LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORSby Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Director/Choreographer ? Amy Anders Corcoran
Musical Director - James McQuillen
Stage Manager - Abby Kraemer
Set Designer - Christopher Pickart
Lighting Designer - Jason S. Foster
Costume Designer - Aaron Patrick Turner
Props Designer - Georgana Jinks
Sound Designer - Curtis Craig
Kristen Bond ? Chiffon
Mary Gilbreath Grim - Audrey
Janelle Gray - Crystal
Joseph Holt - as Audrey II Voice
Jason Kennedy - Seymour
Traci Lee - Ronnette
Kevin Moore - Audrey II Puppeteer
Alex Organ - Orin
Randy Pearlman - Mr. Mushnik
Reviewed Performance: 7/25/2011
Reviewed by Clyde Berry, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Little Shop of Horrors is a favorite show for high schools, colleges, and community theaters. The musical has a small cast, catchy and fun tunes, and the physical requirements are almost easy ? until one gets to the man-eating plant puppets. But even they can be built instead of rented to pinch pennies.
The tale is Faustian in nature. A young man bargains with a bloodthirsty plant to win the fame and fortune needed to attract the girl of his dreams only to become uncomfortable with his murderous actions and horrified by the alternate agenda of his plant partner. The original story of Little Shop began with a low budget movie shot in two days on sets about to be demolished from a previous film. Roger Corman's B movie was intended to be a horror/comedy/farce and was promoted as a whimsical dark comedy which eventually achieved B-movie cult status. The 1960 film also had a brief appearance from a very young Jack Nicholson.
Flash forward a few decades to the duo of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman who created a kitschy, campy musical version of the story with a Doo-Wop soundtrack. The early 80's musical went on to become a musical film directed by Muppet guru Frank Oz but with a "happier" ending created after screening audiences did not like the original one. The success of Little Shop undoubtedly led to Menken/Ashman's Disney film work on The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin (Ashman died while working on Aladdin).
WaterTower Theatre has a traditional production of Little Shop to offer though overall the piece lacks an appropriate tone and attention to detail with some conflicting production elements. Director/Choreographer Amy Anders Corcoran has deftly avoided falling into the trap of recreating a few iconic roles. Trademark voices are avoided but appropriate accents and inflections are in place. That lets the cast put their own stamp on their characters, and that is where things drift somewhat.
A few cast members latch onto the book's timing, tone, and technique while others deliver the text as if it were a realistic piece. The show is about a man-eating plant and is presented with the seriousness of daytime drama without the tongue in the proverbial cheek. The comedy is absent in this dark vision, and many potential moments are lost in the seriousness of it all.
Chris Pickart's set design is quite effective and makes great use of the space. The florist shop itself sits on stage right with lots of windows, realistic brick facing, distressed signage, and walls that retract to open the shop without any sightline problems. Metallic steps and a platform occupy stage right with a wall that pulls in to reveal the dentist office. A skyline crowns the whole set, peeking past a derelict building that fills stage right behind the metal scaffolding.
While the set is striking, there's lots of dressing that seems to be inconsistent with the design. For example, the song "Closed for Renovation" details the passage of time as the skid row shop experiences sudden success and remodeling. Yet the shop itself never changes, the same plants dress the whole show. A single counter splits into two at times but the showroom never contains a cash register or any additional furniture, comforts or upgrades, nor displays to promote the plant that brings all the prosperity (and that they sing they've done). While some of the music contains time passing "tick tocks", no clock is visible but is still referred to while non-period props are scattered about the place. Then again, the period is hard to determine assuming it is being done in the traditional 60's-ish time. While the larger work is quite good the little details undermine and distract.
In Act II Mushnik sings about little red spots on the floor while some audience members say they saw them painted on the floor in Act I.
When this scene happens the walls are closed and the floor can't even be seen. Why paint the spots to not show them (assuming their eyes are right)?
Aaron Patrick Turner's costumes are functional, traditional, and appropriate. The three urchins are in skirts and tops that seem period. As the shop grows successful and time passes the girls stay in the same outfits, only changing for a fantasy number, and then remain in the fancy dresses for reasons unknown the rest of the show. And it isn't clear if they are a Greek chorus or just minor characters, their interactions and influence are foggy. A series of quick-change costumes for Alex Organ, who plays the Dentist and various other roles, is disappointing as all three characters (male and female) are in the same pants, making the changes really only from the waist up.
The leads are all in traditional attire for their roles - Audrey in tight black outfits often with pink accents, Seymour in sweater vests, khakis and a cap, and Mushnik in suit or sweater. The color choices fit the drab mood of the location and blend well with the set.
As lighting designer, Jason S. Foster uses bold color choices to enhance the mood at critical moments. His general wash is solid, and when the man-eating Audrey II gets to eating expect lots of green and red accents. He also employs lots of moving specials on the plant when things get intense. At times the urchins get lost in solo numbers and their reactions can't be seen. His backlighting behind the set makes a lovely skyline.
The music for this production is live though is not listed in the program; neither is the list of musical numbers. James McQuillen has a very talented pit and the music was quite good, fresh, and adjusted when needed for the choices of the cast. A collaborative Music Director, McQuillen does well to help hold together many aspects of the production that involves puppetry, pit singing, choreography, etc.
Sadly, the horror in the shop is underdeveloped. The Audrey II is a series of four puppets that portray the evil plant in four stages of growth.
While only two of the plants "sing" Audrey II-3 requires a very animated physical performance. After all, the plant can't travel - it's in a pot (or it should be). The song "Feed Me" is the most animated the plant ever gets as the Audrey II-4 has to be large enough to accommodate eating full-sized people. That size prevents it from being very nimble and therefore it doesn't sing much in the short second act.
Kevin Moore has an incredibly difficult job in bringing these plants to life as the puppets aren't rigged to help him any. The final plant is just lying on the floor of the set, and the walls have to close to allow eaten folks to escape. The finale scene where the plant charges the audience doesn't happen. A few vines drop symmetrically from the ceiling at the proscenium line and the dead folks wear green body suits and swim in place, scattered about the theater. The plant is not incorporated into the design of the show. Still, Moore seems to have difficulty operating the II-3 puppet, opening the mouth once for a sentence and simply bouncing in place for each syllable. Seymour stands by and watches the plant bounce, and the number never builds in excitement.
As the urchin trio of Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon, actresses Janelle Gray, Traci Lee, and Kristen Bond work well together as a group of friends. Individually each one has a strong voice and carries their solos well but there were frequent harmony problems when they were together.
Of the three, Kristen Bond is the most energetic and engaged, making her stand out from the other two and come across as the leader. She is also the dance captain and executes the simple choreography with a great deal more gusto and pep.
Randy Pearlman plays the florist shop owner Mushnik with a great deal of heart and sensitivity. For example, when Mushnik tries to get Seymour to go to the police and confess to the dentist's murder, blackmail turns into a compassionate plea. An interesting change but Pearlman seems to be fighting the book and all of his Yiddish turns of phrase.
Joseph Holt sings the role of Audrey II while Kevin Moore operates the plants (and appears as a wino). Holt does well singing, and has the appropriate attitude for the manipulative plant. A few times either adlibs or just out of synch chewing/talking was distracting.
Seymour, the manipulated dolt, is played by Jason Kennedy. Kennedy's Seymour is very timid and geeky as he should be. There are several interesting choices made by Kennedy, most notable the realization that he will lose Audrey if he kills the plant ("The Meek Shall Inherit"). His timing getting back into the song clearly conveys Seymour's thinking. His singing is solid and his physical character is consistent as well.
As Audrey, Mary Gilbreath Grim does well to avoid Ellen Greene-isms. Her Audrey is not as hapless as would be expected, making it unclear why she'd be in an abusive relationship or find Seymour appealing. She and Kennedy have uneven chemistry. However, "Somewhere That's Green" is a very strong moment, well sung, fresh, and not overdone. Her desire for something better than a skid row life was quite clear.
The standout of the production is Alex Organ. Organ plays Orin the sadistic dentist as well as a wino and three agents. Like Kristen Bond he seems to "get" the book and has the best timing, physicality and energy.
The audience perks up every time he walks out. Each of his multiple characters is distinctive and his solo number "Dentist" got the largest audience response. There is an ease to his stylistic approach to the piece which makes what would otherwise be cheesy or over the top perfectly appropriate. It's almost like he and Bond are in a different show than the others.
With its direct and sincere approach to the story, WaterTower's Little Shop navigates the basics of the story. For those expecting camp or comedy, it has been pruned, leaving a streamlined piece.
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken
July 22?August 21, 2011
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001
Performance Times -
7:30PM Monday, Wednesday & Thursday
8:00PM Friday & Saturday / 2:00PM Sunday
2:00PM Saturday on August 20
Individual tickets range in price from $20 - $40. How/Where to buy tickets: www.watertowertheatre.org or 972-450-6232 or in-person at WTT Box Office (Tuesday?