By Lynn Geyer
In 1960 with more than two dozen B films under his belt, Roger Corman wagered that he could complete a film in two days and one night. When he did it with Charles Griffith’s screen play, history was made and “Little Shop of Horrors” was destined to become a ground-breaking cult classic.
Corman’s cast was comprised of little know actors who would remain unknown with a couple of exceptions.
Jackie Joseph, the young woman with an adenoid problem, who played the first Audrey, went on to appear in several film roles and quite a few TV shows; mostly comedy parts.
Another budding thespian who had the bit part of a masochistic dental patient also enjoyed a somewhat impressive film career. You might remember his name – Jack Nicholson!
In 1982, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, the story of the nerdy Seymour made it to Broadway when the musical version of “Little Shop of Horrors” opened.
There were slight changes in the characters from the film but the story remained ostensibly the same black comedy, now told to a rock and roll beat.
Our hapless orphan hero, Seymour, works for Mushnik’s Flower Shop in, of all places, Skid Row. Seymour is in love from afar with Audrey; Audrey is under the controlling spell of the sadistic dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello. Seymour discovers some seeds which he nurtures to a 10-inch potted plant resembling an avocado with a touch of Venus Flytrap, which he names Audrey Two, after his beloved.
Poor Seymour finds that the plant, which saves his newly adoptive father’s business, has a vampire’s appetite which must be satiated almost hourly. As Audrey Two starts to grow, our thin-blooded hero can find no more blood in his over-pricked fingers to feed the botanical oddity; he must resort to finding fresh meat elsewhere – and our cast of characters starts to diminish.
This tongue-in-cheek horror show is beautifully directed by Maria Valenzuela, who managed to bring out the best acting and voice in her talented cast.
Coupled with choreographer Jimmy Shields doo-wop/Motown-type dance numbers and Terry O’Hara’s music direction and accompaniment, the show is filled with great moves and sounds
Michele Graves turns in a perfect costume design – somewhere between hokum and sleazy.
Micheal O’Hara’s set is amazing! He uses the revolving stage to show both the inside and outside of Mushnik’s shop and fills the peripheral area with true-to-life Skid-Row alleyway and street scenes, complete with peeling paint and broken bricks.
O’Hara’s set is inspirationally lighted by Niclas R. Olson, who uses about every Fresnel and Leko in the theatre to bring a riveting an almost disco beat to the rock scene.
The cast has only nine actors – but they fill the stage with music, dance and over-the-top acting parody and sometimes hidden humor.
Audrey Two is in (appropriately) two parts: The puppeteer and the voice. There was a time, when this show was produced, a theatre was obliged to hire the vocal puppeteer along with the series of prop Audrey Twos. Since this is no longer true, the director has the latitude to cast whomever she wants in those non-visible roles.
James Wrede wields the plant from the approximately two-foot size to full almost seven-foot bit of greenery. Wrede does a few extraneous extra parts as well; each very nicely.
Carmen Brantley-Payne gives the hungry plant a voice. Originally, Audrey Two was sung by a deep baritone or bass voice. It is a unique pleasure for the female-named plant to have a feminine voice.
Gretchen Boyt is Audrey (the person). Boyt has a good singing voice; however, she overdoes the mimicking of original Broadway and film Audrey, Ellen Greene’s nasal quality voice to the point it is at times nearly inaudible.
Andrew Fry is Mr. Mushnik. Fry does a good job as the frustrated improbable owner of the flower shop on Skid Row.
Justin Michael Thornton is the sadistic dental boy friend, Orin Scrivello. Talk about over the top – Thornton is almost in outer space! In his leather jacket, he pounces all about the stage to make his point, which, either sung or spoken, is usually very abrasive and demeaning to all. In the second act, this versatile actor also plays several small roles quite well.
Suddenly, there’s Benjamin Cournoyer as Seymour Krelborn. Cournoyer is perfect as the lovable nerd. His singing is good and strong with emotion befitting the lyric and his acting is – well, let’s just say, Cournoyer is Seymour.
The “Greek chorus” of the cast is left to the street urchin trio of Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon. These three vocally let the audience in on what is happening. Ronnette is sung and played by Kenya Adams; Deshanna Brown takes on the role of Chiffon. Each of these lovely women does an excellent job with their roles.
But, it is Alexandria Henderson as Crystal, the third member of the trio, who steals the vocal show with her amazing voice. It would not be surprising to learn Henderson’s voice could be heard beyond the theatre lobby onto I Street.
“Little Shop of Horrors” continues at Tacoma Little Theatre at 210 North I Street through May 26 at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. There is a Pay-What-You-Can performance Friday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m.
For more information or to make reservations, call the theatre at (253) 272-2281 or go online to www.tacomalittletheatre.com.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is the perfect musical parody of the shock B Sci-Fi films of the 1960’s and the Tacoma Little Theatre production is right on in all aspects of the show – direction, set, light, costumes singing and acting – that’s what good theatre is all about. This show will have you laughing and singing in the aisles.