Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Little Shop of Horrors"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark


"Little Shop of Horrors

Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Based on a Film by Roger Corman, Screenplay by Charles Griffith

Directed by John Ambrosino
Choreography by Josie Bray
Music Director Bob Mollicone

Scenic Design by Peter Watson
Costume Design by Erika Lilienthal
Lighting Design by John Cuff
Props Master Allie Jameson
Technical Director Peter Watson
Production Stage Manager Susie Schutt

Chiffon..........................Heather Fry
Crystal........................Emilie Battle
Ronnette.....................Sehri Wickliffe
Mr. Mushnik.......................Eric Rubin
Audrey......................Erin Tchoukaleff
Seymour...............Christian Daniel Kiley
Dr. Orin Scravello................Jim Jordan
Audrey II........................Neil Graham
Ensemble........................Perri Lauren
Plant Dancers
Melissa Ham-Ellis, Christin Fagone, Maria Larossa, Erin Pellechia
ORCHESTRA
Piano.........Bob Mollicone
Guitar.........Eric Millard
Bass...........Nick Tatarka
Drums...........Ben Tileson
Conducted by...Bob Mollicone

The Animus Ensemble, more than anything, is a movement-oriented company, and in their new production every movement, attitude, and gesture contains meaning and delight. In fact, the unsung (but not unsinging) heroines of "Little Shop of Horrors" merely play the fronds (or are they fellow-flowers?) of the diabolical vegetable villain --- half the time perched on their shoulders and necks with their legs (and bright green sneakers) writhing rhythmically in the air to Bob Mollicone's hard-driving four-piece band.

Not that they're the only dancers here. Heather Fry, Emilie Battle and Sehri Wickliffe, playing a gang of uppity street-slackers in the Skid Row setting set the pounding 1954 music to Choreographer Josie Bray's energetic dances. The basic chorus step is point-the-toe, stamp-the-heel, snap-the-arm like a bullwhip, with the backbone and hips gyrating in counter-rhythm and smiles of delight cocked always toward the audience.

Although nearly everyone gets to double in a number of brief walk-ons, the plot is handled by only four actors. (Well, five actually. More about that later though.) There is Eric Rubin as the owner of the ratty, failing Mushnik Flower Shop, whose mitsvot is to employ (enslave?) a bumbling nudnik (Christian Daniel Kiley) too self-effacing to show his love for their salesgirl (Erin Tchoukaleff) --- a trembling and equally self-effacing masochist expiating a checkered past with a sadistic dentist (Jim Jordan).

And despite all this, Howard Ashman's breezy book is a romping self-satirical comedy for which Director John Ambrosino has seen to it that every laugh-line snaps with surprise. In particular, Tchoukaleff's quavering, embarrasing delivery and Jordan's arrogant ego steal scene after scene, upstaged only by... but more of that later.

Long ago, I realized the early 1950's satirized here were the artistic armpit of the 20th century. I mean, I got out of high school in 1950. While I was discovering the joys of jazz (and everyone else the joys of rock) the mass of popular music was composed by primitive computers or on children's xylophones. Alan Menken's homage-score is infinitely better than anything he's satirizing --- and Ben Tileson's drums make Mollicone's orchestra cook. (And it's true that the ballads like "Suddenly Seymour" or "Somewhere That's Green" turn my eyeballs to faucets; it must be the chord-changes or something. This never happened back in the days that pop-songs had rhymes like "Splish-splath/I was takin' a bash" or worse.)

Okay, there may be a problem with this production --- but only if you've seen it before: it's the plant. So, if you've never seen the show before Stop Reading Here, and if your date hasn't, Don't Tell, okay?

Traditionally, the talking, people-munching plant is a big (and I mean BIG) puppet, but here it's played by a man --- by big (I mean BIG!) Neil Graham, in a green tee-shirt and goggles, with a shaved head, groggy or penetrating eyes, and the eager tongue of the Serpent in Eden. He ain't evil --- he's an alien promising (and delivering) fame, fortune, and success For A Price. At the musical-ending advice "Don't Feed The Plants!" all you need do is remember him at his height demanding "Feed me, Seymour!" to obey. But, at that very blackout moment, you will leap spontaneously to your feet with eveyone else responding to this little show.

"Little Shop of Horrors" (6 - 21 October)
ANIMUS ENSEMBLE
Boston Center for The Arts, 539 Tremont Street, BOSTON MA
1 (617)542-1411

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