Entertainment » Theatre

Little Shop of Horrors

by Jim Rutter
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Dec 7, 2009
Candace Thomas, Alex Keiper & Laura Giknis in Little Shop of Horrors, playing through Dec. 20
Candace Thomas, Alex Keiper & Laura Giknis in Little Shop of Horrors, playing through Dec. 20  (Source:Justin Perri)

That Christmas tree you put up last week? It could kill you.

That's the only message I gleaned from 11th Hour Theatre Company and Theatre Horizon's superb staging of composer Alan Menken and lyricist Howard Ashman's Little Shop of Horrors. While every other company in town has chosen to throw up (literally) the traditional holiday morality mush found in Dickens or the suddenly so-popular-that-every-director-in-town-wants-to-direct-it It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, two of the region's smaller, sharper companies combined to re-package this off-Broadway cult classic based on Roger Corman's similarly titled film.

Here, Seymour (Steve Pacek) slaves away in Mushnik's (Paul McElwee) skid row flower shop while pining for Audrey (Melinda Bass), a "girl with a past" and a terrible, non-flu-related bout of low self-esteem. After Seymour finds a mysterious, exotic plant and feeds it his own blood, the once fading flower blooms into a botanical behemoth--credit Aaron Cromie's magnificent puppets--that promises fame, fortune, and the girl of his dreams.

All he has to do is murder the rest of the cast and turn them into plant food.

Where Corman crafted a campy, laugh-filled romp through Skid Row, Megan Nicole O'Brien's direction lessens the humor to twist this musical into a dark, somewhat disturbing attempt at a morality tale. But while Ashman's book titles one of the numbers with the Biblical "The Meek Shall Inherit," I didn't need to hear a dozen other, mostly humorlessly sung songs to understand that mean people suck and you shouldn't kill to get ahead.

Granted, it probably takes Corman's brilliance to turn poverty and domestic violence into punchlines, but really, kids, why stop with the economic moral? Why not also hang a few faded PETA posters on the skid row set to insinuate the minor point that--even from a plant's perspective--meat is murder?

Despite O'Brien's odd intentions, nothing will stop an audience from enjoying this sensationally sung production. Bass's glittering vocals shine through her character's continual heartbreak, and when combined with Pacek's charming voice in "Suddenly, Seymour,"--a song covered quite nicely by singers like Mandy Moore and Carrie Underwood--this young songstress turns it into a power ballad fit for a rock musical.

And from the moment the three doo-wop girls (Laura Giknis, Alex Keiper, and Candace Thomas) saunter onto the stage, this Little Shop sizzles in an intimate setting that's spectacularly lit by Shelley Hicklin's seamless, almost magical transitions.

Dan Kazemi's music direction and Jenn Rose's choreography excite throughout Act I, while subduing the energy just enough so that the show ain't over when the big plant sings. Instead, when M.K. Hines (as Audrey II) pours her gorgeous voice through the microphone, the production bursts with a whole new level of intensity.

Lauren Perigard's attention to detail (look for the plastic bags used as a bum's socks) flourishes in the smartly characterized costumes, and Carl Clemons-Hopkins appearance as the sadistic dentist (and many other deliciously played roles) complements the quirky attitudes and facial tics of the doo-wop girls to liven the show with its few moments of humor. And while the otherwise dreary tale ends tragically (though once more, on the singing's high note), at least the production doesn't dish out the diluted gruel of Dickens. Which, at least from a marketing perspective, is the moral they should have harped on.

11th Hour Theatre Company and Theatre Horizon present Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s Little Shop of Horrors. Megan Nicole O’Brien directs. The production runs until Dec. 20. Tickets and more information: www.11thhourtheatrecompany.org

I’m a former university philosophy lecturer, trained in economics and philosophy. Now I devote most of my free time to pursuing my interests in theater and opera, writing plays and criticism; while still researching and writing in the field of political economy. Currently, and for the past five years, I have competed in the sport of Olympic weightlifting. I live in Center City Philadelphia, where I take in every production or performance that my schedule allows.

I do have a website: http://jimruttersreviews.blogspot.com


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