LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORSBook by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Based on the film by Roger Corman, Screenplay by Charles Griffith
Plaza Theatre Company
Directed by – Dennis Yslas
Music Director - Kristin Spires
Choreographer - Tabitha Barrus
Stage management – Cessany Ford
Assistant Stage Management – David Goza
Sound Design – G. Aaron Siler
Light Design – G. Aaron Siler, Cameron Barrus
Set Design – JaceSon Barrus
Property Design – Ann Spohn
Costume Design – Tina Barrus
Wall Paining – Julie Asher Lee
Plant Care – Parker Barrus, Soni Barrus
Set Construction – Jodie Barrus, JaceSon Barrus
Seymour Krelborn - Garrett L. Whitehead
Audrey - Carlee Cagle
Mr. Mushnik - Jay Lewis
Chiffon - Emily Warwick
Crystal - Caitlan Leblo
Ronette - Stacey Greenwalt
Voice of Audrey II - G. Aaron Siler
Audrey II Handlers – Clyde Berry, Dashiell Maddox, Jesse Bowron, Michael Sorter
Orrin Scrivello, Bernstein, Luce, Snip, and Patrick Martin – Josh Leblo
Radio Announcer, Shop Customer – Jay A. Cornils
Gift of Roses Girl – Cat Karlin
Wino – Dashiell Maddox
Skid Row Occupants – Michael Sorter, Jay A. Cornils, Cat Karlin
Narrator – David Reinhartsen
Reviewed Performance: 10/25/2014
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The musical is based on the 1960, low-budget B sci-fi/horror film of the same name. The film, directed by Roger Corman, is one of the most well-known and respected directors of the low budget B, Science Fiction-Horror genre. Corman mentored and influenced other young directors and actors such as Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, James Cameron, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. Other films that Corman directed and or produced in this genre include; Swamp Woman, The Terror, The Raven, The Intruder, Wild Angels, Frankenstein Unbound. In 2010, Corman produced the films Dinocroc versus Supergator, Dinoshark and Sharktopus for the SyFy channel.
Director, Dennis Yslas, stays true to the story as it was presented in the early 1960’s. His decision to stay with the styles and setting of the early 1960’s Skid Row in New York keep this production visually consistent with the intent of the original creators of the musical. Yslas provides a direction that makes use of all areas of the stage space. While most of the action inside of the store takes place on one corner of the stage, the rest of the performance area is used as the street outside of the store, a dentist office that comes with a portable time period dentist chair, in one scene an area of the stage is used as a radio station, and other areas where Seymour meets with people that want to congratulate him on the success for having such a unique plant. Yslas takes delightful advantage of the height difference between Seymour Krelborn played by Garrett L. Whitehead and Audrey played by Carlee Cagle. The height difference adds a humorous element to the awkward romance between the two characters. The cast includes several actors that are very talented and apparently well directed; this includes several members who play multiple roles.
For PTC’s version, Music Director Kristin Spires uses preshow music for the production that consists of a compilation of “Doo-Wop” songs reminiscent of the late 1950’s to early 1960’s that are recognizable tunes from the time period. As with any other crucial element of a musical, the choreography can make the production either a memorable or a forgettable show. In the case of Plaza’s production, Choreographer Tabitha Barrus succeeds! Along with her choreography, the lighting, costuming and acting by several members of the cast, are some of the aspects that make this production so enjoyable to watch. Barrus’s dance creations include snappy, fast moving numbers that have the characters of Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette moving in sync around many areas of the stage with foot work and arm movements that are at times intricate and always entertaining. There are a few times when hand and arm movements were not always in coordination between the three, Though, I could not completely tell if this was a part of the choreography, or if the moves are minor mistakes. A particularly fun piece of choreography to watch is a scene between Seymour and the plant Audrey II, in which Seymour comes out of his nerdy shell and dances in excitement during the song “Feed Me (Git It!)”, while Audrey II is moving around to the rhythm of the music in a manner much like Stevie Wonder when singing.
The last choreographed number of the show includes the entire company and elements of Audrey II. This finale seems like it blends the zombie like movement elements of Michael Jackson’s THRILLER with modern jazz style. It clearly reminds you that this is an in your face Halloween show with a nod to the early 1960’s Hollywood B grade Science Fiction-Horror genre.
Plaza Theatre Company is an intimate theatre in the round, with performance spaces surrounding all sides of the audience. Scenic Designer JaceSon Barrus incorporates all the available space within the theater. His design concepts include using multiple entrance and exit locations. The floor of the performance space has areas that are painted to represent various locations, such as the outside area on Skid Row, complete with a manhole cover painted on the road area of the floor. Another area of the floor is painted to resemble a tile floor of the florist shop. This corner is also where Mushnik’s floral shop is (pardon the pun” planted on stage. This space is also used as the final location of Audrey II when the plant is in the two larger stages of development. Behind the false wall in that corner, the puppet handlers deftly manipulate the larger versions of Audrey II. At another end of the same wall, a realistic looking, false door with a working stoop is created and used as a space for the characters of Crystal (Caitlan Leblo), Chiffon (Emily Warwick), and Ronette (Stacey Greenwalt) to hang out, as they are on stage throughout most of the show.
Tina Barrus uses a costume design that is consistent with the time period of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. The clothing styles include sweaters, sweater vests, bow ties, shirts for the guys that are mostly buttoned to the neck. Depending on which character he is at the time, Josh Leblo as Orrin is wearing a leather jacket and later what appears to be a “Buck Rogers” style space suit with a clear glass, bubble helmet. As the character of Luce, Leblo wears a dress. For the remaining characters that he plays, Leblo is wearing suit jackets and slacks appropriate for the time period. Crystal (Caitlan Leblo), Chiffon (Emily Warwick), and Ronette (Stacey Greenwalt), are either wearing a dress of the time period or jeans with sneakers. Audrey (Carlee Cagle) wears a variety of dresses that, by design, appear to be more expensive than the character could realistically afford. The costume and make up design for this character help define that Audrey is a young lady that wants to appear better than her circumstances and uses clothing and makeup up to attract men as a way to escape Skid Row. Costumed, in a short sleeve shirt that is buttoned to the neck, wearing a sweater vest and “nerd” glasses, Garrett L. Whitehead looks like the stereotypical nerd and reminds me of the Seymour character played by Rick Moranis in the earlier film version of Little Shop of Horrors.
The light design by G. Aaron Siler is very effective with appropriate use of spotlights, muted spot light, and reds and blues that help define the moods in different scenes. The sound design (also by Siler) had a few glitches during the performance that I attended. There were a few times when a microphone stopped working or worked intermittently, which caused the actor, not be heard over the music. But these are minor hiccups that will soon iron themselves out after they get a couple of more performances under their plant leaves….I mean belt.
Chiffon, played by Emily Warwick, Crystal, played by Caitlan Leblo and Ronette played by Stacey Greenwalt, respectively, are the trio of back-up singers that help keep scenes moving as the story transitions from one scene to another. This trio opens the show as they rise from the stoop and move out onto Skid Row, singing the opening number “Little Shop of Horrors”. Their voices blend well together and support the voices of other singers. Much like back-up singers ala the Supremes in a concert on stage, they use choreographed moves and voices that blend well together and in support of the lead vocals of Seymour, Audrey and Audrey II. Their opening number lacked some of the energy and enjoyment that is more apparent on their faces and in the choreography after intermission.
Jay Lewis, as Mr. Mushnik, has moments when he has a solid connection to the character and I can suspend disbelief of watching a man on stage and believe that I am seeing and hearing an elderly Jewish shop owner that is going broke. One such scene is when Lewis as Mushnik comes on stage expressing concern and confusion after having been questioned by the police after Orrin’s disappearance. However, there are also moments in scenes such as the opening scene between Seymour, Mushnik and Audrey, in which Lewis comes across as occasionally unfocused and disoriented. As if he were having problems with lines. This inconsistency kept me from completely enjoying Mushnik as a character in the story.
Talk about an all-around talented artist here. In addition to the many technical roles assumed by Mr. Siler, he is also the voice of the plant, Audrey II. As the voice for this evil, flesh hungry creature, Siler is sinister, commanding, pleading, manipulative and very powerful whether singing or speaking. Siler's voice gives the audience the feeling that the plant is truly alive and intent on world conquest.
Josh Leblo plays a variety of roles in this production that include Orrin Scrivello, Bernstein, Luce, Snip, and Patrick Martin. Leblo first comes on stage as the character of Orrin Scrivello, the gleefully maniacal and masochistic dentist. My introduction to Leblo as Orrin is when he marches onstage, pushes his way past Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette, then continues walking off stage. Despite having seen the film and musical versions of Little Shop of Horrors many times and being well aware of the importance of the role of Orrin, There was nothing in Leblo’s entrance or exit in this scene that made me want to note any importance to this character. Instead, Leblo’s interpretation of Orrin came across to me as someone that was going through the motions and reciting the lines of a character, with no depth or specificity to the character as an individual. In earlier film and stage versions of Little Shop of Horrors, the role of Scrivello has been played notably and creatively by Jack Nicholson, and Steve Martin. With these previous portrayals as inspirations, Leblo could have made this character darkly unique, quirky and very different than other roles that he also plays in this production. Instead, I did not see a character difference between this role and the other male roles that he plays within the musical. With one exception, each role that he played had the same vocal qualities, mannerisms, and facial expressions. Only one of the characters played by Leblo kept my attention. Leblo’s portrayal of Luce is very different than the other roles he plays in this production. Leblo’s portrayal of Luce has specific vocal qualities, mannerisms and expressions that are unique to this character and are different from other characters played on stage by Leblo. While it is obvious that this female role is played by a large and tall male, the role is played with an honesty that makes it memorable and ridiculous in a fun way.
Garrett L. Whitehead as Seymour Krelborn is one of the acting highlights of this production. Whitehead appears to be in his early 20’s. This youthful appearance, works to his benefit as he portrays Seymour as a young, vulnerable, orphan that is living and working at a flower shop on Skid Row. His only family is Mr. Mushnik, his boss and owner of the store and Audrey, the other employee at the store and on whom Seymour has a crush. Whitehead, gives Seymour a vulnerability though his voice, demeanor and interactions on stage with the other characters. This makes it easy for the audience to empathize with and cheer Seymour on to succeed, even when Seymour makes questionable choices of plant food for Audrey II. Such as, feeding a dismembered body to Audrey II. Whitehead’s costume, physical characteristics, awkward mix of bravado and self-consciousness, reminds me of Rick Moranis portrayal of the same role in the 1986 film version. Whitehead’s singing and acting, particularly in scenes with Cagle, is definitely worth experiencing.
Carlee Cagle as Audrey is another of the delightfully strong acting talents that shine in this production. Cagle is slightly taller than Whitehead. This height difference adds to the cute yet awkward factor when the characters of Audrey and Seymour interact together. She uses a consistent New York(ish) accent for the character of Audrey, throughout the production. The consistency of the accent is one of the many believability factors that Cagle uses with the character of Audrey. She portrays Audrey as a woman that wants to please others as she tries to find a way off of Skid Row. Cagle gives a very believable sense of vulnerability to her character of Audrey that makes the audience empathize with the character. When she sings "Somewhere That's Green", with a genuine earnestness, I was pulled into her vision of wanting to live in a tract house, with a white fence that looks like every other house around.
The Little Shop of Horrors, playing at the Plaza Theatre Company in Cleburne, is a musical that stays true to the intent of the original creators of the early film. Roger Corman was a master of the cheesy, sometimes ridiculous and over the top creature that wants to conquer the world, or in this case, eat all of mankind. Add to the story line, songs that are soulful, snappy, and fun and choreography that keeps energy moving through the production, plus the acting skills of Cagle, Whitehead, and the commanding voice of G. Aaron Siler as the voice of Audrey II, and you will experience Halloween as it was intended by the creators of this story in the early 1960’s.
So grab a handful of candy and head on over to Plaza Theatre Company for a tasty treat of musical theater that would make Julia Child exclaim Bon Appetit! Just make sure that a slithering green arm covered in leaves doesn’t try to steal your candy...or the audience member next to you!
Plaza Theatre Company
111 South Main Street, Cleburne, Texas, 76033, 817-202-0600
Runs October 17th through November 15th, 2014
Thursday - Saturday at 7:30 pm and Saturday matinee at 3:00 pm
Tickets are $15.00 Adult, $14.00 Senior and $13.00 Children
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.plazatheatre.com or call the box office at 817817-202-0600.