"Little Shop of Horrors"

by Stu Brown

Before the composing team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote the music and lyrics to such Disney blockbusters as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast they wrote the score for the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors. The original 1982 production, based on Director Roger Corman’s 1960 low-budget movie, became one of the longest running shows in Off-Broadway history. Always an audience favorite the sci-fi spoof, centering on a rather large man-eating plant, is receiving an entertaining, animated production at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 11th.

The plot of the musical is simple. Seymour (Nicholas Park), a nebbish of sorts, works at a flower shop on New York’s Skid Row. His co-worker Audrey (Laura Woyasz), a beauty with low self-esteem and a sadistic boyfriend (Carson Higgins) employed as a dentist, toil away at Mushnik’s (David Conaway) storefront awaiting any type of customer. One day Seymour unveils a plant purchased under mysterious circumstances that soon attracts shoppers because of its uniqueness. The trouble is regular plant food won’t suffice and as its true diet is revealed the lives of everyone in the Skid Row shop become topsy-turvy with unsettling consequences.

The strength of the show is the casting. All the principle actors perfectly fit into their roles delivering two hours of merriment, mayhem and tunefulness. Nicholas Park as Seymour is nerdy and plain without being pathetic. Laura Woyasz as Audrey may emulate the original actress, Ellen Greene, a bit too closely, but she does manage to put her own spin on the wistful, heart-of-gold character. David Conaway is thoroughly convincing as the downtrodden Mr. Mushnik. Carson Higgins, a standout from the previous Ivoryton Playhouse production of Memphis, infuses Orin the dentist with just the amount of degenerate fiendishness without being too over-the-top. The threesome of Azarria White (Chiffon), La’Nette Wallace (Crystal), and Denielle Marie Gray (Ronnette) form a winning mini Greek chorus along with their supporting roles. Even with a superior acting group Little Shop of Horrors would not work without a colorful, boisterous Audrey II. Thankfully, the team of Steve Sabol and puppeteer Austin Costello form a dynamic union that gives the growing plant a believability that is both engaging and somewhat scary.

The score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is witty, playful, melodic and can be very funny. The songs include do-wop, yearning ballads, comedic gems, and unusual duets. You can see why Disney plucked them from the theatrical ranks to reinvigorate their moribund animated film division.

Director Lawrence Thelen lets the material speak for itself without adding any unnecessary flourishes. He has an excellent feel for the characters and the actors portraying them. Along with choreographer Apollo Smile, who adds some solid incidental dance routines, Thelen keeps the production moving to its fulfilling conclusion.

Martin Scott Marchitto’s rotating set design is seedy and decrepit, perfectly embodying this battered, broken-down area of New York City. The small and confined space of the small Playhouse stage only adds to this run-down vibe.

Little Shop of Horrors, a rollicking good time at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 11th.

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