When one of the major characters is not out of high school and some of the others are retired, you know you are attending a performance by a local theater company. This weekend, the Roxboro Little Theater Company presented Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors. Directed by Ray Pearce, the show was presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI) and the support of the Person County Arts Council, Person County Recreation Arts and Parks, and Piedmont Community College. With performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, Nov. 1st and 2nd, and a matinee on Sunday, Nov. 3rd, the show appropriately followed Halloween with all the ghoulishness of Dracula and the requisite horror of Frankenstein.
Little Shop of Horrors, one of the first rock musicals, opens with an intro from glittery-green-gowned girl group singers who lay the foundation for the story and become its narrator and Greek chorus. The three girls, Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon, played by Mary Twisdale, Lauren Parker, and Maddie Scott, campily sing their way into the audience’s heart, alternately glamming it up, then becoming street urchins who provide a commentary on the down and out floral shop owner, Mr. Mushnik (Peter Balys) and the man-eating plant that turns around the lives of Mushnik’s co-workers, Seymour (Michael Pearce) and Audrey (Juliana Jones). The plant, purchased by Seymour after a mysterious eclipse, is imbued with the ability to grow, but only after infusions of human blood. Because the shop experiences a growth in business when people learn about the plant, Seymour is anxious to both impress his secret love (Audrey) and to save her from an abusive dentist she is dating (Michael Slaughter), so he names the plant Audrey II. Soon it is obvious that Audrey II is not only growing in size, but also in hunger, and soon Audrey II takes on a voice of her own (Curtis Swann, Jr.). As the plant’s fame grows, so does its longing for human blood, and pretty soon, Seymour is literally in over his head.
The interesting twists in this version of the play are not so much plot-oriented but, instead, are drawn by the biographies of the play’s stars. Juliana Jones plays a mature Audrey, yet she is a mere freshman at the Roxboro Community School. Her solos reach the depths of the theater and appear drawn from her own painful experiences, the way a more mature actress would build a character. One suspects her life on stage, which began when she was 11, has prepared her for this show, but unless one reads the playbill, one would not suspect such a young actress could bring such weight to this role.
Other young actresses include Lauren Parker, whose big voice added texture to the girl group, and Maddie Scott, who is also in 9th grade and plays clarinet in the Person High School band. Both have sophisticated ranges and appear comfortable on stage. I suspect they will share their light onstage for many years to come.
Veteran actors Peter Balys and Michael Slaughter offset the younger members of the troupe with a sense of humor (Balys) as well as a sense of evil (Slaughter). Balys’ Mr. Mushnik is both grumpy and soft-hearted, yet his moment on stage comes in the second act when he puts two and two together and points out to Seymour that his secret is no longer secret: the blood drops on the florist’s floor belie the truth about the disappearance of the evil dentist, Slaughter’s Orin. Slaughter plays the abusive dentist with a New Jersey accent and a glowering strut that wins him the appropriate “boos” from the audience at the end of the show.
The two biggest surprises in the cast, however, are the most important. Michael Pearce’s Seymour starts out in the first scene a bit too meekly. He doesn’t get his singing “legs” until the third or fourth song; but when he does, it’s clear that his clear tenor is stronger than one first believes. His Seymour is believable, emotional, and confused, as thus he should be, for he is ruled by the horrible needs of Audrey II. Curtis Swann’s voice is perfect for this role. His wheedling “Feed me, Seymour,” is reminiscent of the same prickly bass owned by Levi Stubbs in the movie version of the show. Swann’s version of “Suppertime” is just as strong and fun. He warns Seymour that “they got your number now,” and though the song is a portent of the danger to come, there were few in the theater who weren’t tapping their feet to the bass that underlines the horror.
There are a few issues with the show that might have been resolved by the matinee on Sunday (this reviewer saw the show on Friday), such as a general malaise in the second act that was not noticeable in the first act. The energy level didn’t appear as high as it had been during the first act. One assumes that the nervousness had worn off by the end of intermission; but in order for this play to succeed, the energy level must rise in the second act, not fall off. But when all is said and done, this show definitely has withstood the test of time, and this cast gets kudos for blending beginners with seasoned professionals, often with the beginners outshining the pros both in voice and acting ability.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Roxboro Little Theater, Nov. 1-3 in the Kirby Theater in Roxboro, NC.) SHOW: http://www.personcounty.net/index.aspx?page=191&recordid=2116 and https://www.facebook.com/events/387228208050738/?source=1. SERIES: http://www.personcounty.net/index.aspx?page=984. PRESENTER: http://www.personcounty.net/index.aspx?page=278. VENUE: http://www.personcounty.net/index.aspx?page=387. OTHER LINKS: 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). [RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.