Tuesday, September 20, 2016

CT Theater Review: Little Shop of Horrors -- Playhouse on Park

Emily Kron , front right, and Cherise Clarke, Famecia Ward and Brandi Porter in rear. Photo: Meredith Atkinson
This Little Shop Gets a Dose of Miracle Grow and Stands Out from the Others
By Lauren Yarger
Little Shop of Horrors? Again?

This question comes to mind when the 1982 Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical is staged, as it often is. Love the score, but seriously, how many times can we watch this tale of a human-eating Venus fly trap?

At least one more is the answer, thanks to a delightful staging of the musical at Playhouse on Park under the direction and choreography of Susan Haefner. This production has some nuances that make it unique –as though it has been given a good dose of Miracle Grow to make it stand out from all the others and it is well worth the trip to the box office.

Haefer gives a different take on the leads, Seymour (a talented Steven Mooney who reminds of Josh Gad – casting directors take note: he would be perfect for the role of Elder Cunningham in The Book of Mormon) and his heartthrob, Audrey (Emily Kron).

This Seymour is a little stockier than most and a bit more able to stand on his own two feet as he desperately tries to keep plant Audrey II (named after his love) satisfied with human blood. The extraordinary plant (designed by Martin P. Robinson and manipulated here by Susan Slotoroff) brings fame to Seymour and the florist shop where he and Audrey work for Mr. Mushnik (Damian Buzzerio). Even when Mushnik adopts Seymour as his son, we interestingly feel in this production that the manipulation is more on Seymour’s end than on Mushnik’s.

Audrey also seems tougher. She’s not the dumb blonde of most productions, but more a victim in her abusive relationship with sadistic dentist Orin (Aidan Eastwood). “Somewhere That’s Green” (musical direction by Penny Brandt) isn’t so much the fantasy of a naïve girl, but the poignant hope of someone who doesn’t feel she deserves a happy ending.

Some of the best distinctions in this production are in the background. Famecia Ward (Ronette),
Cherise Clarke (Crystal) and Brandi Porter (Chiffon) are perfection as the backup trio on skid Row. Whether they are reminding us to turn off our cell phones, sitting on the shop stoop (a.k.a. the aisles in house seating) or bopping along the stage, these three women steal the scene with their harmonized voices and beautiful appearance in shimmering dresses designed by Kate Bunce that change color in lighting designed by Christopher Bell.

In addition, Brian Dudkiewicz’s set, which changes from dull gray to colorful red, white and blue as the fortunes of the florist shop inhabitants blossom with the popularity of Audrey II, also incorporates chain link fencing behind the four-person band that allows us to see Rasheem Ford when he sings the part of the plant. I don’t recall ever being able to see this performer in a production of Little Shop before and it really enhances the experience. The audience seemed more engaged and Ford also may be the best I ever have heard sing the role.

If you haven’t seen the show and are put off by the title, go see it. The plant grows on you (pun intended). If you are like me and have seen the musical a bunch of times, this production is worth another visit.

Little Shop of Horrors plants itself at Playhouse on the Park, 244 Park Rd, West Hartford through Oct. 16. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets $40-$50 with discounts for seniors and students.860-523-5900 x10 or visit www.playhouseonpark.org.

Music and Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken Direction and Choreography by Susan Haefner; Musical Direction by Penny Brandt, Scenic Design by Brian Dudkiewicz, Costume Design by Kate Bunce, Lighting Design by Christopher Bell; Sound Design by Joel Abbott; Properties by Pamela Lang; Puppet Design by Martin P. Robinson

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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