Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Little Shop of Horrors


Several weeks ago ‘EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL’ opened at Beck Center. My capsule judgement of the show stated: “If you want to go to the theatre and have a great old time and escape from reality, see ‘EVIL DEAD THE MUSICAL.”
My view wasn’t alone…the show has become a cult hit with viewers returning again and again. Its run has been extended once again. (For ticket info and dates call 216-521-2540.)

I wish I could have the same enthusiasm for Beck’s present production, ‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS,’ but I can’t. First, in spite of the show having won several awards, I don’t like the script. It just isn’t as far-out as it could be considering the creative concept. Second, the music, though at times delightful, is not of consistent quality. The history of the show proves this. The original cast album omits the songs "Call Back in the Morning", and "Somewhere That's Green" (reprise), and only had abridged versions of "Now (It's Just the Gas)," "Mushnik and Son," and "The Meek Shall Inherit." “Call Back” isn’t even in Beck’s production. This tinkering with a show, after it has opened, doesn’t happen in a well scored show.
‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ is a rock doo-wop musical by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, about a hapless and geeky florist shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood. As the plant demands (yes, it talks) more and more blood, the plot thickens.
The musical, which is based on the low-budget 1960 black comedy film of the same title, premiered on May 6, 1982 in an off-Broadway theatre, and never moved uptown. It closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances, making it one of the longest running off-Broadway shows.
I saw the show in its off-Broadway run and wasn’t overly impressed. Four or five additional viewings in various venues still hasn’t made me a fan.
My evaluation of the Beck production must be tempered by the fact that I saw a dress rehearsal and not a full-fledged production. What I saw was pleasant enough, with a promise for improvement when the cast settles in and has audience reaction experiences.
Director William Roudebush has appropriately pushed for farce. Again, as the cast gets comfortable with the material, I assume they will totally let loose and just play for fun, which is what the concept requires.
Tim Allen plays Seymour, the “conceiver” of Audrey II, the blood devouring plant. As he admits in the program, he is a natural nerd and a socially inept romantic. He, of very skinny body, awkward gait, and thin voice, is perfect for the role. Meg Maley, who plays Audrey, the stereotypical dumb blond, looks the role, but was often difficult to hear in her vocals and the screeching speaking wears on the nerves at times. Her walk is “Judy Holliday” perfect. Connor O’Brien, Audrey’s dentist boyfriend, is not snarly enough as a sadistic abuser. The Urchins, a doo-wop vocal trio consisting of Katrice Monee Headd, Tonya Broach and Taresa Willingham, are talented and fun. Their versions of the “Prologue/Little Shop of Horrors” set a nice opening tone. I would have liked a more commanding playfulness from Darryl Lewis, the voice of Audrey II.
Larry Goodpaster’s musical direction and Michael Metcalf’s choreography were fine. After the show runs for a while maybe the set moving crew will master the intricacies of Don McBride’s scenery. During the preview, they had a lot of trouble getting the pieces moved in time for the next scene. No credit was given for who created Audrey II, but whoever did deserves a special round of applause.
Is it youth friendly? My 13 year-old grandson Alex, the “Kid Reviewer,” was not overly enthusiastic. He didn’t think there was enough fun to hold a tween’s attention, but did recognize that things could improve as, “we only saw a rehearsal and you can’t expect it to be perfect.” His remarks concluded with, “This was not my favorite show.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ is not a great script. From my preview viewing perspective, it is getting an acceptable production at Beck.