Swift Creek Mill Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” needs a shot of adrenaline
Little Shop of Horrors the musical was first produced in 1982 and is one of the first collaborations between composer Alan Mencken and librettist/lyricist Howard Ashman, the men responsible for Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. They write beautiful scores that Disney has made a mint off of.
This musical is as accomplished, but is based on a 1960 Roger Corman sci-fi horror film of the same name which featured a very young Jack Nicholson as the dental patient, the same role Bill Murray played in the musical filmed in 1986.
We all know the story of the flesh eating monster plant and how a nice nebbish of a guy turns into a cold blooded killer.
Seymour works at Mushnick’s unsuccessful Skid Row Flower Shop. He yearns for his co-worker Audrey, a hot blonde patootie who is the victim of all kinds of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend Orin, the Nitrous Oxide sniffing Motorcycle Dentist.
I love the good Jew (Seymour), the bad Jew (Mushnick) and the hot shicksa (Audrey) triangle. It’s Abie’s Irish Rose/ Bridget Loves Bernie all over again. Of course Menken and Ashman are … what else?
Seymour comes across a “strange and interesting” plant and soon learns the plant is carnivorous. It yells “Feed Me Seymour! Feed me all night long!” After draining himself of all the blood he can safely give, the plant (loving named “Audrey II) conspires with Seymour to find “fresh meat,” starting with the abusive dentist. The plant grows exponentially with each feeding, causing a world-wide sensation and fame for Mushnick and Seymour, who, rid of the pesky Dentist, helps himself to Audrey (not the plant).
All does not end well to be sure.
Little Shop of Horrors is not just about what people will do for love, but also for attention; Seymour’s head is turned not just by Audrey but the media beating a path to his door to examine the monstrous plant he’s cultivated. With a Greek chorus of three singers who perform a skillful melange of black pop styles, from Motown to doo-wop, it has the potential to be a touching and hilarious show.
The production style of this play matters. I like it semi-absurd in the parody tradition, but can see other interpretations. Swift Creek Mill plays it middle-of-the-road, realistic safe. Competent but a little weary and tredworn.
The “Doo Wop” girls open the show with the title song and set the mood for the evening. Katrina Carol Lewis, Jessi Johnson and Aslee Arden Heyword sound fabulous. Their sound is strong and beautiful and professional, if slightly too aloof. Honestly, they seemed detached from the play. I wanted them to define the neighborhood but the director seemed to be working against that by often splitting them up onstage.
My major criticism comes down to a lack of skid in Skid Row. Like the Frank Oz’ movie, I thought Skid Row here was too clean and lacking character. There were many opportunities, especially during the song “Downtown,” to inject either metaphorical or actual grime, sludge and wreckage (man simulating retching in bucket good but not enough) that would actually define the place. The feel of a decrepit environment is pretty much necessary to get to the desperation in the lives of the characters.
Even a comic book needs to be grounded in substance.
Audra Honaker does a very fine job in creating Audrey. Not as dumb as I’ve seen, mostly happier, maybe not as vulnerable. Audra “affected” her speaking and singing voice to ground Audrey in a specific character sound, which is what’s needed, but maybe sacrificed some power in her vocals that I know she has but only pulled out once as kind of a “shocker” moment.
More totally Audrey “moments” would help a lot.
Ian Page was a sweet but bland Seymour. He has a great singing voice but even there he failed to detail Seymour’s character with much more than that of a wimpy bumbler. He needed to find some more depth and make more specific character choices as Seymour evolves as a force to be reckoned with. Quirky layered personalities get the laughs. He was better in Act Two where he had more physical demands.
Durron Tyre kicked boot as the voice of the plant. Sassy and classy, the man can work it. The plant dominated the wimp the entire show. Give the man a bonus.
Mr. Tyre’s contributions to “playing” Audrey II would have been greatly bolstered had the puppeteer inside the plant had smoother moves.
The plant’s movements were sluggish and rarely in synch with the lyrics. I’ll chalk it up to opening night nerves for Benjamin West, the “manipulator”.
Audrey II, however, looked fantastic at all stages of her growth. Director Width did the construction and succeeds overwhelmingly. Beautiful colors and fabric with plush insides that looked pretty inviting to me.
John Haggadorn’s Mushnick did not excite. Maybe older than the character needs to be, maybe the old Jewish Eastern European accent is getting a bit predictable. He gave a very tame performance.
Adam Mincks more than made up for any other lethargies. Mincks played all the other male roles in the play. He gave each role an intense energy that was creepy, disturbing and fascinating all at once.
Mr. Mincks played the Dentist in the key of “Absurd,” which is appropriate for a comic book story and what might have been missing from other characterizations; threatening in a bonkers kind of way but not actually frightening anyone. He played all of the other characters in the same key, which works, but perhaps in multi-characterizations one actor may be limited in the actual variety of crazy and smarmy that we’re looking at. Regardless, he’s always fun to watch.
The Mill’s stage is very wide. This is to accommodate wide sight lines for more seats to have clear visibility of the stage. In small character shows where you can’t fill the stage with people you have to pick and choose slices of the space to stage your scenes. Mr. Width again serves as his own set designer. A curtained off quadrant worked very nicely to isolate Mushnick’s shop. The interior of the shop was well done but also lacked the base of tattered, grimy worn features that would have defined the world of the play more.
The front of stage was used primarily for outdoor scenes with the shop curtained off. These scenes seemed disjointed, splitting the “Doo Wop” girls is just one example of the accommodations that needed to be made to fill the wide space. Joe Doran’s lighting was also pretty tame, for Joe Doran. Maura Lynch Cravey’s costumes were very nice, Audrey’s wardrobe in particular.
Little Shop of Horrors is a classic of the stage and screen. It has the science fiction heritage and the weird, other-worldly dangerousness of the young creators taking large chances to get their first legitimate musical produced. It deserves equal inventiveness of staging to make it sing.
Swift Creek Mill Theater gave a safe and middle of the road interpretation which, while still fun, failed to actually “sing.”
The Little Shop of Horrors runs at Swift Creek Mill theatre now through May 21st, you can pick up tickets here!
You find yourself smiling. You smile because the complications are adorable and you are touched.September 16, 2016
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