BWW Reviews: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Olney Theatre Center is a Real Gas
Who'd have thunk it? (Thanks to Mary McCarthy's best-selling novel "The Group"). I'm sitting down to write a review of the Olney Theatre Center production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and wouldn't you know, Broadwayworld.com names the Olney Theatre Center the "Featured Regional Theater of the Week"! Here's the link: Regional Theatre of the Week. Coincidence? I'll never tell.
I have always enjoyed going to see productions in Olney ever since my first experience there in May of 1989 (in what seemed like a converted barn) when I saw the Ahrens and Flaherty musical LUCKY STIFF which starred Evan Pappas. The show went on to win the Helen Hayes Award for Best Musical and Pappas won for Best Actor in a Musical.
Well, look for more Helen Hayes nominations out of their current production of the musical farce LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS which is likely to get well-deserved standing ovations after each performance. Composed by Alan Menken with book and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, LITTLE SHOP is based on the low-budget 1960 black comedy film directed by Roger Corman. In May of 1982, it opened at the small Off-Broadway WPA Theatre before it moved on to the Orpheum.
In 1986, the musical became a hit film with Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. In 2003, the musical hit Broadway with Hunter Foster, Kerry Butler, Rob Bartlett, and Douglas Sills. I was fortunate to see that production and it was terrific.
So, I was looking forward to see how Olney's production would handle a story that takes place on Skid Row in New York City, circa 1960, when Seymour, who works for a florist named Mushnik, is secretly in love with his blonde co-worker, Audrey. Seymour brings to the store a "new and exciting plant" which came to earth from outer-space after a total eclipse of the sun. Seymour names the new plant "Audrey II". He finds out the plant thrives on a diet of human blood and soon thereafter, the plant desires more than just a few drops of blood and people start to die. Oh, and Audrey has a boyfriend, a semi-sadist dentist named Orin, who hits on Audrey literally and figuratively and drives a motorcycle.
Director Mark Waldrop has assembled a magnificent cast and a terrific supporting staff. Special mention to James Fouchard for the great Set Design which includes steps to the subway and steps to the elevated trains, superb lighting by Charlie Morrison, great sound by Jeffrey Dorfman (one can hear every lyric), great costumes by David Kaley, clever choreography by Vince Pesce and of course, the incredible Puppeteers, Eric Brooks and Elliott Davis. The puppets were provided by Monkey Boys Productions and they are delightful.
Musical Director/Conductor Ross Scott Rawlings brings the music to life with his superb pit of musicians: Rawlings on Keyboard I, Aaron Broderick on Keyboard II, Will Brumback and Greg Land on Guitar, Frank Higgins on Bass, and Tom Harold on drums (I wish the drums were miked just a bit more though).
Kudos to the superb cast. James Gardiner nails the role of Seymour, Carolyn Agan plays Audrey the way it should be played. She really milks her wonderful solo "Somewhere That's Green". Bobby Smith excels in multiple roles (look for him to come through the sewer cover in "Skid Row") but it's his Orin the dentist, who loves to use nitrous oxide, that hopefully lands him a Helen Hayes Award. The "semi-sadist" dentist is about to work on a patient and starts to hum. What is he humming? Would you believe the lovely hum from the beginning of SWEENEY TODD's epic number "Pretty Women". You can hear the Sondheim fans in the audiences laughing. I heard this was Smith's idea and it is brilliant. A nice homage to SWEENEY which also deals with a similar subject. Remember the meat pies?
Then there is the Greek chorus of street urchins (who will remind you of do-wop singers) made up of Kara-Tameika Watkins, Shaute Tabb, and Leayne C. Freeman. Wait to you hear their rendition of "The Meek Shall Inherit". They are all wonderful.
I am not used to having an opera singer in the role of florist Mushnik. Ethan Watermeier has a powerful voice but it may be too powerful for this role. He does do a mean Tevye-style dance though in "Mushnik and Sons". He also uses Yiddish with aplomb like mishegas (craziness), boychick (affection for a young boy) and mensch (a person of integrity and honor).
The musical needs a great voice for the role of Audrey II and Stephawn Stephens fills the bill.
So bring the kids. What? A musical with a human-eating plant, that deals with a battered woman, that maybe has a few words you can't say on network television and you say bring the kids? Yes, yes, an emphatic yes. They may not understand and appreciate the references to Donna Reed, Jack Paar, James Dean, "Howdy Doody", "Father Knows Best", dinner at Howard Johnson's, and watching tv on their "big 12 inch screen". You can explain it them.
I observed many children in the audience and they all loved it. Nine year old Eb Eisler who attends Baltimore International Academy loved the singing plant. He also commented that Mushnik didn't deserve to die at the end.
I also spoke with Ben (10) and Bruno (7) from LA. Ben said that "the man-eating plant gets your attention." He also loved the dentist. "He was very funny". Bruno's favorite character was Audrey II. He loved the way he said "Feed me!".
The show is only two hours with an intermission so I guarantee no one will be bored.
At the theater gift shop, you can buy the CD for $15, the DVD for $25 and "Feed Me Seymour" stacking mugs for $15.
There's a nice article by Sarah Waller in the Washington Post's Sunday, July 29, 2012, p. E5 entitled "Making a puppet earn its ovation.
LITTLE SHOP ends its run August 26. There's a talkback after the Wednesday evening performance on August 15. Olney is only 30 minutes from DC, 15 minutes from Columbia/Rockville, and 40 minutes from Baltimore. Tickets range from $26-$54. Call 301-924-3400 or visit www.olneytheatre.org.
Coming next to Olney is OVER THE TAVERN, are area premiere September 26 to October 21 and then comes the musical CINDERELLA November 14 to January 1, 2013.
For a lovely dinner, try "Mannequin Pis", 18064 Georgia Avenue in Olney. Phone 301-570-4800 or visit www.mannequinpis.com. Maybe this will get them to advertise in the Olney program.
For comments, write to cgshubow@broadwayworld
LITTLE SHOP EXTENDS TO SEPTEMBER 9 2012
Due to popular demand, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS has been extended to September 9, a two-week extension. So glay Olney Theatre has been able to do this. Act fast.