Going Green

Review of Little Shop of Horrors, Playhouse on Park

Playhouse on Park once again finds a musical that matches well to its thrust stage and open space. Little Shop of Horrors, by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, directed by Susan Haefner, has plenty of room to sprawl, giving its story a fluid sense of space. Brian Dudkiewicz’s set uses a central open shop area, marked by a tall glass door and metal displays, flanked by a Skid Row alley, made arty and dramatic by comic book style art with a touch of Lichtenstein, and a perimeter useful for the comings and goings of the girl group of urchins, a spirited Greek chorus by way of the Supremes—Crystal (Cherise Clarke), Chiffon (Brandi Porter), Ronette (Famecia Ward). Well-known from many regional revivals and a film version, Little Shop is a darkly absurdist musical that plays up to its source material: a B movie horror/comedy film from Roger Corman’s production company in the 1960s.

 Crystal (Cherise Clarke), Ronette (Famecia Ward), Chiffon (Brandi Porter); foreground: Audrey (Emily Kron) (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

Crystal (Cherise Clarke), Ronette (Famecia Ward), Chiffon (Brandi Porter); foreground: Audrey (Emily Kron) (photo: Meredith Atkinson)

The story of a plant from outer space that colonizes the planet by using humans for food is a typical ‘60s sci-fi plot; it could be given a straight treatment as in Corman’s It Conquered the Earth, but instead, the story is played for laughs with an odd conglomeration of elements: Jewish paternalism, a nebbishy orphan, a battered woman, media-based fame, the suburbs as a paradise dreamed of by unfortunates stuck in Skid Row, and even the kind of bonding that can take place between a lonely boy and a charismatic pet.

A particular attraction of POP’s production is Emily Kron as battered, not-too-bright shopgirl Audrey. Her rendering of “Somewhere That’s Green” is both funny and touching, and “Suddenly Seymour,” her duet with smitten shopboy Seymour (Steven Mooney), who discovers the unusual plant he names Audrey II, is surprisingly romantic. She’s got star power not showcased enough.

 Audrey (Emily Kron) (photo: Rich Wagner)

Audrey (Emily Kron) (photo: Rich Wagner)

And that’s because the story is really about Seymour and his efforts to please his abrasive but basically decent boss, Mr. Mushnik (Damian Buzzerio, looking very much the part in Kate Bunce’s suits), while also acting as hapless keeper of the increasingly demanding Audrey II. Steven Mooney’s Seymour has the right mix of timidity and earnest can-do practicality. Their number together, “Mushnik and Son” is another high-point.

 Mr. Mushnik (Damian Buzzerio) (photo: Rich Wagner)

Mr. Mushnik (Damian Buzzerio) (photo: Rich Wagner)

The production at Playhouse keeps the emphasis on entertaining over disturbing, even though, here and there, certain factors are downright macabre, such as the sadism of dentist Orin (Aidan Eastwood) and his grisly end. In Orin ‘s big number, “Dentist!”, Eastwood seems not quite as campy as required, but his rendering of “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” has a giddy creepiness that ends Act One on a note of suitable horror. I’m never going to forget his demented laugh in that number.

Menken’s music nimbly recreates the Motown sound in the opening numbers, and later stretches into the melodic pastiche employed so well in his popular animated Disney musicals. The cartoonish elements of the show make it fun for kids, as the possibility of being devoured by a man-eating plant is an entertaining proposition, particularly a plant as tuneful as this one. Rasheem Ford, as the voice of Audrey II, is a great asset, a hip and primal voice that makes feeding time fun.

 Ronette (Famecia Ward), voice of Audrey II (Rasheem Ford), Seymour (Steven Mooney), Audrey (Emily Kron), Orin (Aidan Eastwood) (photo: Rich Wagner)

Ronette (Famecia Ward), voice of Audrey II (Rasheem Ford), Seymour (Steven Mooney), Audrey (Emily Kron), Orin (Aidan Eastwood) (photo: Rich Wagner)

In the end, though we’re exhorted “Don’t Feed the Plants,” the celebratory quality of the show may suggest the earth might be better off with fewer humans and more vengeful vegetables.

 

Little Shop of Horrors
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed and choreographed by Susan Haefner

Music Director: Penny Brandt; Sound Designer: Joel Abbott; Scenic Designer: Brian Dudkiewicz; Lighting Designer: Christopher Bell; Costume Designer: Kate Bunce; Properties: Pamela Lang; Assistant Lighting Designer: Ashley Braga

Cast: Damian Buzzerio, Cherise Clarke, Aidan Eastwood, Rasheem Ford, Emily Kron, Steven Mooney, Brandi Porter, Susan Slotoroff, Famecia Ward

Musicians: Michael Blancaflor, drums/percussion; Penny Brandt, keyboard; Nick Cutroneo, guitar; Sean Rubin, bass

Playhouse on Park
September 14-October 16, 2016