note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Carl A. Rossi
Seymour ….. Josef Hansen
Audrey ….. Bridget Beirne
Mr. Mushnik ….. John Davin
Orin, et al ….. Peter Edmund Haydu
Chiffon ….. Trish Aponte
Christine D. Pardilla ….. Crystal
Julie Perkins ….. Ronnette
Audrey II ….. Tyrone Aiken (voice)
Audrey II ….. Bill Allsbrook (puppetry)
It’s been a good twenty years since I saw the original off-Broadway production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, and the Stoneham Theatre’s current production is a delightful re-acquaintance to this offbeat gem based on the 1960 cult film classic. Truly, there’s no other musical like it.
Seymour, a shy nebbish, works in Mr. Mushnik’s floral shop on Skid Row. He is secretly in love with his co-worker Audrey, a dumb-bunny blonde whose taste in men leans towards the, well, masochistic. After a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers a small, mutant version of a Venus flytrap, which he christens “Audrey II” after his lady love, but the only plant food the saw-toothed creature lives on is human blood. “FEED ME!” it relentlessly cries, and Seymour obliges with his own red cells. Man and Plant soon become media celebrities, and Seymour Gets the Girl by Act Two, but as Audrey II grows, filling the shop with its cavernous maw, Seymour must resort to other ways to keep it alive and, in true Faustian fashion, loses more than just his soul in the end. Luckily, thanks to a catchy, rock ‘n’ roll score redolent of the early 1960s with lyrics that affectionately tweak the characters who are singing them, LITTLE SHOP’s horror is blunted and a good time can be had by all (but be warned: the stage ending is quite different from the later 1986 film version).
Director/choreographer Susan Streater has staged the Stoneham production in a crisp tongue-in-cheek style, never letting it slide into mere camp. However, Janie E. Howland’s set design does the show a disservice: not only are her brownstone walls too overwhelming for what is, by nature, a chamber musical (she should have scaled down the Stoneham’s high proscenium arch, instead – and the bursts of graffiti on the walls are pure 1980s), but the floral shop where most of the scenes take place is too far upstage (the apex of the design’s triangle); as a result, Audrey II never overwhelms us when full grown.
The strength of this LITTLE SHOP is its cast. Bridget Beirne easily puts the show in her pocket with her adorable Audrey (singing as well as acting in a stock tinny voice; but what must that do to her vocal chords?); I would have been even more enchanted had I not seen her last as the equally blowzy Queenie from the SpeakEasy’s excellent production of THE WILD PARTY. In both roles – Queenie and Audrey -– Ms. Beirne projected a marvelous vulnerability; won’t somebody cast her – in normal voice – as Sally in Sondheim’s FOLLIES? Ah, to see her in a spotlight, singing, “Losing My Mind”! But for now, I’ll settle for her sweet rendition of LITTLE SHOP’s “Somewhere That’s Green”. Josef Hansen is all too convincing as the gawky Seymour, but just when you think he cannot cross the street without getting run over, Mr. Hansen unleashes a true leading man’s voice for his joyous “Suddenly, Seymour” duet with Ms. Berne. That song stopped the show twenty years ago; it’s stopping it still. John Davin is an adorable terrier of a Mr. Mushnick (not at all Jewish) and Peter Edmund Haydu fascinates as Orin, Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend: when he asphyxiates himself, he performs his cackles, wheezes and death throes as notes in a score. (Between the two of them, the Messrs. Davin and Haydu display enough stone-cracking grins to give Audrey II pause). Tyrone Aiken is impressive as Audrey’s bass R&B voice, but puppeteer Bill Allsbrook is not always in sync as Audrey’s lips. Trish Aponte (Chiffon), Christine D. Pardilla (Crystal) and Julie Perkins (Ronette) make a cute girl-group Greek chorus; oddly, costumer Jana Durland Howland dresses them in fashions of the late, not early, 1960s; respectively, Carnaby Street, bell-bottomed hippie and Cindy Brady (though she makes amends by having the trio briefly appear in beehives and sequin gowns a la The Supremes).
But I enjoyed browsing in this LITTLE SHOP, and so will you.