Music by Alan Menken. Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman.
Based on the film by Roger Corman. Screenplay by Charles Griffith.
Directed by John R. Leffert.
Entire contents copyright 2011 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
What a journey this material has experienced! From el-cheapo Roger Corman black-and-white horror comedy to off-Broadway musical to Broadway hit and Hollywood musical; and now a mainstay of community theaters all over America. It launched the careers of composing team Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who went on to become millionaires, helping revive Walt Disney’s animation department in the 1980s with films such as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.
This splendid production at CenterStage returns the musical version to its humbler roots, restoring the kitschy tone and reveling in the nonstop parade of songs in the tuneful score. I had forgotten how little “book” there is in the first act, with most of the story and character development forcefully communicated in the musical numbers. Even the context and expository narrative is largely delivered in songs by the four Urchins. Modeled on girl groups from the early 1960s, they are a highlight of any production of Little Shop of Horrors and they are played here by Tamika Skaggs, Cierra Richmond, Tymika Prince and Katie Bowles with the required sass and style.
The story is simple enough. Seymour Krelborn and the object of his unrequited affections, Audrey, work for Mushnik’s Flower Shop, located on skid row and failing miserably until Seymour places his strange, interesting and wholly unidentifiable plant in the shop window. In the space of a song or two, success and fame come to Seymour and the shop, but at a terrible price, as the plant, dubbed Audrey II, begins to reveal its true and grisly nature.
For me, there are often moments in a familiar show that are a test for any new production. The first such moment in Little Shop is when Audrey II convinces Seymour of the real meaning of “Feed Me.” The duet between Chris Bryant as Seymour and Rush Trowel, giving soulful and stirring offstage voice to the homicidal plant, is thrilling, it and builds beautifully to the hilarious climax.
The other is in the number “Suddenly Seymour,” the wonderful love ballad sung by Seymour and Audrey. Done correctly, there is genuine triumph and heartfelt emotion being expressed equally for both characters, an uplifting moment that precedes a series of dark and dire circumstances. The performances of Mr. Bryant and Lauren McCombs as Audrey were certainly up to the task, delivering a memorable exchange that brought a rousing reaction from the audience.
Ms. McCombs was a comic delight throughout the evening, teetering precariously on high heels and wrapped in a form-fitting mini-skirt, but also singing in a strong voice that proved the highlight of the show. Mr. Bryant charted Seymour’s journey from nebbish to hero (of sorts) with confidence and forceful vocals. Jordan Price was impressive in multiple roles, but most notably as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., Audrey’s vile and sadistic boyfriend. He seemed to relish the opportunity to overplay and was obviously having a good time on stage. Rusty Henle’s singing as Mushnik was a little weak in comparison to the others, yet he brought such high energy and specificity to his raucous number “Mushnik and Son” that it hardly mattered.
The design work and technical production were typical of the high standards we have come to expect from the CenterStage team, and the tidy orchestra of six led by John Spencer kept the lively accompaniment. This is a fun, fun show that works for all ages.
Little Shop of Horrors
Jewish Community Center CenterStage
3600 Dutchmans Lane
Louisville, KY 40205