Little Shop of Horrors Theatre Review - Musical Theatre West Wraps its 56th Season with a Crunch

          

Little Shop of Horrors is the final production of the 56th Season of the Musical Theatre West. Performances are Thursday through Saturday, July 10 – 26, 2009 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach.

If an unusual but strangely luck plant promised to grant your wildest dreams – and seemed to have the ability to do so – so long as you keep it fed, what would you be willing feed it? (Actually the first question is: if a plant talked to you, how fast would you be out the door, or would you talk back?)

(l to r) Danny Gurwim, Stuart pankin & Lowe Taylor in "Little Shop of Horrors"

That is the story of Seymour Krelborn (Danny Gurwin) , a lowly, ne’er-do-well assistant in a failing flower shop on skid row. His boss, Mr. Mushnik (Stuart Pankin) has just announced to him and his blonde, beautiful co-worker Audrey (Lowe Taylor) that  the shop will be close due to bad business. It is then that Seymour tells his co-workers about a strange new plant that he found and has been nursing back to health. Some type of Venus Fly-Trap, Seymour suggested that this exotic plant may just attraction more business. And sure enough, after five minutes of being in the window, the plant which Seymour named Audrey II (voiced by Michael A. Shepperd), attracts a customer who buys $100 worth of flowers.

Peter Paige & Skid row girls in "Little Shop of Horrors"

Thus begins the on-slide of good fortune for the shop keeper and his two employers. With business suddenly booming, Seymour’s fears of unemployment are replace with his usual preoccupation. How does he could express is hopeless devotion for Audrey. Sweet but dim-witted Audrey is in an abusive relationship with sadistic, biker-dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS (Peter Paige). While he is unapologetically cruel to her, Audrey still believes, since she herself comes from skid row, she does not deserve anyone better. 

The same day Seymour almost tells Audrey how he feels is the same day he realizes that the reason his prized exotic plant Audrey II has taken a turn for the worst, is because he has yet to feed it – blood. Understanding that the plant is directly linked to his good fortune, Seymour keeps feeding the plant. But the bigger Audrey II gets, the hard it becomes to satisfy the monster foliage. How far will Seymour go to keep the plant fed, and as a result keep his perfect life, and maybe even Audrey?

"Fed Me, Seymour!" ~ Audrey II

 

The show was a lot of fun, a pretty twisted. The show holds up well since its 1960 debut particularly thanks to its signature numbers “Skid Row”,  “Suddenly Seymour” and of course the title song itself. Its subject matter is unexpectedly timely give the state of the economy. While Little Shop of Horrors is at its core, the simple story of a girl and a boy who briefly get the perfect life they always dreamed of having, it is also a fairly sinister morality tale about being careful about what you ask for.

This was my first visit to the Carpenter Performing Arts Center so imagine my awe at the enormous proscenium that waited to unveil the grand event. However, I confess I had a trouble hearing. The production features costumes and sets from a recent Broadway revival, courtesy of Executive Director / Producer Paul Garman.

Lowe Taylor (l) & Danny Gurwin in "Little Shop of Horrors

Although not the strongest performance vocally, Peter Paige gets the prize for being the hardest working actor in the ensemble. While Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS was Paige’s primary speaking role, the actor was virtually omnipresent. At last count, Paige took on eight roles at various times in the show, making complete costume changes at neck-breaking speeds. It was fun to listen to the audience catch on that it was “the same guy” doing all those parts. 

I really enjoyed the performance by Lowe Taylor. I found her balance of character and voice perfection to be superior to a lot of musical “character” performances that are be too broad and all character, without any significant attention to vocal ability. However, this actress delivers the goods all the way around. Portraying the perfect “dumb-blonde with a heart of gold”, Lowe Taylor’s Audrey was delicate, feminine and very true. Her performance was simply delightful. 

(l to r) Meloney Collins, Frederika Meek & Kamilah Marshall in "Little Shop of Horrors"

The trio of “Skid Row Girls” (Meloney Collins as Ronette, Kamilah Marshall as Crystal and Fredericka Meek as Chiffon) were fantastic and quite frankly the reason come see this show. Balancing the roles of Greek chorus, smart-mouth adolescents and doo-wop divas, En Vogue has got nothing of these women. The taut, three part harmonies and crisp Motown choreography delighted the audience with spicy, playful song and dance the entire evening, often snagging the spotlight from the featured players. Ladies, I hope you take this act on the road. I will be the first in line. Well done.

Little Shop of Horrors is the final production of the 56th Season of the Musical Theatre West. Performances are Thursday through Saturday, July 10 – 26, 2009 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in Long Beach.

Tickets Info: 562-856-1999 ext. 4

www.musical.org

Photo Credit: Ambrose Martin

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