Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman. Lyrics by Alan Menken. Based on the film by Roger Corman and screenplay by Charles Griffith. Produced by The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT-A Contemporary Theatre. Choreographed by Crystal Dawn Munkers. Musical Direction by R.J. Tancioco. Directed by Bill Berry. With Joshua Carter, Jessica Skerritt, Jeff Steitzer, David Anthony Lewis, Eric Esteb, Ekello J. Harrid, Jr., Alexandria Henderson, Naomi Morgan, Nicole Rashida Prothro, with Eric Esteb and Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. as Audrey II. Now through June 15, 2014 at The Falls Theatre/ACT.
Sometimes you see an established theater piece and it’s a chore to write about it. It could be because it’s so awful you don’t know how to put that awfulness into words. Conversely, it could also be a really superb production without a whole lot to say other than: “It’s a good production of a good show…SEE IT!”
The latter is the case with this year’s co-production between The 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT, the just opened revival of the delightful Ashman/Menken musical LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS which just opened at the Falls Theatre at ACT for a lengthy run. It’s the 4th such collaboration between the two Seattle theaters…and the best of the four. As directed by the 5th’s Bill Berry, this LITTLE SHOP is a charming and cleverly staged, candy coated horror valentine that lovingly recreates the original off-Broadway production while giving it a lovely fresh coat of paint. The actors are adorably well-cast; the design elements are superb and the entire production is bathed in a glow of self-satisfied perfection. The original material of LITTLE SHOP is pretty slight…it’s a mock horror musical based on the classic no-budget Roger Corman film from 1960 about a vicious man-eating plant and the shabby Skid Row florist shop the plant infiltrates. There’s a nerdy hero, a ditzy blonde heroine, a menacing dentist and a stereotypical Jewish shop owner along for the ride but the material isn’t particularly deep or meaningful.
However, it is ridiculously fun and that’s largely due to Alan Menken’s cheeky score and Howard Ashman’s sly lyrics. It’s an charming show with songs that stick in your head…”Downtown”, “Suddenly Seymour” and the showstopping ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green” the heroine’s wistful ode to all things suburban. It’s difficult to NOT have a good time at a production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.
And, you won’t here due to the 5th Avenue and ACT’s lush production that includes Martin Christoffel’s cheeky sets that magically appear and disappear thanks to ACT’s many trap doors and lifts, and the appropriately atmospherically cartoon-like lighting design by Robert J. Aguilar. There’s also Pete Rush’s dreamy period costumes to drool over as well as the Audrey II plant puppets, which are rented but based on the original designs by Martin P. Robinson from the original off-Broadway production. It’s a daydreamy looking show about a nightmare come to life, and a visual treat.
It sound good too, thanks to R. J. Tancioco’s music direction and moves well thanks to Crystal Dawn Munkers’ choreography which flows well despite a lack of space on the Falls stage.
Finally, this production largely succeeds due to the exceptionally well cast actors involved. Joshua Carter is pretty much the ONLY established musical theater actor in town I can see playing Seymour…it’s a role he’s “born to play” but he still manages to make the role interesting and fresh. It’s easy to fall in love with this nebbish and Mr. Carter’s strong and human performance.
Supporting wise, Jeff Steitzer is also ideally cast as the scheming shop owner, Mr. Mushnik; nobody in Seattle Theater Land can fume and fret and kvetch like Mr. Steitzer. And, the always amazing talents of David Anthony Lewis get a full work-out as he tackles the rotten but hilarious evil dentist Orin, but also a gaggle of other minor characters of various genders/sizes and all played with terrific wit and flair.
The trio of ladies playing the Chorus: Alexandria Henderson, Naomi Morgan and Nicole Rashida Prothero are also appropriately divine and sassy while Ekello J. Harrid, Jr provides sufficient comedic menace as the voice of Audrey II as well as an uncanny similar vocal quality to the original actor, Ron Taylor from the original production. It doesn’t mimic, but tonally it’s soothingly familiar; it’s what you expect Audrey II to sound like: sexy, evil and funny as hell.
Last but not least, there’s Jessica Skerritt as Audrey I, the put upon down on her luck blonde with a bad track record when it comes to men. I hate to say it but…why is Jessica Skerritt still in Seattle? She’s obviously meant to be a huge, huge Broadway star. She has the huge talent and the charisma to become the next Big Broadway Diva and her heartbreakingly good performance in this show is clear evidence that she’s ready for the next rung on the theater ladder. She’s both superbly funny with the comedy (someone dust off BORN YESTERDAY..she’s born to play Billie Dawn) and equally secure with the pathos of the role. It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or cry during her performance of “Somewhere That’s Green” and that’s due to the brilliance of the song, and the performance by Ms Skerritt. She’s a Seattle theater treasure that we might have to share with the rest of the theatrical world in the near future. She’s not the only reason to see this terrific production, but she’s definitely one of its supreme assets.
And, to come full circle with the opening paragraph:
“It’s a good production of a good show…SEE IT!”