If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Killer Plant Sings in MTC Musical

Audrey II is back and she’s out for blood! The deliciously black musical comedy, “Little Shop of Horrors”, is currently on stage at the Music Theatre of Connecticut in a mostly enjoyable production. The popular musical ends the Norwalk theatre company’s 2014-15 season.

Based on Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 cult classic, “Little Shop of Horrors” was an off-Broadway smash in 1982 with its witty book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and doo-wop music by Alan Menken. The show is set in a seedy florist shop on Skid Row where poor schnook Seymour (an excellent Anthony DiCostanzo) pines for Audrey (Elissa DeMaria) who only has (black) eyes for abusive boyfriend Orin (Tony Lawson). Their boss, Musknik (Lou Ursone channeling Jackie Mason), is afraid he’ll have to close up shop until Seymour discovers an unusual plant he names Audrey II which soon draws customers in by the score. As business flourishes, so does Seymour’s fame but there’s a price to be paid when it’s discovered that Audrey II is a man-eater and Seymour is responsible for providing her with fresh kills.

It may seem a grim source for a musical and, to an extent, it is. But Ashman and Menken have a great deal of fun sending up the material and the period in a variety of ways including a snappy trio of “street urchins” who serve as a kind of urban Greek chorus guiding viewers through this twisted tale of bloodthirsty desires and budding young love. It’s that romance that sweetens the tale and DiCostanzo and DeMaria are terrific together giving full bloom to their doomed love story. DeMaria brings a real sense of longing to the tender, funny ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green” where she dreams of a better life outside of Skid Row and she and DiCostanzo don’t disappoint with their glorious show-stopper late in the show, “Suddenly Seymour”.

Both Lawson, playing Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend and Ursone, as the opportunistic shop owner, are often too big for the intimate stage at MTC and some of the musical’s sly charm gets lost in all the noise, but the audience at my performance certainly didn’t complain. Inuka Ivaska, Kristian Espiritu and Gabrielle Lee sing pleasingly together as the girl trio and Peter McClung is effective and effectively scary as the voice of Audrey II. In general the musical’s first act seems stronger than the second as though less rehearsal time was given the latter. Even though it’s shorter, act two seemed somewhat longer and draggy on opening night.

Technically the show isn’t in prime condition. Shades of brown seems to be the color of choice by set designer David Heuvelman and the bland flower shop never really changes even after a song that proclaims “Closed for Renovations”. Heuvelman was no doubt trying to capture the Skid Row ambience with darker hues, but “Little Shop” is still a musical comedy, a dark musical comedy perhaps, but a comedy nonetheless. Tyler H. First’s come-and-go lighting doesn’t appear to illuminate what he is trying to highlight at times while Diane Vanderkroef’s period costuming is quite good save for the amateurish “plant jump suits” worn by cast members at the finale. The small band under the direction of Thomas Martin Conroy, however, does a bang-up job with the nifty score. In all, this “Little Shop” still delivers enough where it counts.

“Little Shop of Horrors” continues at the Music Theatre of Connecticut in Norwalk through May 3. For further information or ticket reservations call the box office at: 203.454.3883 or visit: www.musictheatreofct.com.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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