As reliable as Halloween in October, you can expect revivals of “Little Shop of Horrors”, the off-Broadway classic that specializes in buckets of blood between songs. Opening their second full season as the new kid in Ridgefield, A Contemporary Theatre of Connecticut is currently offering a spiffy and highly polished rendering of this durable musical oddity.
Based on Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 cult classic, “Little Shop of Horrors” opened in 1982 boasting a 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 Robb Sapp) pines for Audrey (divine Laura Woyasz) who only has (black) eyes for leather clad abusive boyfriend Orin (Daniel C. Levine ). Their boss, Mushnik (William Thomas Evans), is afraid he’ll have to close up shop until Seymour comes into possession of 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 violent, verbal man-eater and Seymour is now responsible for providing it with fresh kills.
The first thing evident in this production of “Little Shop” is that Ryan Howell has produced a first-rate scenic design of Mushnik’s grimy flower shop on Skid Row. Set on a rotating disc that takes us in and out of the perfectly detailed shop, even the debris found on the streets of Skid Row seem authentic here. It’s a major accomplishment.
Taking charge on that set is the dynamic duo of Sapp and Woyasz, who are an ideal pairing of the doomed couple. Sapp works against his good looks (much as Jake Gyllenhaal did in the role for a recent Encores production) to give us an endearingly nerdy Seymour whose love for Audrey has no limits. And the wonderful Woyasz, in clingy clothing of questionable taste (costumer Ryan Park has had fun here), is sheer delight especially in her heartfelt rendition of the bittersweet ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green”. It is her duet with Sapp of “Suddenly Seymour”, however, that simply stops the show. These two are stage powerhouses.
As the musical’s hilarious Greek chorus, the “street urchins”, played by Kadrea Dawkins, Ashley Alexandra Seldon and Rachelle Legrand, are an outstanding trio of singers who ably guide viewers through a tale that only gets darker as it progresses. And although only heard and not seen, the essential contribution of Kent Overshown as the voice of Audrey II cannot be undervalued.
Directed and choreographed by Jason A. Sparks, the musical works best when it is singing. Some of the book scenes are slowed down by extensive business that can wear on the viewer. In this regard, Sparks is far too lenient with both Evans and Levine who, while accomplished singers, tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room and are often more frantic than funny.
Still, there are very few complaints overall about this crowd-pleaser which begins ACT’s new season on a delirious and ghoulishly delicious high note.
“Little Shop of Horrors” continues at ACT of Connecticut, 36 Old Quarry Road in Ridgefield through November 3. For ticket reservations or further information call: 475.215.5433 or visit: www.actofct.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor and resident critic of WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.