BWW Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Summit City Music Theatre
Summit City Music Theatre's bold venture into a non-traditional space with their production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Connelly's Do-It-Best greenhouse was the perfect spooky-yet-fun experience for Halloweekend. I'd seen one of their productions before (last spring's YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN) so I had high expectations coming into this show, which were ultimately met.
In case you're unfamiliar with the musical: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, with music by Alan Menken and book/lyrics by Howard Ashman, tells the story of Seymour Krelborn, a meek and relatively unsuccessful man working in "Skidrow" downtown when he finds a strange and unusual plant during a total eclipse of the sun. The plant brings new life to a floundering florist's shop, but at a price- it turns out that the plant only successfully grows when it's fed human blood. Oh, and it talks.
My first note is that SCMT's show does take place in a greenhouse in October, so it will be chilly. I took one of the metal chairs up front near the stage before realizing that it was about to be a long two hours, since I hadn't brought a hat or gloves- so I ended up moving to the back section of the audience, near the donated heaters. If you can manage it, I think those last two rows closest to the heaters are the prime place to be. You can still see most of the action (and hear everything perfectly, thanks to the actors being individually microphoned), but from the toasty comfort of an illusory fireplace. That would be my seating recommendation.
Now, on to the production itself- the urchins (Debbie Lynn Moore as Chiffon, Fatima Washington as Crystal, and Melanin Soulest as Ronnette) opened the show with beautifully strong vocal harmonies. I wasn't convinced of the trio's dynamic and cohesion as a group until about halfway through the first act; but once they warmed up and began playing off of one another, they really brought a sense of life to the action of the story that upped the atmosphere of the scenes as a whole. Their narrative interventions became some of my favorite parts of the musical.
Bravo for casting Maggie Kole-Hunter as Ms. Mushnik. I've loved her in everything I've seen her in, and this was no exception. The gender-bending of the traditional "Mr. Mushnik" really worked in this case, and the playful "Mushnik and Son" song was a revelation, especially given Kole-Hunter's vocal chops. I wish more theatres in town would be willing to gender-bend, especially when there's actors that are so perfect for certain roles. Don't be afraid, Fort Wayne! Sometimes your show will even be the better for it! This one certainly was.
James Stover's version of Seymour was picture-perfect as well. His anxiety was convincing, especially as he became caught up in the moral and ethical quandaries of the second act. Audrey, played by Kat Hickey, was a ditz with a heart of gold; I was especially impressed with her performance coming off of having seen Hickey as the very different character of Alison Bechdel in last year's FUN HOME at Three Rivers Music Theatre. Her versatility as an actor is absolutely wild, in the best possible way. Audrey's sweet, trembling voice in "Somewhere That's Green" was genuinely moving.
This production didn't necessarily try to explore any radically new angles with its portrayal of Seymour and Audrey, at least as far as I could tell- but honestly? That was fine by me. Some character dynamics are traditional for a reason: because they work.
The rolling set which alternated between the inside and outside of Mushnik's flower shop, while not as elaborate or as polished as a typical Fort Wayne musical's set, served its purpose neatly as a versatile way of changing between locations. At one point, the actors had to find a way to move around the giant plant without toppling off the platform- a nice comic addition to the scene, which I really enjoyed. In fact, there were great moments of physical comedy inserted throughout the musical, especially due to the urchins' facial reactions and interactions with whoever happened to be singing a solo at the time.
Finally, Seymour's out-of-this-world plant, which he names the Audrey II, certainly stole the show. Major props to both the Audrey II's darkly charismatic vocals, voiced by Prentis Moore, as well as its puppeteers: Jackson Hickey, Caleb Cox, Aiden Sobieck, and occasionally James Stover. I was open-mouthed with delight and awe every time the plant opened its own mouth, and each new (and larger) reiteration of the plant only increased my enchantment.
Seriously, I cannot state it strongly enough: the artistry of the puppetry was incredible. I lived for the Audrey II.
The show encompasses a fun two hours, full of laughs and chills (both spooky and literal). If you can see it next weekend, I bet you'll be just as delighted as I was- whether you're new to the musical or whether you've watched the movie ten thousand times. I know that this weekend's shows were mostly sold-out, so be sure to secure your tickets in advance by clicking this link.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is directed by Reuben Albaugh, with music direction under Mindy Cox and choreography by Jeff Cox and Christopher Spalding. Catch it through November 2nd at Connolly's Do-It Best at 515 E. Dupont Road, in the greenhouse to the left of the store. See their Facebook event for more details.