Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Little Shop of Horrors

“FEED ME,” orders Audrey II, the plant from outer space with plans for world domination in the current Davis Musical Theater Company production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” the stage musical adaptation of the 1960 Roger Corman black comedy movie. For the stage show, Howard Ashman developed the script and Alan Menkin wrote the music. Steve Isaacson directed this production for DMTC.

The longer Audrey II goes without human blood, the more anemic and weak she becomes and so it becomes necessary for her mentor, Seymour Krelborn to find inventive ways to perk up the plant with a kind of transfusion.

It might have helped if Seymour did the same thing to the production. While it was, on the whole, enjoyable, there were some real anemic spots that begged for something to “feed it”!

On the good side, Joshua Smith, as Seymour, is wonderful. The perfect nerd, with horn-rimmed glasses, a baseball cap, a red plaid shirt, and a feeling of inferiority. He sings well, longs for the love of Audrey, the shop girl “with a past” (Lauren Miller), and he suffers the tortures of the damned trying to meet the escalating demands of his plant. (Though he should be careful when tossing “food” into the plant, and not let it roll around on the floor!)

The quasi Greek chorus, Ronnette (Caitlin Humphreys), Crystal (Casey Ellis) and Chiffon (Sarah Duvall) keep the plot moving, fill in background choruses and add local color. They are each and every one outstanding. Great voices, funny in a kind of subdued sort of way, and they really stand out in most of the scenes in which they appear.

I have enjoyed watching Lauren Miller grow into the kind of ditzy Judy Holliday-esque type of characters and handle them adroitly, so the role of Audrey seemed perfectly suited for her. Indeed, she has the walk, the voice, and the attitude down pat. What was lacking was projection and energy. This surprised me because I know she has both (and, in fact, her “Suddenly Seymour” was just great). Perhaps director Isaacson suggested she “sweeten” the tone for the character, or perhaps she was having throat problems. I don’t know. But Audrey needs to be over the top and Miller’s was not.

Darryl Strohl is the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, who not only enjoys tending to patients without the assistance of pain medications, but also likes to beat up on his girlfriend (Audrey) to “keep her in line.” He’s a motorcycle-riding, Elvis-impersonating character and Strohl was only intermittently spot-on. But when he was good, he was very good.

Strohl also plays a host of other characters, both male and female, and was quite good in all of them.

A big disappointment was Dustin White as Mr. Mushnik, the owner of the flower shop where the action takes place. For one thing, he both swallowed and rushed his lines so you were concentrating more on hearing him than watching him become the character. It seemed like he hadn’t quite found the character yet. He had the right body language and the proper accent, but it just didn’t come together.

A+++ for Scott Griffith and Mike McElroy, who brought Audrey II to life. McElroy (who also plays one of the “Skid Row Occupants”) was the plant’s voice and Griffith returned for the third time to manipulate its body parts.

Jean Henderson’s costumes are of course excellent, though I have problems with Audrey wandering around the streets of Skid Row at midnight wearing a pink babydoll pajama set and fuzzy pink slippers. However, the costumes for the chorus are great, especially the Marge Simpson style wigs and the glittery red evening gowns. Orin’s Elvis costume is perfect.

The DMTC 5-piece orchestra sounded particularly good for this production. Kudos to all of them.

There is nothing wrong with this production except that it felt a bit tired. Perhaps due to the heat. However, nobody attending it is going to come away disappointed. “Little Shop” is a fun story but, like Audrey II, it just needs a bit more blood from time to time.

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