Thursday, May 22, 2008

Little Shop of Horrors

The Little Shop of Horrors musical has do-wopped its way onto the North Coast Repertory Theatre stage. With fine singing, comic performances, clever set and costumes, and an impressive puppet-monster, it’s a diverting evening of live entertainment.

 With music tied to its early sixties origins in a cult Roger Corman film, a combination Motown trio/Greek chorus (Kathleen Marshall, Jenner Cohune and Chyna Dale) sets the scene: a failing flower shop on Skid Row, where the owner, Mr. Mushnik (Gene Cole) is about to go out of business. But Seymour, the shy but smart shop assistant with a crush on Audrey, the shy but beautiful receptionist, comes up with a solution: an unusual plant to attract customers. He just has to figure out what will make it grow.

 The answer provides the creepy comedy that moves the story forward. Christopher Hatcher as Seymour and Brandy Rose as Audrey are the charming stars, and Erik Rhea steals the show as the sadistic dentist who rides a motorcycle, affects an Elvis image and causes his girlfriend Audrey to show up at work with various injuries. Exactly how he sings through a gas mask has to be one of the show’s technical wonders.

There are a number of supporting players, several of whom double as puppeteers when the plant (dubbed Audrey II) grows to major proportions, including Silas Knight, Rigel Schmitt, Alison Ehrstrom and Monica Schallert. Anders Carlson does a tour de force series of bit characters, one after the other.

 Emily Blanche created the monster (with John Blanche and Delayne Medoff), and NCRT Technical Director Calder Johnson designed the appropriately tawdry flower shop set. Darcy Daughtry designed a witty array of costumes. My favorite little touches were Audrey’s matching skirt and arm sling, and the auto detailing flames on the dentist’s smock.

 Xande Zublin-Meyer directed the show, with Dianne Zuleger as music director, and a live back-up band. In characterizations and style, the production tends to mimic the 1986 film version of the musical, including some half-hearted “ethnic” humor that has grown creepier over the years.

 The Corman non-musical original was partly playing off a decade of creature features which included the ambiguous political message and genuine horror of the 1956 classic, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (its 1978 remake was also pretty scary.) This musical’s Broadway production tried to inject some of the residual horror of that film’s ending, but even that was a kind of joke.

By now there’s not much left of either horror or a message, although there is an undercurrent of “greed doesn’t pay” in this story’s sentimental shuffling of stereotypes. It’s best to just go along for the romp and the tunes.

 NCRT’s Artistic Director Michael Thomas tells me that an HSU technical theatre class built this set as a special project, under the direction of stage design teacher Jody Sekas. This is one example of cooperation among local theatres and institutions that seems to be increasing. It’s a good idea: sharing resources so each can concentrate on its particular contribution to the life of North Coast theatre.

NCRT is also just $10,000 shy of its goal for funding renovations that could begin this month, and perhaps even be completed to celebrate its 25th anniversary season in September. Including a new restroom, and a real marquee! The theatre is eagerly accepting donations to make it happen.

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