When composer Alan Menken and book/lyric writer Howard Ashman wrote and opened Little Shop of Horrors off-Broadway in 1982, this comedy rock musical with a B-movie horror plot (based on Roger Corman’s 1960 film) quickly became a cult classic. It’s been performed repeatedly the world over, right up to the sensational re-incarnation at the Ivoryton Playhouse in Ivoryton Connecticut through October 11th.
The bouncy music is a combination of early ‘60’s rock and roll, Motown and doo-wop, and the opening scene is graced by a trio of wonderfully gifted singer-dancer-actors whose characters are named Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette – an homage to the original girl groups. Played respectively by Azzaria White, La’Nette Wallace and Denielle Marie Gray, these women fill the theater with a super stage presence and up-beat pure vocal talent. Their magnetic synergy makes it difficult to believe that they haven’t been working together a-la The Supremes for years and years.
The nutty story, about “Audrey Two” a blood-thirsty human-eating plant, presumably from outer space and nurtured by a nerdy flower shop employee named Seymour, is a wacky enough premise. Then add a crazed sadistic dentist, a sweet-but-oh-so-naïve heroine, a bombastic shop owner, assorted Skid Row characters and get-rich-quick schemers and the plot thickens….usually with a fair amount of blood consumed by the continually growing but evil plant. Audrey Two is prone to scream “Feed Me!” whenever its hunger becomes unbearable.
Shy and less-than-fashionable Seymour is played with a convincing amount of low self esteem (and a really big voice) by talented newcomer Nicholas Park. The object of his affection- although she has no idea she is so admired – is the very human Audrey One, a dizzy and adorable dame who works beside Seymour in the florist shop. Laura Woyasz plays Audrey One who’s gifted with tenderness and big heartedness that has, unfortunately, kept her in an abusive relationship. When Laura sings “Somewhere That’s Green” the audience is highly entertained by this funny yet poignant description of what Audrey really wants out of life. And later, when Ms. Woyasz joins Mr. Park singing “Suddenly Seymour” the two of them shine in this exceptional country style ballad.
Mushnik, the not-such-a-nice-man flower shop owner, played by David Conaway, is the first villain appearing in the piece. He’s delightful, except for a bit too much kvelling and yelling in spots. The second sinister character is the evil plant from Hell, Audrey Two, whose aforementioned appetite for gore is unquenchable. This gloriously comedic foul creature is brought to life by the incomparable and breath-taking talent of unseen puppeteer Austin Costello (watch the video embedded in this article), and the magnificently rich voice of singer and actor Steve Sabol.
But when it comes to human bad guys, then hands-down the most maniacal villain of all is Orin, the mad-as-a-hatter dentist and abusive beau of sweet docile Audrey. Carson Higgins (who sensationally portrayed Huey Calhoun in this summer’s s Memphis at Ivoryton) plays Orin with a lunatic zaniness seldom seen on any stage anywhere. He succeeds in bringing to laughable life the villain-you-love-hate – the measure of the range of a great actor. His scene with Seymour in the dentist’s surgery is one of the funniest we’ve ever witnessed in any play. Laugh-out-loud is too tame a description….don’t be drinking anything during this scene – the folks in front of you will get a shower.
Martin Scott Marchitto’s creative scenic design consisting of a revolving stage that captures the Skid Row location of the flower shop and tenements opens up the small stage, and Victoria Blake’s character-defining costuming works best for the three girl singers and human Audrey. Everyone benefits from Elizabeth Cipollina’s time appropriate hair and wig designs. The look of the show is as wonderfully creepy as any sci-fi musical gets. Marcus Abbot on lighting, Tate R. Burmeister on sound and stage manager James Joseph Clark all make sure that the cues are spot-on during this very fast-moving technically challenging musical.
Lawrence Thelen has skillfully blocked the show and given it a classic musical comedy pace. His fine work is matched by the music of orchestrator Robert Merkin, vocal arrangements by Robert Billing, musical direction by Robert James Tomasulo and choreography by Apollo Smile that all bring the fantasy of this theater magic to life.
These professionals have taken the charming and witty book and lyrics of the late Howard Ashman (winner of 2 Oscars, 4 Grammys and 2 Golden Globes) and the eight-time Academy Award winning composer Alan Menken’s music, and have worked with a cast of actors who are really having a great time onstage to make the Ivoryton Playhouse’s Little Shop Of Horrors an uproariously fun time in the theater.
This pre-Halloween show is perfect to put anyone in the mood for the spooky holiday season. Along with shows like Young Frankenstein, The Addams Family and The Rocky Horror Show this production of Little Shop of Horrors is an antidote to reality, sanity and normalcy. Its nuttiness is being celebrated by a terrific cast and production crew. Cue thunder and lightening! But keep your distance from Audrey Two when she hollers “Feed me!”
Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle, suggest that you go to your phone or computer and get your tickets now. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting their website at ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, CT.