Little Shop of Horrors
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
June 12, 2008
I am one of the few people I know who has never seen a production of the musical Little Shop of Horrors by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman. Based on the 1960 film directed by Roger Corman, this was a big hit off-Broadway in the 1980s, and is a popular choice at theatres around the world. I jumped at the chance to catch the show at the beautiful Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, New Jersey. I was not disappointed.
When a UFO crashes into Planet Earth (here done with marvelous kitschy stage effects) it brings with it an unusual plant that is found and nurtured by our leading man, the short, goofy looking Seymour, who works at the flower shop of the good-hearted, but financially challenged, Mr. Mushnik. Seymour has a serious crush on his co-worker, the lovely Audrey, who is in an abusive relationship with her seriously demented dentist boyfriend, Orin. The mysterious one-of-a-kind plant, which Seymour names Audrey II, proves to be a godsend for Mushnik's business, as it continues to grow (and boy, does it grow) and attract customers into the shop. But the plant turns out to have a mind of its own, along with a ghoulish need to be fed human blood! I won't tell you more, but the action that ensues is lively, funny, and a little gory in that old B movie horror film way.
Mark Waldrop has directed a tight show with a very talented cast. The impressive sets are not credited with a designer, although Ben Stanton is listed as the "set coordinator." The sound design by Randy Hansen, lighting design by Stanton, costume design by Mathew Hemesath, and wig and hair design by Charles G. Lapointe are all very creative and wonderfully appropriate to the piece. There is some great work done by choreographer Vince Pesce, and musical director Bruce W. Coyle, who also plays keyboard in the four-piece orchestra, which sounds larger than it is.
The top-notch cast (almost all of them have major Broadway credits) does fine work across the board. There is a vocal trio of street urchins, Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (characters cleverly named after female doo-wop girl groups in the 1960s), who weave through the entire show and are vivaciously sung and danced by three dynamo performers, Montego Clover, Badia Farha, and Angela Grovey. With their sassy choreography and tight harmonies, they are great fun to watch and listen to. As Seymour, Jared Gertner strikes just the right balance of humor and pathos with his character, and as his love interest Audrey, Jenny Fellner is delicate and sexy, with a big healthy voice. Stephen Berger as shop owner Mr. Mushnik and Asa Somers as the psycho dentist, Orin, both have a lot of fun with their characters. See how many roles you can spot the versatile Somers in, after the final exit of Orin.
And now, on to the real star of this show... that amazing plant. The puppet itself, in its many sizes, is a wonder to behold. Michael Latini (and later in the run, Paul McGinnis) keeps it real by masterfully manipulating the many moods of Audrey II. As the plant's voice we are treated to the vocal stylings of Michael James Leslie, who, according to his bio of many stage credits, played the voice of said foliage both on Broadway and in the national tour. Leslie has a rich deep bass baritone that matches the puppet in majesty.
The Paper Mill Playhouse is celebrating 70 years of producing quality, Broadway-caliber theatre. They have been in the news lately due to financial difficulties not unlike those faced by many artistic organizations in these trying times. I think it would be a crying shame to lose such an organization and I strongly encourage everyone to help by attending their season. The train ride out of NYC from Penn station was smooth and pleasant, as was the short walk from the train to the theatre. The town of Millburn has lots of shops and restaurants, and the theatre itself is a large spacious building with comfortable seats, handicap access, and hearing enhancement technology available. Based on my experience, I will definitely be returning.