Little Shop of Horrors
Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken
Directed by Jon Blackstone
At the Hasty Pudding Theater
LITTLE Shop of Horrors is a delightful musical about a huge man-eating plant, a pitifully lovestruck, nerdy botanist and a slightly trashy but lovable dumb blonde. Sound interesting? It is, and it's a lot of fun, too.
The talented cast is led by Mo Rocca as Seymour, a schlemiel who works in a skid-row flower shop owned by Mushnik (Adam Schwartz). Seymour finds a strange plant, which he names Audrey II, after the Audrey who is the object of his affections (Sibel Ergener). Seymour discovers that the plant flourishes only when fed human blood--and it talks, to boot. He must struggle with the Faustian bargain Audrey II offers him: fame and success for the store and Seymour himself, in return for fresh flesh.
In addition to the story of the savage plant's growth, the developing romance between Seymour and Audrey provides an intriguing plot line. Rocca and Ergener are well cast, and they are sensitive to the emotional changes their roles require. In a powerful "Suddenly, Seymour," they acknowledge their attraction to one another, and both give laudable vocal performances. They even remain completely in character during the song, avoiding the temptation to drop their Bowery accents as the music swells.
Perhaps even more notable is the performance of Jason Tomarken, who plays a variety of roles. As Orin, the sadistic dentist who is Audrey's boyfriend in the first act, Tomarken is a scream. Orin is an inherently amusing character, but Tomarken brings him memorably to life. His "Dentist" is one of the musical's finest numbers. Tomarken's other portrayals are equally unique and enjoyable.
Not only is most of Little Shop's acting great, the set and the production are noteworthy, too. Audrey II, which grows throughout the show and acheives a character of its own, is well built. Emmons Collings manipulates it believably, and Jonathan Lisco's voice suits the plant's character. The production staff deserves particular praise here for a difficult job well done.
THE musical is not without its flaws. Chiffon (Roxanne Lockhart), Crystal (Melanie Sarino) and Ronette (Ketanji Brown), the show's girl group-style Greek chorus, open the show with a rendition of the title song that is more yelled than sung. Their support of Tomarken during "Dentist" is good, but the quality of their performances fluctuates wildly, and this is a problem which most of the cast shares.
Like the prologue, the finale leaves something to be desired. During this number, the viewer feels emotionally estranged from the corny, dressed-in-plants characters. As in many finales, the choreography is minimal in order to showcase the music. Here, though, one feels that staging that was more than adequate might help the number provide the smashing conclusion that would be appropriate for this production. Still, the ending is better than the cleaned-up-for-Hollywood ending of the film version.
The band's performance also varies in quality and could be tighter. This is particularly noticeable in some of the Audrey II songs, where the plant's vocals come through the speaker system, other cast members' vocals come from the stage and the band's music comes from the pit. Somewhere, the rhythm is out of sync. Fortunately, the off rhythms never diverge far enough to destroy any of the numbers. Generally, the sound effects and the music add effectively to the emotional impact of the script.
On the whole, despite the vacillation in quality of many aspects of this production, Little Shop of Horrors is a very entertaining and enjoyable experience. Actor Jon Blackstone, branching out into directing for the first time, has given us a play worth rooting for.