“Little Shop of Horrors,” based on the low-budget, 1960 film of the same name, is a play that often finds itself in a bit of a predicament: if it is put on by a major theatre, one that pulls out all the stops and spares no special effect, it often loses a bit of its charm—that campy, murky, almost grimy quality that perfectly encapsulates the dark themes of the show and draws the viewer into main character, Seymour’s, depressing life. Harnett Regional Theatre’s production, directed by Dennis Johnson, solves this dilemma by taking a back-to-basics approach. Everything from the dank, green-tinged flower shop set down to the over-the-top 50s hairdos is reminiscent of the original film; yet, the show is original in and of itself. Instead of feeling like a mere copy of the movie version, this production takes all the things that are great about the classic film and brings them to full, blazing life onstage, and the result is nothing short of fantastic.
For those not familiar with the much-loved story, it focuses on Seymour, portrayed here by an uber-talented Hunter K, Taylor, a down-on-his luck flower shop worker with a major crush on his lovely co-worker Audrey (Rachel Strickland), who, unfortunately, is stuck with a jealous and abusive boyfriend. As if these two characters don’t have enough misfortune to deal with, they also have to put up with a pushy and almost-broke boss, Mr. Mushnik (Rick Stephenson). Things appear to take a turn for the better for the trio when Seymour purchases what appears to be a Venus fly trap during a “total eclipse of the sun.” The “fly trap,” which Seymour lovingly dubs Audrey II, turns out to have an appetite for blood, one which Seymour must resort to some drastic measures to feed. As Audrey II grows larger, her hunger and the characters’ lives spiral out of control.
While the subject matter is dark, the play itself is light and funny, managing to turn gore into giggles. Serving as semi-narrators of the action are the three doo-wop girls, Ronnette (Connor Stephenson), Crystal (Katie Rupp), and Chiffon (Juanita Velazquez). In this production, their small-but-important parts are made all the more memorable by incredibly snazzy choreography, courtesy of Janice Godwin. In fact, the choreography throughout is fast-paced and well-designed, easily keeping up with the action of the show. The choreography during “Downtown (Skid Row),” a large-scale number that features the entire cast, is particularly impressive; Godwin expertly transitions her dancers from quick moves to slower, more desperate ones that are in line with the change in the song’s tone.
In addition to the fun-to-watch choreography, the two main leads are perfectly cast (and costumed!). It’s hard to imagine a nerdier, more bumblingly perfect Seymour than Taylor, who embodies the role fully and strikes just the right balance of creepiness and sheer likeability. Then there’s Strickland’s Audrey, who has a perfect accent, the perfect look, and the perfect singing voice for the part. She delivers a thoroughly charming rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green,” enunciating each word clearly and imbuing the song with the spirit of a dreamer. One also has to mention Wade Hodges, who portrays Audrey’s boyfriend, Orin, a cringe-worthy dentist equipped with pliers and a penchant for pain. Hodges brings the requisite sliminess to the role and, despite the nature of his character, comes across as naturally charming. Stephenson also makes for a believable Mr. Mushnik, creating a character that’s as greedy and opportunistic as they come.
And, of course, it would be impossible to discuss “Little Shop” without discussing Audrey II and how she’s handled. This production goes from a small, puppet version of Audrey II to an incredibly large version—one that can actually swallow its victims—that takes up a large chunk of the stage. Voicing Audrey II is the hilarious Clayton Riddley, who adds a nice touch of soul (and plenty of humor!) to the role.
While “Little Shop” is certainly a show that’s been done before and that’s been done by local professional theatre groups, no performance can compare to the classic, quirky charm embodied by this production. Any aficionado of the film or anyone who can appreciate campy humor done right will love this production—a major success that should put Harnett Regional Theatre on the map.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Harnett Regional Theatre, Sept. 20, 21, and 26-29 in Stewart Theater in Dunn, NC.
PRESENTER: http://www.onlinehrt.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/onlinehrt.
Little Shop of Horrors (1960 film): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Little_Shop_of_Horrors (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054033/ (Internet Movie Database).
Little Shop of Horrors (1982 Off-Broadway, 1983 West End, and 2003 Broadway musical): http://www.mtishows.com/show_detail.asp?showid=000188 (Music Theatre International), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Shop_of_Horrors_(musical) (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=11223 (Internet Broadway Database).
Alan Menken (music): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (unofficial website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Menken (Wikipedia).
Howard Ashman (lyrics/book): http://www.howardashman.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_Ashman (Wikipedia).
Little Shop of Horrors (1986 film): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Shop_of_Horrors_(film) (Wikipedia) and http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0091419/ (Internet Movie Database).
Susie Potter is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer and editor. She is a 2009 graduate of Raleigh’s Meredith College, where she majored in English. She holds graduate degrees in teaching and American literature from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. In addition to her work for Triangle Arts and Entertainment, she is an award-winning author of short fiction. Her works have appeared in The Colton Review, Raleigh Quarterly, Broken Plate Magazine, Big Muddy: A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley, the Chaffey Review, and Existere. To read all of Susie Potter’s Triangle Arts and Entertainment articles and reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/susie-q/. To read more of her writings, click http://www.susiepotter.com.