Little Shop of Horrors, Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken, based on the Roger Corman film, script by Charles Griffith. Directed by Jennifer Werner. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Audrey II, Mushnik (Ira Denmark) and Seymour (Ryan Vona); photo: provided
"...little red spots all over the floor."
Audrey (Lauren Marcus); photo: provided
Skid Row, New York, 1960: ugly plant turns neighborhood around, upside down and sideways. . .with music. Headlines would have spouted this, with variations, in that time period, and people would have read about Audrey II and her handler, Seymour Krelborn, with divided interest over their eggs and coffee and then gone on to their own lives once again, hardly touched at all by the news. In the musical, Little Shop of Horrors, a lot of people react just that way to their detriment. Others, particularly the neighborhood urchins, are utterly fascinated by the changes in Mushnik's Flower Shop on Skid Row.
At the Sharon Playhouse in Sharon, Connecticut, a troupe of artists is bringing the show to life once again, restoring to the Venus Flytrap from Venus (?) all of her power and control. Named by Seymour after his friend Audrey, an abused woman, the plant is just her opposite, an abuser of the first order. In this hilarious science fiction musical, Audrey II requires blood, human blood, to survive. Not the simple plant, she is the embodiment of evil and human destruction and she is just adorable, bass voice and all.
Director Jennifer Werner has staged a delicious edition of the show for the folks in northern Connecticut. An excellent cast is giving this 1982 multiple award winning show everything they've got and it pays off in laughs, applause and a deeply felt need for encores that never come. Like Audrey II's insatiable appetite, the company leaves us hungry for more, but the two hours are all we get.
Lauren Marcus's Audrey is superb. Never quite the battered ego that Ellen Greene (who originated the role) played, she is nevertheless an unapologetic masochist who longs for a better way of life. She wears the delightfully tasteless outfits with pride and assumes a grand manner when things improve for her through the disappearance of her brutally overbearing dentist boyfriend. She sings wonderfully and her rendition of "Somewhere That's Green" is tender and touching. It's a great role for this actress and she is terrific in it.
As young Seymour Krelborn, Ryan Vona turns in a totally charming performance. Unlike many of his predecessors Vona is an attractive man whose Seymour should be able to attract any of the girls in the show, but Krelborn's history is depressing and presumably garners only sympathy and not interest from women. He has a fine tenor voice, a supple body and a handsome face, all elements that should take him far in the musical theater. For Seymour he downplays the latter and uses his physical capabilities for wonderful comic effects. He is also a very good actor and his scenes with Mushnik and with Audrey II are played with naivete and simplicity while his scenes with Audrey and the dentist are far more complex. The show usually rides more on Audrey and the plant, but here Seymour takes back center stage and the show is much more honest and real and a better evening all the way around.
Ira Denmark plays the store owner Mushnik who keeps changing in his affections for Seymour. An abuser and hard boss he turns fatherly and then becomes too much a detective for his own good. Denmark makes the transitions smooth and keeps his character vital. He also sings better than most Mushnik's and so he adds a great deal to the production.
As Orin Scrivello, dentist and sadist, Daniel Patrick Smith presents a wonderful image of cruelty given a profession. He is almost too real to be funny, but when he returns as a slew of other people, including Clare Boothe Luce, his talent for creativity is wonderfully displayed. He is probably the most fun when he is one of the more benign forms of devil/tempter, but his Orin is unforgettable.
The three urchins, Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon are played for period style and silliness by Tatiana Lofton, Carla R. Stewart, and Ashley McManus. I liked everything they did, everything they sang although sometimes they were out of balance with the off-stage rock band which drowned them out.
Henry Yuliano as Audrey II's motion is a wonderful puppeteer. and Brandon Michael Nase has a fabulous voice which he uses to entice, frighten and enlighten the humans in the show. Together they make this Audrey II into a plant to deal with.
The design team for this show have produced a classic edition of "Little Shop..." with the lighting design work of Craig Stelzenmuller leading the charge. Every moment of the play is revealed beautifully and classically by his work on how we see things. Josh Smith's sets are fun and heavy to move and still fun. Michelle Eden Humphrey has pulled no punches in her costumes and Audrey is a vision of tastelessness, as is only appropriate, the urchins are complex and lovely and the men (including Claire Boothe Luce) are images of the period.
Altogether director Jennifer Werner has crafted a perfect production of this show. Worth a trip to beautiful Sharon, this show's delights outweigh any apprehensions you might have about a dark musical about alien possession. You'll want to take home an Audrey II of your own, or if not, you'll at least want to invite Audrey and Seymour over for cocktails.
Daniel Patrick Smith and Ryan Vona; photo: provided
Little Shop of Horrorsplays through August 30 at the Triarts Sharon Playhouse in downtown Sharon, CT. For tickets and information call the box office at 860-364-SHOW or go on line at www.sharonplayhouse.org.