Egyptian steps it up for ‘Little Shop’
July 14, 2007
It’s a B-movie horror story about a calculating and bloodthirsty freak Venus fly trap, but the music is about the doo-wop. The stakes are high characters must face life or death but the sassy, bubble gum lyrics betray the tragedy of it all at every turn.
Above all else, throughout "Little Shop of Horrors," the tongue should be firmly planted in cheek.
A line from the song where
Seymour discovers his plant likes blood:
"I’ve given you sunlight, I’ve given you rain, I guess you’re not happy unless I open a vein."
The challenge of producing the off-beat "Little Shop" is confounded by the fact that it’s been done before and done well. There several successful and imaginative iterations to choose from. The 1980’s Broadway musical is based on a 1960’s drive-in cult classic film featuring Jack Nicholson, and the musical, was made into a film in 1986, featuring Rick Moranis as nerd-hero Seymour and Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist.
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Despite setbacks mid-rehearsals, which included the departure of longtime artistic director Dana Durbano and a technical director Seth Miller, Park City’s Egyptian Theatre Company kept its nerve.
From sets to costumes to casting, the theatre’s second production of "Little Shop" has a clear vision of drive-in movie pop from its set to its cast the result of a series of good decisions made by director Brent Schneider, who also wore the hats of choreographer and set designer.
Framed by dramatically stretched trapezoids painted in jukebox greens and pinks, Schneider’s version of Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists signals a world askew, and a world where puppets can believably mingle with actors. Like the storyline itself, the stage successfully conveys the disturbing combination of the human and the alien.
Schneider also succeeded in selecting the right actor for the right part. The nine cast members shine in their roles, and despite having very little room for error (the orchestra is a recording, not live), they barely miss a beat.
Steven Fehr, who returns to the Egyptian after "La Cage aux Folles," plays the miserly Mr. Mushnik with avuncular warmth and a grouchy Czech accent, and the booming voice of actor Jason Tatom lends a sense of menace when the puppet plant Audrey II might otherwise seem harmless.
J.C. Ernst fumbles behind heavy-rimmed glasses and argyle as Seymour, the clumsy hack scientist who created the demon plant. Consistently gauche throughout, Ernst’s nerdy squawky voice balances well against the grumbling Mushnik and Lisa Ann Grow, who plays his high-pitched bleach-blond love interest, Audrey (the eponym of the monstrous plant). Grow is at her best, comedically and vocally, with her solo "Somewhere That’s Green," during which Audrey expresses her heart’s desire for suburban bliss.
Exuding a toxic combination of gallant and greasy, Marc Raymond seems to relish his role as the second most evil character in the play, Dr. Orin, the sadist Nitric oxide-addicted "leader of the plaque." For the part, Raymond slicks his hair with pomade and swaggers and sneers like Elvis and offers one of the most powerful voices in the cast.
The designated side-show chorus, often called "girls" in the program, change costumes sometimes more than once within one scene and clock in more stage time than most of the cast, yet they arrive fresh to every scene. Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, played by Kandyce Marie Gabrielsen, Clotile Bonner and Ali Bennett, are sassy and sultry backup singers in bouffants who sneak their way to the center of the action, giving the musical momentum and a touch of class.
During the finale that admonishes "Don’t Feed the Plants" Mushnik’s floral shop is pushed closer to the first row of theatre seats and the eight-foot full-grown Audrey II threatens to cross the barrier between audience and stage. For this production, the stage was extended to make room for dancing in the foreground, but the distance creates a space one might expect in a large auditorium, not an intimate theater. One wonders why the finale’s volume and blocking so effective at engaging the audience and heightening the drama couldn’t somehow be integrated throughout.
It’s the devilish attention to details, the talent and the chemistry between players that make this production of "Little Shop" worthy of the Egyptian stage. Indeed, as the theatre’s new artistic director, Terence Goodman, said in his few words before curtain call, cast and crew truly "stepped up."
"Little Shop of Horrors" will run through August 18 at the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, located at 328 Main Street. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. The running time is one hour, 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $17-$36 with discounts for seniors, students and children. The show is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some crude language. Purchase tickets 24 hours a day at http://www.parkcityshows.com, or call the Egyptian Theatre box office at 435-649-9371.