By Karen Isaacs
Ivoryton Playhouse has been on a roll with excellent productions of musicals – first South Pacific, then Memphis and now Little Shop of Horrors.
While this production does not totally live up to the first two, Little Shop is a very good production and is a fun evening in the theater.
Parenthetically, this must be the year of Little Shop of Horrors: this is the third production by an Equity theater in Connecticut in the last six months and New York’s City Center Off-Broadway Encores series did it this summer with the original Audrey, Ellen Greene, and Jake Gyllenhaal as Seymour.
If you are one of the view people who have never seen either the musical or the non-musical film on which it was based, it is a spoof of the horror movie genre.
A gawky young man, Seymour, works as a clerk in a skid row florist show owned by the man who took him in. Seymour seems a bit of a science nerd, totally fascinated by unusual plants. The shop, as would befit a florist on skid row, is not doing much business. Yet Mr. Mushnik also employs Audrey, a young woman with an attraction to abusive relationships.
Seymour has found a new plant; he got it during an eclipse at a Chinese shop. The problem is the plant is not thriving and Seymour cannot figure out why. He thinks it is some type of flytrap but water, fertilizer and everything else he has tried has failed to revive the plant. One night, when he pricks his finger on a rose thorn, the plant perks up: it wants blood!
Soon the plant is thriving and growing. With the shop still failing, Seymour suggests they put the plant in the window to attract attention and customers. It works! Soon the shop is a mecca for plant enthusiasts and media attention. The problem is that as it grows, the plant which Seymour has named Audrey II (after you-know-who) needs more and more blood; not just blood but human blood.
The other plot is the romance between Seymour and Audrey. Audrey is currently dating a sadomasochistic dentist, Orin, though she dreams of a small home in a town “Somewhere That’s Green.” Seymour cares for Audrey and over time, their romance blossoms.
Various complications occur as Audrey II becomes larger and larger and demands more and more of its favorite food.
So it is a blend of a horror film and a gentle romance. A tough combination to pull off.
The cast at Ivoryton directed by Lawrence Thelen succeeds admirably. A few times the balance gets out of whack.
One of the highlights of this production is Audrey II, the plant. It was created and manipulated by Austin Michael Costello, a recent graduate of the UConn Puppetry program. He has created a realistic plant that grows magnificently. Steve Sabol provides the voice for Audrey II, adding the right combination of whining and menace.
Laura Woyasz brings a yearning to Audrey. While she may appear a bimbo in dress and accent (the accent is not overdone), you see the young woman with the low self-image who wants but doesn’t think she deserves anything. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” is moving.
Nicholas Park brings both sweetness but also an edge of anger (towards Mushnik) to the role of Seymour. He lets you see the dilemma he faces with the demands of Audrey II.
Commenting on the action are three neighborhood girls – Chiffon (Azarria White), Crystal (La’Nette Wallace) and Ronnette (Denielle Marie Gray) who resemble all those ‘70s Motown girl groups. They are delightful.
Where the director has gone a little astray is with Mushnik and Orin, the dentist. Both need to be played large – they are some of the humor – both actors play the characters too large. David Conaway just seems to be shouting all the time. Carson Higgins, who starred in Memphis, plays Orin and two other minor roles. His Orin is the best; the other characters – a PR person and an agent – are too broad.
But overall this is a very nice production. It is also a very good production for children 8 and above. Not too scary, not too much romance and Audrey II will entrance them.
Little Shop of Horrors is at Ivoryton Playhouse through Oct. 11. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit ivoyrtonplayhouse.org.