Saturday, November 03, 2001

Little Shop of Horrors

If you find a strange plant which appears suddenly following a total eclipse of the sun, walk by and leave it alone. That seems to be the message of Director Peggy Shannon's sparkling new production of the high-spirited "Little Shop of Horrors," which opened Friday night on the main stage at UC Davis.

From the moment the "Do-Wop girls," high school drop outs who hang around Mushnik's flower shop "down on skid row" make their entrance, dancing in snappy precision, the audience knows it is in for a real treat. The girls are played by Antonia Carrillo McCabe, Georgia Boyd, and Linda Noveroske Rentner and act as a quasi Greek chorus, filling in the story between scenes. Each of the girls gets her own chance to shine in solo bits. Boyd in particular is a knockout when she gets "down and funky."

"Little Shop of Horrors, by lyricist/librettist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken (whose more familiar credits include Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," and "Aladdin"), is a musical adaptation of on the 1960's Roger Corman science fiction movie of the same name.

Its hero, Seymour Krelborn, is the timid employee of a failing skid row flower shop. Seymour was rescued from a skid row orphanage by the irrascible Mr. Mushnik (Adam Sartain), and has spent his life living in the flower shop, working for Mr. Mushnik, and hiding his love for the sweet, dippy shop girl, Audrey.

Seymour sees the chance to transform his life and win the heart of Audrey when the curious plant he has been nurturing flourishes under his care. The plant, which he names "Audrey II," is actually a talking creature from outer space and the only way to keep it alive is by feeding it human blood. When Seymour becomes anemic from Audrey II's nightly feedings, he is forced to find alternative sources of nourishment for the plant.

One could not find a better Seymour than Drew Hirshfield. The talented actor portrays the nerdy shop clerk perfectly, and with a rubbery body that would do justice to Ray Bolger, his physical comedy is marvelous.

Stephanie Gougé has captured the essence of the caricature of Audrey beautifully. Mincing around in high heels, with a generous décolletage, and a stiffly sprayed blonde hairdo, she embodies the essence of the naive shopgirl. Audrey yearns to leave skid row and live "somewhere that's green," dressed like Donna Reed and watching Lucy on "a giant 12" TV screen," but her lack of self esteem keeps her tied to a go-nowhere job with an abusive boyfriend. She is, after all, a "woman with a past" and unworthy of the love of someone as nice as Seymour.

Sniffing laughing gas and gyrating across the stage, Isaac Woofter as the sadistic leather-clad biker/dentist Orin Scrivello, is a real crowd pleaser. Woofter takes command whenever he appears, and he is the man you love to hate.

(Scrivello also plays two other minor characters. Notice should be given, as well, to Michael Yap, Jennifer Anson, Sam Tanng, and Hiroshi Osaza, who also play several minor charactes.)

Seymour gains the attention of the world when he begins to display Audrey II and when the plant begins to grow to monstrous size (special recognition needs to go to Bryan Martin and Jessie J. Eting, Jr. who give Audrey II life). Unfortunately, as it grows larger, Audrey II becomes more demanding and Seymour finds himself caught in a frenzy of greed and deception which spirals out of control. The results are both hilarious and harrowing.

At the end, the true mission of Audrey II is revealed and the audience is warned not to feed the plants.

There was no skimping on the set, the obvious recipient of much care and attention. Robert Frye has effectively created the look of a skid row neighborhood, with Mushnik's shop on a huge turntable which dominates the stage. (A particularly nice touch was a clock on the flower shop wall that actually changes time--an interesting challenge on a set which is always in view of the audience)

Music is under the direction of trumpet virtuoso Peter Nowlen, whose five piece band plays offstage, with projection of Nowlen himself on a screen under the light booth, to aid the singers to keep on beat.

Choreographer Sunny Smith has taken a group of mostly non-dancers and made believable dancers out of them. She has succeeded particularly well with the do-wop girls.

Clare Henkel's costumes are fun--from the drab, nondescript outfit of Seymour, to the provocative dresses of Audrey, to the glitz of the do-wop girls.

Shannon has created a tight, fast-paced production that never fails to delight. While there is no deep message here, "Little Shop of Horrors" is a fable of what can happen when you wish for it all, get it, and then have to deal with the consequences.

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