BWW Reviews: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Broadway Rose, a Well-Casted, 1950s B-Movie Romp
We’re back with Broadway Rose again. There’s just something about this company that keeps you coming back, a mix of community and professional standard. Not going to gush, I just like going to their plays. In a week or so we’ll be revisiting THE BLACK LIZARD and Jerry Mouawad’s new cast and production, but this week…this week Broadway Rose. This week: THE Little Shop OF HORRORS.
As you take your seat in Broadway Rose’s theater house, prepare to be greeted with a set that’s modeled after a cartoon. Maybe a comic book. Realism isn’t in abundance is what I’m saying and that’s okay because 1) it’s THE Little Shop OF HORRORS and it’s a play about a talking alien plant that eats people, and 2) the 1950s were wholeheartedly one of the craziest decades. Not good crazy either. Absurd amounts of nationalism cultivated by an absurd amount of paranoia, conformity so strong that today people aren’t even sure ‘falling in line’ was around before the 50s, desperate fear of nuclear threat, desperate fear of counterculture, a huge spike in Christian zealotry. How do you contextualize that? How do you even begin? “Jesus, just…just make it a cartoon. Please let’s never take this decade seriously again.”
Okay, okay, that’s a bit much. This play is styled as a farce and it’s aimed at a genre not a generation. The 1950s B-movie. Films like Them!, Invasion of the Body-Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still, etc. that are informed by 1950s anxieties concerning nuclear power, McCarthyism, and the Communist ‘sleeper’ threat. The texts themselves have become iconic for their giant radioactive monsters, and transforming what was once ‘Earth normal’ into an ‘alien threat’. They were known as ‘B-movies’ due to relatively low budgets, which were nearly always spent on the special effects department, much to the despair of the writing and acting.
Oh – and rock ‘n roll! For those of you who saw MEMPHIS when it was in town, you’ll know that the 1950s was when rhythm and blues took hold in the mainstream.
But let’s not spoil the plot for those who haven’t seen it, let’s just talk performance. Director Abe Reybold has done well in a number of ways, first and foremost in assembling an eclectic cast of talent. Some are familiar faces with Broadway Rose and some are new, all are great singers. Second, Reybold has absolutely coaxed the right mood from this production. It’s a farce, it’s silly, it’s fantasy, and it’s more-or-less just for a bit of fun and that’s what comes across. Just as the cartoon buildings in the backdrop rise up, surround, and enclose ‘Downtown’, THE Little Shop OF HORROS is it’s own self-contained bit of theater, a story for pure enjoyment.
The main talk of the casting is Bobby Ryan as protagonist Seymour, a newcomer without much vocal training. Don’t take that as a bad spin, because for the character of Seymour it’s a completely appropriate quality. Ryan has a strong voice when he needs to but if Seymour’s songs were crisp, sharp, and refined around The Edges it just wouldn’t be right.
Teaming up with Bobby Ryan is Rebecca Teran as Audrey, and Darren Hurley as Mr. Mushnik. Teran is certainly the vocal powerhouse of the cast, doing a startlingly beautiful rendition of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ (I didn’t think I could take that song seriously after that episode of Family Guy but I am proven very wrong). In fact, the only thing more impressive than Teran’s vocal talent is that someone convinced her the shirt she’s wearing is a dress. That’s Audrey though. And Teran got the perfect amount of comedy from it, which makes her braver and better than all of us.
Darren Hurley as Mr. Mushnik deserves props for the acting bump he brings to this production. He’s obviously a very good singer, but he was also the one who got all the really campy Jewish jokes and still pulled them off so well. Mushnik is meant to be a slightly disingenuous father figure to Seymour, but having Hurley’s chops on the stage turned his presence into a very genuine patronage of the younger cast.
Other highlights include Brian Demar Jones in some character-swapping wizardry and absolutely killing it as my personal favorite character of Orin; the chorus of Chiffon, Ronette, and Crystal featuring some great vocals for such a young group of girls; the double team of puppeteer Jeremy Garfinkel and vocalist Jerrod Neal; and of course the band, with Chris Hubbard distracting me with beautiful keyboard playing.
There were some minor faults I feel I should pick at, being the negative person that I so often am. Microphone mishaps do happen, and there weren’t any really bad slipups, just some occasional feedback or bumping that began to worry the audience a little. I mention this because within the parameters of this one show a microphone issue is distracting and makes the viewer more aware of the ‘theater’ of the play, at least more-so than this production is aiming for. Within a broader context, though, this isn’t the first time I’ve been to a Broadway Rose play in which there were some minor microphone slips. And since details are everything to a professional company, either the actors will need to be more careful or something will have to change. Or just live with it.
The other illusion-breaking moment that I’ll quickly touch on is in the presentation of Audrey II. Puppets are the only practical way to do this, I feel, if you’re trying to stay true to the original texts at all, but a savvy audience will be able to see the strings being pulled (or the arm in the plant) if you’re not careful. This, unlike the microphones, is not always something avoidable and is more an inevitability based on the choice to use puppets. It is what it is, but it’s still worth mentioning.
THE Little Shop OF HORRORS is a fun and talent-fueled romp through the cartoon that is the 1950s and the 1950s B-movie. It’s pure entertainment and worth the price of admission, so go have a blast! And remember…Don’t feed the plants!
THE Little Shop OF HORRORS plays through October 14th. For ticket information, click the link below:
Photo Credit to Craig Mitchelldyer