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Review Roundup: Encores! LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Jake Gyllenhaal, Ellen Greene, Taran Killam, Eddie Cooper, Joe Grifasi, Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks and Ramona Keller star in the Encores! Off-Center concert production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors, running for three performances, July 1-2, 2015 at New York City Center.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a sci-fi musical about Seymour Krelborn (Jake Gyllenhaal), a hapless florist shop worker who pursues a doomed romance with his ditzy, lovable co-worker Audrey (Ellen Greene) by acquiring an R&B-singing plant (Eddie Cooper) that feeds on human blood. The production also stars Taran Killamas Audrey's sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello and Joe Grifasi as Mushnik, the owner of the florist shop. An R&B girl group, The Urchins, provides commentary on the action and features Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks and Ramona Keller.

Let's see what the critics had to to say...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: ...in a heartfelt performance that brought to mind a virtuosic jazz artist riffing out the essence of a signature melody, Ms. Greene demonstrated that she still unconditionally holds the patent on Audrey. City Center's roof, in other words, never stayed put for very long...That heady sense of a once-in-a-lifetime occasion wasn't entirely Ms. Greene's doing...this production confirmed that Jake Gyllenhaal, as Ms. Greene's nebbishy love interest, is one of the few American movie stars who was also clearly meant to be a stage star. (Can we keep him?) But it wasn't just stars who made this "Little Shop" twinkle so ticklingly. A confluence of alchemical elements was at work, converging in ways that made a perfectly charming but small musical feel like a major event...This production had the fizzy spontaneity of one of those unexpected New York dinner parties, where an oddball guest list and a make-do menu create magic that a glamorous catered affair could never hope to achieve.

Gordon Cox, Variety: Jake Gyllenhaal may be the Hollywood star of the Encores! staged concert reading of "Little Shop of Horrors," but he's not taking the last bow. He's giving that to Ellen Greene...At the July 2 matinee, as the standing-ovation audience cheered her, she looked genuinely overcome with emotion...At very least, Broadway will be scrambling to find a musical for Gyllenhaal to star in....With "Little Shop" he's shown he can carry a musical, too...The event, rehearsed and performed in a very short window of time, had an agreeably loose, informal vibe, with scripts in hand and little in the way of sets or choreography. That was part of the fun for audiences and, it seemed, for the actors...Greene, returning to the New York stage for the first time in years, was the audience favorite, killing it on "Somewhere That's Green"...and on "Suddenly, Seymour," her duet with Gyllenhaal.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: She and Gyllenhaal didn't have great chemistry, though, and this had nothing to do with their 30-year age difference - which, refreshingly, is the exact opposite of the one in Hollywood romances. Rather they had completely different acting styles, as evidenced on their duet "Suddenly, Seymour": He sang with contained, affecting emotion while she shamelessly milked the number, dropping to her knees and grabbing fistfuls of air. Yet there was such joy in the air during the show that it's hard to quibble. Special kudos go to Taran Killam, of "SNL," who slayed in several supporting roles - including the key one of Audrey's boyfriend, a sadistic dentist who gets high on nitrous oxide. Killam was fantastically at ease in his stage debut, and proved he can really sing, too. Broadway awaits this guy.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: So here was Greene all these years later, scarily sleek and bewigged; it could have been Carol Channing up there, except for that voice, seemingly unchanged after three decades: a bated-breath birdsong of chirps and moans that tugs at the heart and then tugs some more, ever threatening to cross the line into camp but triumphing on sheer musicality. As her foils for this staging by Dick Scanlan, Greene was quite wonderfully served by Jake Gyllenhaal as Seymour and SNL's Taran Killam as the wicked dentist (among several roles he took on with equal relish). Gyllenhaal's zhlubby, bespectacled Seymour adds yet another accomplished, unexpected character to the range of stage roles the movie star has taken on; his singing showed both delicacy and, in Seymour's rousing duet with Greene, "Suddenly Seymour," considerable power. Flower power, I guess.

David Finkle, Huffington Post: Because the Encores! series, winter season as well as summer, technically remains a concert reading, some cast members--Gyllenhaal chief among them--are on book, but that hardly matters as Audrey II's mounting dominance over Seymour, Audrey and the others barrels on. Only picky spectators would be bothered by what flaws there are in as a flawless recreation of one of the musical annal's most delightful entries as you'd wish for. Its unlikely that the welcome production, directed with care by Dick Scanlan, will be moved, like, say, Violet, was in a past City Center's summer season. Were it to be, that many more audiences would be enraptured and roused to one of the few truly deserving standing ovations instantly accorded it. By the way, the finale is framed as a tribute to Ashman, and that, too, is unquestionably deserved.

Matt Windman, amNY: Given the the limited production values as well as the considerable age gap between Gyllenhaal and Greene, this "Little Shop" is less a cohesive production than a jubilant fan-fest that still manages to tender at the right moments....Gyllenhaal, it turns out, has a pretty pleasant singing voice. He avoids the camp that so often infects other productions of "Little Shop" and gives a quiet, touching performance as the "sweet, understanding" Seymour. Since he appears with a heavy beard and glasses, he seems to be asking us to forget his celebrity status and focus in on the character...Greene, who walks the line of being ridiculous but sincere as Audrey, gives brilliantly funny line readings in addition her inimitable rendition of "Somewhere That's Green."


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