LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORSBook and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken
Based on the film by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Charles Griffith
Directed by Marilyn Setu
Musical Direction by Bryce Biffle
Choreography by Christina Kudlicki Hoth
Set Design by Kevin Brown
Costume Design by Victor Newman Brockwell
Lighting Design by Scott Davis
Crystal – Christian Houston
Ronnette – Cayley Davis
Chiffon – Emily Kate Ivey
Mr. Mushnik – Patrick Persons
Seymour – Clint Gilbert
Audrey – Shannon Conboy
Orin – Derek Whitener
Audrey II – Malcolm Payne Jr.
Ensemble -- Bwalya Chisanga, Trace Hughes, Sydnee Lasseigne, Daniel Matthews, Mark Quach
Reviewed Performance: 10/13/2017
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The Firehouse Theatre is presenting a rip-roaring production of one of the most popular musicals in the American Musical Theater canon, Little Shop of Horrors. This horror comedy rock musical is based on a low-budget 1960 movie, “The Little Shop of Horrors.” With music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, the show uses 60’s style rock and roll, doo-wop and early Motown as its inspiration.
Opening Off-Off-Broadway in 1982, the show soon moved to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway where it ran for five years, winning the 1982-83 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical, the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, and Outer Critics Circle Award. It went on to receive numerous productions around the U.S. and abroad and later, a Broadway production. In 1986, director Frank Oz made a movie version with some significant changes.
The show, as probably everyone knows, is set in 1960 and concerns Seymour Krelbourn (Clint Gilbert), a schlemiel of a worker in Mushnik’s (Patrick Persons) Skid Row flower shop. Seymour, during a “total eclipse of the sun,” has found a plant that sort of looks like a Venus flytrap mutation. He soon learns that the plant, which he calls Audrey II (voiced by Malcolm Payne Jr.) needs more than water and plant food to survive. Seymour’s love life consists of mooning over Audrey (Shannon Conboy), a curvy co-worker with low self-esteem, currently dating a “semi-sadist” dentist named Orin (Derek Whitener).
Benevolence does not reign on Skid Row, however as the story takes a darker turn, as narrated by a singing neighborhood girl group (Christian Houston, Cayley Davis Emily Kate Ivey). The carnivorous plant makes more and more demands and severe moral choices by our hero take the story in some pretty bizarre – and darkly funny – directions.
Fortunately in the lead role of Seymour, this production has found a terrific singer and fine actor, Clint Gilbert, who personifies all of Seymour’s fumbling and bumbling and keeps us on his side with his innate sweet spirit. Mr. Gilbert has neat comic timing and holds the audience’s attention with a clear characterization throughout. We suffer along with him as he tries to make the right decisions, and pull for him all the way. “I’ve given you sunlight/ I’ve given you rain/ Looks like you’re not happy/ ’Less I open a vein.”
Shannon Conboy plays Seymour’s love interest, Audrey, with a lovely big voice and even lovelier and bigger heart. Ms. Conboy has the characterization down pat from the quick-stepping little walk to the breathy voice, and it all works just great. Her “Someplace That’s Green” will break your heart and make you love her. “Far from Skid row/ I dream we’ll go/ Somewhere that’s green.” Now if someone could just do something about her wig…
The neighborhood girl group of singers, Crystal, played by Christian Houston, Ronnette, played by Cayley Davis and Chiffon, played by Emily Kate Ivey, have characters named after popular girl groups of the period, “Bop-sh’bop,…Shing-a-ling,…Sha-la-la” and they are so good that they could have stepped into any of those groups without missing a beat. They narrate the show and guide us along with close harmonies and synchronized movements that would have made the Supremes envious. Take a bow, ladies!
Artistic and Education Director of The Firehouse Theatre, Derek Whitener, has a delicious time playing Orin, the gas-sniffing, girlfriend abusing dentist. “You’ll be a dentist/ You have a talent for causing things pain/ Son, be a dentist/ People will pay you to be inhumane.” It’s a role that calls for excess, and Mr. Whitener revels in every moment and commands every moment he’s on stage. Only problem was understanding all the dialogue when the gas mask went on.
Mr. Mushnik, owner of the Skid Row flower shop, is played by Patrick Persons, and while he sings and moves really well, he doesn’t quite seem to have found his character yet. His performance isn’t a distraction, it just doesn’t ring as true as that of his fellow actors right now. And someone PLEASE find him a hat that fits!
Ensemble members are Bwayla Chisanga, Trace Hughes, Sydnee Lasseigne and Mark Quach. Each gets an opportunity to show their skills and has a fine time doing it. They all play more than one character, and each is clear and fun and furthers the story. Daniel Matthews is not only a member of the ensemble, but also manipulates the Audrey II puppets that are voiced, with great good menace by Malcolm Payne Jr. Mr. Payne seems to take delight in singing Audrey II’s funny and scary lyrics and creates a character with his voice alone. “Come on, come on/ Ain’t no time to turn squeamish/ … I swear on all my spores/ When he’s gone, the world will be yours… It’s suppertime!”
By the way, like most groups who do Little Shop, Firehouse Theatre was able to borrow their great Audrey II puppets/costumes from another group who has done the show, in this case friends at the Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne, TX.
Scenery by Kevin Brown consists of a large raised upstage platform that serves as Mushnik’s flower shop and a downstage entrance to Audrey’s apartment on one side, and fire escape steps on the other. The set works really well in the intimate Firehouse space and creates the right atmosphere by setting the tone and clarifying the mood of the show. I particularly liked the floor of the shop with its boards spaced so that eerie green light can shine through at scary moments.
Scott Davis is responsible for that light and all the other lighting of the show, and his design works most of the time to amplify moments and keep the focus where it needs to be. I especially liked the flashing effects at the end of Act I and later in the show. On opening night, unfortunately some of the actors were left in the dark at moments when they should have been seen. This could be the fault of a board operator, and will probably get cleared up as the show progresses.
Costumes by Victor Newman Brockwell are bright and colorful when they need to be and help the audience identify and understand the characters by being appropriate for the period and each performer.
Bryce Biffle is listed as Music Director and I assume he not only worked with the cast, but also leads the band sitting high above the flower shop at the back of the stage. The singing is tight and well controlled throughout and the band plays 60’s style music with great flair. At times the band gets a little loud for the singers, but hopefully that will also be balanced out as more performances take place.
Marilyn Setu is the director who has pulled this show together and made it a delight to watch. The fun and period-appropriate choreography by Cjristina Kudlicki Hoth, is seamlessly incorporated by Ms. Setu into the action. She moves her characters with conviction across the stage, never losing sight of where the focus should be and keeping the stage picture interesting to watch. The scenes build nicely and the pace never lags (except for a couple of scene changes that took a little long opening night). The story line is clear and carries the audience along neatly.
As one reviewer pointed out in writing about another production, “…both Sweeney Todd and Little Shop are about failing businesses that are saved when human corpses begin to be used as food” and “no one with a ravenous appetite for success at any cost can be certain he won’t be swallowed whole by someone with similar cravings.”
In Little Shop, Seymour realizes he’s facing a terrible ethical and moral dilemma with impossibly high stakes. Like Faust, he learns that the devil deals in very hard bargains. Even so, the wonderful thing about this show and this production, is that it deals with all of these horribly dark situations with great heart and humor, carried along by a score you’ll be humming as you leave the theater.
The Firehouse Theatre continues its tradition of providing quality theater for the Metroplex, so don’t miss the chance to either enjoy the show again, or bring someone along and introduce them to the Skid Row world of Little Shop. The show is a love story as well as a cautionary tale, and even though there’s a mammoth people-eating plant on stage, sweetness and sincerity are the take away emotions in this well-done production.
“They may offer you fortune and fame/ Love and money and instant acclaim/ But whatever they offer you/ Don’t feed the plants!” All quoted lyrics by Howard Ashman
2535 Valley View Lane. Farmers Branch, TX 75234
Final Performance on October 29th, 2017
Ticket Prices $12 to $25 For tickets and more information, go to www.thefirehousetheatre.com
or call 972-620-3747