BWW Reviews: MNM's LITTLE SHOP a Star-Studded Suppertime
Nostalgia-laced harmonies and B-movie horror are out in abundance once more within the south Florida theatre scene. MNM Productions continues their residency at the Kravis Center with Alan Menken's timeless Little Shop of Horrors, a production that seems ripe with ability. Director Bruce Lisner pulls together a star-studded cast of performers, each bringing their own personal blends onto the classic expectations. Despite some technical stumbles, MNM's Little Shop is a toe-tapping, smile-inducing injection for theatre-goers of any age.
Before Menken held the torch of Disney's renaissance, he penned Little Shop, the Off-Broadway cult classic. Following Seymour Krelborn as he navigates a story of love, tongue-in-cheek horror, and over the top humor, Little Shop of Horrors is a staple of American musical theatre that still manages to dazzle regulars and new faces alike. Lisner's love of the source is apparent, with constant throw-backs to the film amongst his original touches.
In these original ideas, Lisner certainly has a clever touch - brief moments between the Urchins, character tweaks with Scrivello, and more, all bring fresh air into the old florist shop. His leading players all dazzle with their rocking vocal dexterity, their hilarious chemistry and timing, and each scene feels naturalistic despite the melodrama.
Returning to the flower shop is Mike Westrich, who first played Seymour a few years past in Boca. Westrich has grown leagues, breathing a personal air and comfort into his shoes that translates into one of the more polished performances MNM has seen. His vocals are still searing in 'Feed Me', his harmony in 'Suddenly, Seymour' still divine, and the meek certainly inherits with a firm fist as he shows the growth he's made since the first cuttings.
Mallory Newbrough, last seen in Miami's An Octoroon, shows equal love to Menken's work, as the lovable ditz Audrey. Newbrough is an actress who loves to research, a trait that shows through - her performance gives love to classic Audrey's, from Ellen Greene to Alice Ripley, but never relying on them. Her accent is true; her character, moreso - anytime Newbrough steps onto the stage, laughter is as guaranteed as the show can.
With almost half the stage time as either lead, but ten times the energy and potential to snap, Jim Ballard's cast of zany characters threatens to become its own show. His Orin, the closest the show has to an antagonist for the first act, refuses to adapt to what audiences walk in hoping to see - there's no Steve Martin in Ballard. Nor is there any similarity between his endless array of other characters, delivering memorable scenes and songs in a parade of his own talent.
The plant, that cruel and devouring plant Audrey II, is brought to life by an Audrey II Manipulator who knows how to move a plant, and a voice that knows how to make a face-less plant seem full of emotion. Michael Wallace sits in the plant, swinging the vines and lips along with Robert Richards Jr.'s lines and songs, a duo that elevates what can be expected of the next Little Shop to open in the area. Despite the lack of significant plant growth or extension into the final size, Wallace managed to make it feel ten times bigger, and his final escape in 'Don't Feed the Plants' made up for quite a bit.
The Urchins (Chiffon by Nayomi Braaf, Crystal by Shenise Nunez, and Ronnette courtesy of Gabrielle Graham), one by one, give the show it's Motown touch and the unbelievable riff-ing any Little Shop fan expects. Graham is a knock-out as she starts 'Skid Row', Nunez 'Don't It Go to Show' is a delight, and Braaf is undeniable in the opening number.
A common theme arises - MNM's Little Shop is strong in vocals, across the board. However, while the performers certainly exceed each role, the musical direction seems to have made quite the stumble; the harmonies fail to blend in each of the key moments. From the opening of the show through it's close, when more than one voice is to blend, the balance is lost - this may be faulted on sound, which spent a majority of the first act sounding canned and tinny, but nonetheless, a Little Shop without harmonies hardly seems Little Shop at all.
Which is not to say the technical team falls through - the lighting design Jayson Tomasheski brings to the space is breath-taking, adding the much needed layers for the cast to over-perform in. The tension placed in the shop during 'Feed Me', his 'Suppertime', all allow the performers to show the satire - it's wonderful to see lighting done seriously instead of trying to mimic the humor. The lighting works especially well over Tim Bennett's scenic design, a tiered stage with smart instances scattered throughout. The shop is, for once, a moving piece that spins, allowing the "renovations" to happen behind closed doors, while still leaving raised windows above to give the constant city feel. And special mention to the costuming of Linda Shorrock and Leslye Menshouse, who bring the crisp, exact vision to life.
While there are caveats to MNM's Little Shop, there are none that prevent this critic's full recommendation. Westrich's return to Skid Row paired with the unbelievable Newbrough and Ballard, the talents of each Urchin, and Linser's wise direction all combine to make a production that does, indeed, leave you feeling well fed.
Little Shop of Horrors plays at the Kravis Center's Rinker Playhouse from December 1st-17th. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door.