Thursday, September 22, 2016

Review of "Little Shop of Horrors"

The musical Little Shop of Horrors is a perennial favorite among Connecticut regional theaters.  The sci-fi spoof, centering on a rather large man-eating plant, is based on Roger Corman’s 1960 cult film classic.  Done right, it is an entertaining and amusing show as demonstrated by the current production at Playhouse-on-Park in West Hartford.

The plot of the musical is simple.  Seymour (Steven Mooney), a nebbish of sorts, works at a flower shop on New York’s Skid Row.  His co-worker Audrey (Emily Kron) is a beauty with low self-esteem and a sadistic boyfriend (Aidan Eastwood) employed as a dentist.  The two toil away at Mushnik’s (Damian Buzzerio) storefront awaiting any type of customer.  One day Seymour unveils a plant purchased under mysterious circumstances that soon attracts shoppers because of its uniqueness.  The trouble is regular plant food won’t suffice and as its true diet is revealed the lives of everyone in the Skid Row shop become topsy-turvy with unsettling consequences.

Steven Mooney as Seymour, Rasheem Ford as Audrey II (voice), and Susan Slotoroff as Audrey II (manipulator) (photo: Meredith Atkinson)
The strength of the show is the casting.  All the principle actors smoothly fit into their roles delivering two hours of merriment, mayhem and tunefulness.  West Hartford native Steven Mooney as Seymour is nerdy and consistently in the dumps.  But his energetic performance helps transform the character into someone a bit less pathetic and more believing in himself.  Emily Kron is at times disconsolate and somewhat meek, but can also show some spunk as the wistful, heart-of-gold Audrey.  Damian Buzzerio could show a little more compassion as the  hard-bitten, downtrodden Mr. Mushnik.  Aidan Eastwood infuses Orin the dentist with just the amount of degenerate fiendishness without being too over-the-top.   The threesome of Brandi Porter (Chiffon), Cherise Clarke (Crystal), and Famecia Ward (Ronnette) form a winning mini Greek chorus along with their supporting roles.  They give the production a continuous amount of zip.  Even with a superior acting group Little Shop of Horrors would not work without a colorful, boisterous Audrey II.  Thankfully, the team of Rasheem Ford and puppeteer Susan Slotoroff form a dynamic union that gives the growing plant a believability that is both engaging and somewhat scary.

The score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is witty, playful, and melodic and can be very funny.  These are the two men behind such Disney animated classics at The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  The songs include do-wop, yearning ballads, comedic gems, and unusual duets.  You can see why Disney plucked them from the theatrical ranks to reinvigorate their moribund animated film division.

Famecia Ward as Ronnette, Rasheem Ford as Audrey II (voice), Steven Mooney as Seymour, Emily Kron as Audrey, and Aidan Eastwood as Orin Scrivello, DDS (photo: Rich Wagner)
Director Susan Haefner adroitly exploits the theater’s limited space to the production’s advantage.  The closeness of the performers to each other and to the audience gives the musical a vibrancy and immediacy.  She successfully incorporates the Audrey II into the mix as it slowly grows and literally takes over the stage.  Haefner also adds some inventive flourishes as with the utilization of rotary telephones during the opening scene of Act II.  Doubling as choreographer, she adds some splendid, incidental dance routines.

Scenic Designer Brian Dudkiewicz has creatively utilized the small Playhouse stage.  His multi-functioning set pieces add variety to the production, which gives an overall vibe of a seedy, decrepit, broken-down area of New York City. 

The onstage, four-piece band, under musical director Penny Brandt, is a tight unit that provides enthusiastic accompaniment to the show.

Little Shop of Horrors, a lighthearted and spirited good time at Playhouse-on-Park.  It’s also a good show to introduce tweens and teens to musical theater.  Now through October 16th.

No comments: