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Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

The show will play through Sunday, April 10th.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
(L to R) Seymour Krelborn (Anthony Nannini) notices that Dr. Orin
Scrivello, DDS (Kellen Green), is having problems
with laughing gas.

There is a new must-see production in the Coachella Valley: Desert Theatreworks' presentation of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, the rock musical mash-up of comedy, horror, and sci-fi, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. The directing, acting, singing, dancing, puppetry, and all-around technical quality make for a delightful afternoon or evening of entertainment.

I may be the first one to compare LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS to HAMLET, but they are indeed similar in one way: The body count is through the roof. The story is violent, and in spots quite dark, but the presentation is so much fun that it is easy to laugh through the gore.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
The Ronettes (L-R), Chiffon (Jessica Schuler), Crystal (Stephanie
Jauregui, and Ronny (Malcolm Stanley Wolfe)

The story involves the nebbishy Seymour Krelborn (the multi-talented Anthony Nannini), who works at Mushnik's Skid Row Florists with Audrey (the equally multi-talented Cydney Krone), with whom he is secretly in love. To make a l-o-o-o-ng story short, Seymour discovers a Venus flytrap that he doesn't yet know needs blood to thrive. Seymour names it Audrey II (voice by Keisha D, puppetry by Jeremiah Garcia). The problems start when the plant grows from a cute little sprout to a gigantic monster that growls "feed me!" Audrey II, as she grows, needs more and more protein, but steaks aren't at all what the plant has in mind.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
(L-R) Mushnik (Shel Safir), Audrey (Cydney Krone), and
Seymour (Anthony Nannini).

The cast deserves especially enthusiastic kudos for their shining execution of the difficult score. Several of the songs are contrapuntal duets and trios where each singer must hold his or her own melody against one or more singers performing other melodies simultaneously - an especially difficult task where the music consists of prerecorded tracks and there is no pianist or conductor to help cover a mistake. Yet, this cast flawlessly pulls off the challenging music.

The Greek chorus that serves as the musical's narrator - the "Ronettes" - in this production consists of two women and a man, instead of the expected three women. Malcolm Stanley Wolfe plays Ronny in a deliciously over-the-top manner. His two more serious sidekicks, Chiffon (Jessica Schuler) and Crystal (Stephanie Jauregui), like Mr. Wolfe, are excellent dancers and singers. I very much enjoyed the vocal contrast among the cast's women; Ms. Jauregui and Ms. Krone each have a top-notch belt, while Ms. Schuler and jazz singer Keisha D have more traditional alto voices. Like the males, all four women have strong vocal talents.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Seymour holds small Audrey II, while the Ronettes describe an eclipse.

The three featured male performers get to perform most of the comedy - especially the physical comedy. Mr. Nannini, an experienced and talented dancer with a mellifluous voice, is well-known to Coachella Valley audiences, for good reason. His acting range is excellent; I last saw him in a serious, non-musical role, and here, his music, dancing, and comedy are superb. His duet with Ms. Krone, "Suddenly Seymour," is touching and sweet.

Director Richard Marlow lets Shel Safir loose to portray the shady Mr. Mushnik as an evil-minded Tevye, spouting off in Yiddish (one of the production's innovations) and, while not quite arguing with God as Tevye does, at least complaining about the "boychik" (Seymour) he reluctantly took in as a child. His old-world duet with Mr. Nannini in "Mushnik and Son" is superb. As a lover of Yiddishkeit, I adored Mr. Safir's performance.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Dr. Oren Scrivello, DDS, tortures Adriana Reyes.

The final singing and dancing cast member is Kellen Green, who plays Orin, Audrey's odious boyfriend, as well as assorted minor characters. Orin is addicted to nitrous oxide and BDSM, and has apparently never heard the term "safe, sane, and consensual." Audrey keeps turning up with injuries, and the Ronettes, Seymour, and even Mr. Mushnik urge her to leave her violent lover. One wouldn't think that a repellent male chauvinist like Orin could garner laughs during the age of #MeToo, but director Marlow and Mr. Green do just that, by setting Orin up as a dark parody of Elvis Presley, complete with an outrageous pompadour wig and suggestive waist wiggles.

Last, but definitely not least, Jeremiah Garcia (who also plays the wino in the early scenes) is the puppeteer who operates the large, growly Audrey II. He does a fine job despite having first learned puppetry for this show. He makes it easy to suspend disbelief and embrace the narrative that Audrey II is a nasty predator bent on murder and world domination.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Audrey II is growing, thanks to a protein-rich diet.

In addition to the performances, the technical aspects of the production are outstanding. Toby Griffin's modular set design is clever. Rebecca McWilliams' costume design, especially for the human Audrey, is just the right touch of suggestive and innocent. (Ms. McWilliams is also the production manager). And Ronny's costume (he's the male Ronette) is a hoot. Jeff Mazer's lighting, sound, and projection design are fabulous. And I definitely want to pay homage to the goofy wigs and hairstyles (designed by Steven Richardson) and to the multi-talented Tess Phillips' makeup. (Is there anything that Tess can't do?)

Stage Manager Adriana Reyes plays an unfortunate patient of Orin's. The rest of the crew consists of Lance Phillips (artistic director), Ron Phillips (CEO and producer), Adriana Reyes (stage manager and props), Douglas Wilson (musical director), Violet Feath (choreographer), Stephanie Jauregui (dance captain), Maddox Phillips (sound operator), and Tess Phillips and Lola Reed (follow spot and backstage crew). Each of them also has done a fantastic job with this show - in fact, there is not a weak link in the entire production.

Review: Desert Theatreworks Has Mounted A Must-See Production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Audrey II bares her teeth.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS deserves to sell out, so buy tickets early to make sure that you can get in. The show, which is a hard PG-13, will run through Sunday, April 10th, with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. All performances take place at the Indio Performing Arts Center, 45175 Fargo Street, Indio, CA 92201. Check the ticket purchase information at www.dtworks.org for specific prices or call (760)980-1455.

Proof of COVID-19 vaccination, either physical or electronic, may be required to attend DTW shows during the 2021/2022 Season.

The last of offering of the season is GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER, Movie Adaptation (April 22-May 8, 2022). In 1967, Joanna returns home to San Francisco with the exciting news that she is engaged to a doctor. The only problem is that both sets of future in-laws oppose the marriage because she is White and he is Black.

PHOTO CREDIT: Paul Hayashi



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