Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Little Shop Of Horrors - Playhouse Square

‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ wonderful fun at the Palace

‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ is a true, unadulterated slapstick, potentially in-your face, laugh inciting farce. Farce is hard to do, for both actors and directors. If it’s a farcical musical, it’s even harder. I’ve seen lots of bad, very bad productions of “LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’...they get eaten alive. (Pardon the pun.)

FEAR NOT...the professional production of the musical, now on stage at the Palace Theatre, is so good that it even brightens up the overcast, windy fall weather in Cleveland.

The musical version of ‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS," is based on a grade-B non musical movie of the 1960s. With lyrics and books by Alan Menken and music by Howard Ashman, the stage version originally opened off-Broadway and gained a cult following which resulted in a 2,209 performance run. It was transposed into a 1986 musical film which starred Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Vincent Gardenia, Jim Belushi, Bill Murray and John Candy. In 1991 it appeared as an animated television series, ‘LITTLE SHOP,’ and then, in 2003 there was a smash Broadway revival which laid the foundation for the present touring production, which has been on the road for over a year and will continue to perform through April.

Audrey II moans "Feed me, Seymour. Feed me." So, what does Seymour Krelbourn, a meek foundling who has been taken in by a skid row florist do? Of course, he feeds Audrey II because if he does he’ll become famous and maybe be able to wrest his true love, Audrey (a real person) from a sadistic dentist. And what does Seymour feed Audrey? Blood! Audrey II wants blood? Well, it might help for you to know that Audrey II is a hungry blood drinking, people eating plant from outer space. In his desperation, Seymour makes a Faustian pact with the plant and as it needs more and more blood, and more and more people are sacrificed for the cause. Eventually, Audrey II looks like a venus fly trap on steroids. So much so that people in the theatre’s front rows started to get nervous about whether one of the plants’ tentacles would reach out and sweep them into the plant’s mouth.

This is obviously not ‘ASSASSINS,’ or ‘CHESS,’ or even ‘MISS SAIGON.’ The script is no great musical epic, but it sure can be fun. In the hands of this talented professional cast under the superb direction of Jerry Zaks, this production is a hoot!

The show is punctuated by musical commentary delivered by a Supremes-style trio that bounces around the flower shop's inner-city neighborhood. The trio, which sings, dances and cops just the right attitudes is composed of Iris Burruss, Badia Farha and Latonya Holmes. Their versions of the opening song, “Little Shop of Horrors,” “”Da Doo” and “The Meek Shall Inherit” were wonderful. Side note: If during the run here one of these superstars has to take a night off, Hathaway Brown and Shaker Heights/Warrensville Heights native Marsha Lawson will take her place.

Jonathan Rayson made Seymour a geek extraordinare. His singing voice and development of the character from meek to strong was right on target. If you want to see Rayson’s performance, you’ll have to do so before Tuesday, November 15. On that night Daniel C. Levine takes his place. (Levine sat in front of me during the opening night production and not only looks the role, but it was delightful watching him mouthing the words to the songs and dancing in his seat. As the good luck theatre saying goes, “Break a leg, Daniel!”)

Tari Kelly is right on target as the ditsy blond Audrey. Her version of “Suddenly Seymour,” was totally charming. You’ve never quite seen a kissing scene like that performed by Kelly and Rayson. Her version of “Somewhere That’s Green” was delightfully touching. Kelly also leaves the cast on the 15th, to be replaced by Liz Pearce.

Michael James Leslie (the Voice of Audrey II), and Anthony Asbury, Michael Latini and Marc Petrosino (the manipulators of Audrey II) deserve high praise. They wisely received “in-person” curtain calls.

Darin DePaul was disappointing as Seymour’s boss Mr. Mushnik. He mispronounced some of his Yiddish dialogue and did not have the right “New Yawk attitude” needed to make the role real. James Moye wasn’t quite sleazy enough as the dentist--the “bad guy.” I never felt like booing when he came on stage. If I had done so, he would have been fulfilling his role as the true villain. He did better in all of his other roles.

The sets, costumes, special effects and musical accompaniment were all top-notch.

Capsule Judgment Sometimes it’s just fun to go to the theatre and giggle, laugh and have a good time. If that’s what you want, then this production of ‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ is your thing. As for me, I loved it! (Hey, producers, can I go back and see it again with the “new” leading cast members? Aw, please!)