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BWW Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at JCC Centerstage Theatre

BWW Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at JCC Centerstage Theatre

To end its 2021-2022 season, JCC's Centerstage Theatre is currently presenting "Little Shop of Horrors", the 1982 doo-wop campy masterpiece from the twisted minds of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and a stalwart favorite of the late 20th century musical theatre repertoire. Like most "Little Shop" productions, JCC's is big, wild, whacky, funny, and delightfully macabre.

"Little Shop of Horrors" tells the story of meek flower shop assistant Seymour (Marc Cataldi), who pines for co-worker Audrey (Megan Colombo). One day, Seymour discovers an unusual plant in the shop that he names Audrey II, which feeds only on human flesh and blood. The growing plant attracts a great deal of business for the previously struggling store, owned by crotchety Mr. Mushnik (Ralph Meranto). After Seymour feeds Audrey's boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, D.D.S (Rich Steele), to the plant after Orin's accidental death, he must come up with more bodies for the increasingly bloodthirsty plant.

Despite the zany, oddball nature of "Little Shop", it's not an easy show to pull off. Musically it blends doo-wop crooning and the intensity of hard rock, with a score that doesn't allow much downtime for the pit band. Aesthetically it toggles from gloomy skid row to cramped, overrun plant shop. And as for its performers, "Little Shop" weaves in everything from a sadistic motorcycle dentist to a soulful Motown trio to a truly masterful bit of puppetry. JCC's production clears this incredibly high bar with ample room to spare, having pulled together one of the best-cast productions I've seen in my years covering Rochester's theatre scene. Every character was tailor-made to play the part they occupy; Cataldi's lovable mega-dweeb, Colombo's leading lady, Darren Frazier's equally soulful and maniacal voice of Audrey II, and, most notably, Meranto's Mr. Mushnik.

As Centerstage's Artistic Director, Ralph is a very familiar face to JCC patrons, usually seen bobbing around the lobby before showtime and giving the pre-show announcements, but few probably know (or at least I certainly didn't) what a brilliant comedic performer he also is. His Mr. Mushnik delivers all the physical slapstick-y bits that the role demands, wrapped in a layer of Woody Allen-esque Jewish comedy. In particular, his and Cataldi's "Mushnik & Son" is the highlight in a production full of highlights. The backstory of Meranto's connection to "Little Shop" also makes this production a special theatre experience. As detailed in the playbill, Ralph played the role of Seymour in a JCC "Little Shop" production over 30 years ago, alongside longtime JCC Artistic Director Herb Katz as Mr. Mushnik, who would go on to become a friend and mentor to Ralph; Ralph later took over the Centerstage helm from Herb in 2005. Herb passed away in 2020, and this production is dedicated to his memory and legacy.

JCC Centerstage Theatre's production of "Little Shop of Horrors" is a bizzarro, delightfully good time, and the perfect capstone to their season. It's playing until May 22, for tickets and more information click here.

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From This Author - Colin Fleming-Stumpf