BWW Reviews: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Carrollwood Players

By: Sep. 09, 2014
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"That was fabulous. I never for the life of me thought I would like anything with the title LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, but I thought it was so good!" --A little old lady to a friend, overheard by me Sunday afternoon

No one utilizes a performing space better than set designer James Cass. I thought this as I watched the Carrollwood Players' winning production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. His sets always amaze, using every inch of space available, and this latest set is arguably his best. That says a lot, because Cass' work is always top notch; this one of an old-style skid row flower shop is just perfect, right down to the calendars on the wall. Add a giant singing plant puppet to the mix (you have to see it to believe it), and you have a glorious hit!

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, that Howard Ashman/Alan Menken quirky ode to Grade-Z monster movies as well as life in the early 1960's, is one of my favorite shows, an Off-Broadway cult hit that is now more mainstream than the Broadway shows that came out the same year in the early 1980's (such as Nine). I knew I would be in for a treat even before the show began when pre-recorded New York City traffic sounds played and I flipped through the program and saw a song list is included. Because so many theatres of late have left this all-important ingredient out of the show programs, I'm happy to report that the Carrollwood Players have included one.

Then the show began, and I felt that the three Greek Chorus Girl Group urchins--Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (Lisa Stanforth, Kay Brown and Brittany Lajoyce)--started things off with a bang. They sing quite well (to the pre-recorded musical tracks), with gorgeous harmonies. We all know the plot that follows: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is your typical alien plant takes over a skid row florist story. And then the show seldom stops for a breath. Kudos to director Matt Bravo for his strong staging and wonderful pacing. It's two of the fastest hours you will spend at a theatre.

The acting and singing range from acceptable to outstanding. In fact, three of the performances are absolute homeruns: Oliver Sprague as Seymour, Miguel E. Rodriguez as Orin Scrivello, DDS and Kelly Clow as Audrey II (as well as a host of other characters).

Sprague's Seymour, looking a lot like Marshall Crenshaw as Buddy Holly, is quite brilliant. He plays the nerdy nebbish to perfection and his singing voice is out of this world. When he's onstage, the audience is his. Songs like "Grow for Me" and "Suddenly Seymour" never sounded so good.

Rodriguez is demonically delightful as the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello DDS. He's having way too much fun with the part, and so is the audience. "Be a Dentist" is a show-stopper in any quality production of LSOH, and it certainly is here in Rodriguez's more than capable hands.

Clow makes a chillingly uproarious Audrey II. He out-Stubbs Levi Stubbs, and just about steals the show (as he should). The puppet is a thing of beauty. At first, I thought it looked like a giant box-spring with lips, but when it lowers its head and sings its first lines, I smiled with such joy. And the bigger it got, the better it looked. The lady a few rows in front of me kept shaking her head in awe whenever the plant moved. The show is worth the price of admission for the giant puppet alone; but there's so much more to offer in this production. (Special shout outs need to go to the plant manipulators, Kym Welch and Laura Dietz, and Imagination Works for the creation of it.)

Clow also appears in Act 2 as various patrons trying to exploit Seymour and his plant, all of them showcasing a major talent. He has to change clothes in the blink of an eye, and he's just sensational (the audience even forgives him if he literally goes off-track to the music; he's so good, who cares?) And yes, he even plays a female, Ms. Luce, and let it be said here: he makes one hideously hilarious woman (though I thought he could be a little more flirty with Seymour in the scene).

Thomas Pahl is an energetic Mushnik, the flower shop owner, though he occasionally stumbled over some of his lines. And Erica Heiden looks the part of Audrey and sounds wonderful in my favorite song of the show, "Somewhere That's Green."

I love the attention to detail in the production, right down to the "Famous Monsters of Filmland" magazines read by Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon. The show's energy is so good that you forgive any minor problems: Gunshot sound effects need to be added when Seymour is firing his gun at Audrey II, and a slap between the deranged dentist and Audrey was way too fake and sloppy and needs to be re-staged in order for the audience to get the maximum impact. But these are minor nit-picks in a show that is so much fun, so full of energy and so well-done that it should not be missed.

Attendance was surprisingly light the Sunday matinee that I attended, but that should change once positive word of mouth spreads. Carrollwood Players is one of the finest community theatres in the area, and they deserve the community's full support, especially when a show really works like this one. Make sure you see it; it will be the best $23 you ever spent.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS plays through September 27th. For tickets, please call (813) 265-4000.

Photo credit by Picture This of Palma Ceia