BWW Review: Broadway Mingles with Buffalo in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at STARRING BUFFALO
The most famous of man eating plants made a Halloween weekend appearance as LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS played out on the Shea's 710 Theatre stage Friday night. Under the auspices of the fledgling STARRING BUFFALO company, Buffalo was treated to it's second fully realized staged musical reading. Director Drew Fornarola has assembled three of Broadway's best young talents to visit the Queen City, work along side some of Buffalo's own finest actors, and mentor and perform with three of the areas High School choirs. After their fine inaugural production of THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME last year at Rockwell Hall, the change of venue seemed to work perfectly.
With scripts in hand, minimal costuming and props, the company presented Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's goofy and endearing 1982 hit musical with a mostly splendid cast and a minimum of rehearsal time. The result was a grin inducing evening of great singing and theatrical absurdity. The action takes place on Skid Row, full of bums, doo-wopping street singers, cartoon character plant shop workers, a sadistic dentist ,and a man eating plant! Mushnik's floral shop is dying when clerk Seymour Krelborn accidentally stumbles on a venus fly trap type of plant that may invigorate interest in the store. His ditzy co-work Audrey supports him in every way, despite being in an abusive relationship with motorcycle riding hood of a dentist. The plant grows and comes to life only when fed drops of blood, but soon requires more and more. The shop's notoriety builds, but where will all of the blood come from? The macabre story is strictly played for laughs- as can be expected when the plant itself talks,begs and coerces Seymour in every way possible.
Matt Doyle, soon to be seen on Broadway in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's COMPANY, is Seymour. Small in stature and bespectacled, Seymour epitomizes a nerd. Doyle starts off aptly awkward, clinging to his cardigan and self conscious. Even with script in hand, Doyle fully fleshes out Seymour with his strong voice, easily reaching the high notes, and endearing the audience to root for him.
Lindsay Nicole Chambers is Audrey, and the role fit her like a tacky leopard skin dress. The part will forever be associated with it's originator Ellen Greene, lispy and ditzy beyond compare. Chambers is a true pro, placing her own stamp on Audrey, with nods to Greene, but also finding an inner soul to this larger than life character. Ms. Chambers has a voice that sucks you in from the outset, full of desperation and hope for the future-- highlighted in her showstopper "Somewhere That's Green." And when she and Doyle finally fall in love, they pull the stops out in "Suddenly Seymour"-- the audience was captivated.
Too much can't be said for the brilliant Brandon Espinoza, recently on Broadway in SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. Although he is cast as the dentist Orin Scrivello, he takes on multiple smaller roles throughout the evening. But he near steals the show as he sings the wicked song "Be A Dentist." Espinoza is wildly entertaining to watch as master of physical comedy and multiple voices. He is as limber as he is funny, repeatedly taking hits of nitrous oxide until it leads to his eventual death. In the second act he plays multiple would be investors in the now infamous plant. He changes voices and and literally wears many hats, prancing and tripping about with each new role.
The local cast includes the hysterical and strong voiced Dudney Joseph Jr as The Plant. His imposing stature and comic timing were spot on. Dan Morris plays the shop owner Mr. Mushnik. Unfortunately on opening night he suffered from repeated pitch problems and a lack of timing that was palpable.
The trio of 3 doo wop girls, all made up from local talent, blended well and offered some street smarts and smart alleck retorts. Cecilia Monica-Lyn is Crystal, Dominique Kempf is Ronette and Alexandra McArthur is Chiffon. This girl trio smoothly strutted and swayed providing a strong back up to much of the action, reminiscent of The Chantels or The Shirelles. On opening night The Newfane Senior High School Festival Chorus blended seamlessly as vocal reinforcements in the larger numbers, culminating in the finale "Don't Feed the Plant." The chorus spilled out into the audience, as to envelope everyone in the deadly plant's clutches.
Mr. Fornarola has done a fine job in assembling the masses, providing simple staging that engages the audience, without being overly fussy. His concept of how to bring the plant to life was ingenious and effective. Usually an enormous machine of a puppet takes the stage, but he uses simple costuming pieces and Mr. Dudney's larger than life persona, along with some backup dancers (Melanie Kaisen and Katie Tomney) to flesh out the plant's reach.
Music Director Alison D'Amato led a well polished band and kept the vocals tight and polished- no small task when dealing with a short rehearsal time and multiple chorus' rotating in. For the two other performances, the Fredonia High School Chamber Choir and Lockport High School Concert Choir took to the stage.
The packed theatre bodes well for STARRING BUFFALO's future. Their next venture in the spring will be the hit musical EVITA, which should lend itself beautifully to a staged reading production. For more information, contact starringbuffalo.org