BWW Reviews: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Limited Engagement Now Thru March 24
Little Shop of Horrors, the deliciously dark comedy/horror-rock musical -- beloved by high school and community theatre companies across the country -- spreads its gripping green vines now through March 24 in the East Bay at Holy Names University's Regents' Theatre. With a book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken (The team who wrote Disney's Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin) this story of a skid row florist who raises a curious and never-before-seen plant first came to life in 1982. Hodges and Hodges was there to review the show in this beautiful theatre.
Linda: The first thing I want to say about this production is that the caliber of acting and singing on that stage was incredible. Stu Klitsner is florist shop owner Mr. Mushnik and he was an absolute gem. What a great character actor. The slightly ditzy but loveable and blonde Audrey is given depth and breadth by actress Ashley Cowl, while John Tichenor is adorable as the hapless Seymour who has been working for Mushnik ever since he was a kid. He's the one who finds the strange and exotic plant that he dubs Audrey II in honor of his crush Audrey I, so to speak.
Business is flagging and Audrey suggests putting Audrey II in the window to attract more business. It works like a charm and soon three of them are putting all their hopes on the exotic plant. There's just one little problem - Audrey II thrives on human blood.
Nick: Director Joel Schlader has given us a beautiful blossoming plant of a show but unfortunately there were some wilting petals on it, which I'll get to later. I agree that the performers were great. I loved the actresses who functioned as a Greek Chorus. Gloria Gistand (Ronnette), Estelle Fernandez (Crystal) and Megan Sandoval (Chiffon) had some real singing chops though their dancing (choreography by Linda Dorsey) wasn't as crisp as it could have been. But regardless, they had some real sass and added a lot to the production.
Linda: They were a wonderful trio and brought a lot of humor to the show. They seemed to be slightly off-key at first, but I think it's because they didn't have a proper monitor. Sound was an issue throughout.
Nick: Yes. John Tichenor was a wonderful Seymour, but the microphone just wasn't loud enough. Ashley Cowl as Audrey was also a standout. She blended that nasally sounding voice into a beautifully nuanced performance and I got a tear in my eye during "Somewhere That's Green."
Linda: Cowl was fantastic on that number. Jon Gourdine's lighting design was superb, especially on "Somewhere That's Green." When the spot narrowed down to just her face at the end, it brought the house down.
Nick: LaMont Ridgell was superb as the voice of Audrey II. His big voice, along with Tandem Metz's great puppetry, made Audrey II a sight to see and hear. But I think my favorite of all was Noel Anthony as the evil dentist Orin Scrivello.
Linda: He was perfectly evil. What did Audrey see in him? Clearly she didn't think she was deserving of better, which is why she doesn't think she has a chance with Seymour.
Nick: Scrivello was a sadistic creep but funnier than anything. I guess that's why it's called a dark comedy. I just wish that the sound didn't cut out during one of his best numbers "Now It's Just The Gas."
Linda: Agreed. He also played some hilarious side characters, all in quick succession, which meant some quick costume changes. He was a delight. I also want to say that Celeste Steward's costumes were sublime. Her more than 20 years of experience clearly showed in her choice of outfits for the entire cast.
Nick: What's difficult to have to say is the for all that talent, the production was marred by the sound and the set and, to some degree, the direction. The whole show needed to be turned up several notches.
Linda: It was also a problem to have the band stage left and to the back. They needed to find a way to be center-back if at all possible.
Nick: And there were several problems with the set (Gary Barten) and this proved to be a distraction. While the design looked good in their model out in the lobby, the actual set had many mistakes. Supports for walls and doors jutted out onto the stage when they are supposed to be behind it. They had real glass for a cabinet, but not for the window that spelled out the name "Mushnik." We saw the letters from the inside of the shop so the name "Mushnik" was backwards, but the panel was solid wood, which made no sense at all.
Linda: Another problem was the yellow checkers on the floor of the florist shop. Barten extended them out to make the shop bigger but when the set was changed out, or the curtains were closed, you could still see the yellow checkers.
Nick: Often times it looked like they were walking through the imaginary wall instead of using the door. That had to be the director's call.
Linda: Yet somehow the show works -it has a lot of heart.
Nick: If you're a big fan of this show then I would say to still go and see it. The cast was great and Audrey II is always fun to see.
Little Shop of Horrors
Now through March 24
Valley Center for the Performing Arts/HNU
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Joel Schlader
Photo courtesy of Stephen Woo