character. Mushnik is almost never believable in this actor's hands even though he manages to do more with him than most other actors have done. However, his work pushes the florist over the top in too many ways and much too often. He is so consistent here that this may not be the actor's problem, but rather the director's.
Hollie L. Miller is a wonderful Audrey II and the first woman I've ever seen do the role. There was a slight problem with this character's miking and her voice wasn't strong enough to overcome the slurring put onto her by the electronics. It's a shame because she was doing wonderful things with this character.
Michael Meier has come such a long way since he began with this company. In playing Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. Meier is accepting some new challenges, ones he carries off with aplomb. Not only is he a terrifying sight in black leather, but his vocal production is absolutely first-rate. His solo, "Be a Dentist" is both deliciously humorous and deliriously intoxicating as the natural sadist in Orin is revealed in all its ugly glory. Meier's scenes are few and brief. Every moment he has on stage is terrifyingly funny and so worth the effort on both sides of the proscenium.
Director Michael C. Mensching has done a wonderful job, injecting humor into moments and movements that normally only require a passing glance. Here he is infused the entire production with that lovely element of humor that is so very engaging. His wife Joanne Mensching is the musical director and she doesn't miss a beat. Her work is excellent. The Ghent Playhouse team have brought a remarkable production into instant focus. Michael McDermott's set is superb, the perfect off-Broadway production. Joanne Maurer's costumes are perfect as is her portrait of Orin's mother. Robert Healey's lighting is fine, and with few performances under their belts I am certain that the actors will find their light. Eric Bello's sound design is often very good and sometimes a bit muddy. It takes practice to make perfect.
If you haven't gotten the drift as yet, I like this show very much and I adored this production. Cast, director and music are just first-rate. The show, with its bizarre science fiction plot, is what it is: silliness and musicality combined. I wouldn't say you must run to catch this show, but I'd certainly encourage you to walk quickly. When the word gets out about the quality of this production the seats will become scarce.
Kate Duff Snyder, Nellie Rustick, Elizabeth Corey; photo: Daniel Region
Michael Meier and Joseph Sicotte; photo: Daniel Region
Audrey I meets Audrey II; photo: Daniel Region
Little Shop of Horrors plays at the Ghent Playhouse, 6 Town Hall Place, Ghent, NY through October 25. For tickets and information call the box office at 800-838-3006 or go on line to ghentplayhouse.org.