by Lisa Jarisch
In college I had an English professor who was fond of saying such and such a play, or this, that and the other literary work, or some particular personal hobby, were intended to be, and should be taken as, nothing more than “great good fun”. With its offering of “Little Shop of Horrors” the penultimate production of its season, Mac-Haydn fits the bill to a T. Professor Ellis would proud. (The fact he was most often referring to his somewhat unusual predilection for participating in Morris dancing, often out of season, should in no way diminish the applicability of his sentiment).
What’s not to love about a show featuring an overgrown- to- the -extreme talking plant with a burgeoning blood lust and a bent toward world domination, a sadistic dentist who gets his just desserts at the hands…err, mouth…of the afore-mentioned plant, a Greek chorus of Motown-crooning urchins, and a classic love story between a Skid Row orphan and a ditzy blonde bombshell? Absolutely NOTHING, that’s what….and Mac -Haydn offers all that up, with more than a dash of camp and verve and polish.
Erin Spears Ledford directs her version of the 1982 Off-Broadway mash-up of sci-fi , rock and roll and horror with a deft hand. She sprinkles Skid Row bums, a doo-wop humming Greek chorus of urchins,, florists, and other “seedy” and assorted characters across the stage with aplomb. Giving direction to a blood-lusting, tendril-waving, greedy, food-demanding, overgrown, and eventually gargantuan plant is no easy task, but Ledford gives Audrey II the pride of place she demands, with staging strategically designed to assure every audience member gets the full effect of Audrey II’s “growing” power and control.
As Skid Row orphan Seymour Krelborn, Andrew Burton Kelley taps into his inner geek and gives us the perfect nerd, right down to the eyeglasses held together with tape, a sweater vest, and bow tie. From his initial stumbling, bumbling, crashing –and entirely off-stage–”entrance”, Kelley plays Seymour to hapless perfection. From yearning to “get outta here” as he bemoans his Skid Row existence in “Downtown” to discovering that the “strange and interesting plant” he picked up—JUST as a total solar eclipse darkened the earth, Cue the ominous organ music !–may just be his ticket out of the slums, Kelley effortlessly portrays Seymour’s fall from grace, innocence and morality to greed, homicide, and a lust for fame and fortune. Faced with a drooping, listless, fading Audrey II—named in honor of his secret love, Seymour implores “Grow for Me.” Lo and behold, a few drops of blood from a pricked finger later, Audrey II has had her first meal, and Seymour begins to see his meal ticket out of Skid Row. Let the clot….err, plot… thicken and sicken from here….
As the Skid Row Urchin chorus musically opines “Ya Never Know” Seymour’s fame begins to rise in direct proportion to Audrey II’s growth, Events continue to spiral as Mushnik’s Florist shop begins to flourish, thanks to Audrey’s appeal. Seymour’s longing to be part of a family is “fed” by shop owner Mushnik, who realizes his business is dependent on the “growing” popularity of the plant only Seymour can tend, and he announces that “Mushnik and Son” will come about as the result of his adoption of orphan Seymour.
Not in the least sated by a mere few drops of blood, Audrey II demands more than the anemia-stricken Seymour can provide. With a guttural, imperious demand of “Feed me, Seymour”, Audrey II SPEAKS. With a voice that could uproot a giant redwood, Alecsys Proctor-Turner bring Audrey II to blood-lusting life; her booming, soulful, almost hypnotically rhythmic “Git it” rings through the Mac, and lets us know Audrey II holds all the cards now. Even her costume dripping with leaves, creeping tendrils and twining vines in shimmering effervescent shades of green enhanced with tinges of red commands all eyes on the now stage-dominant plant. In Ragtime, as Sarah’s Friend, Proctor-Turner provided one of the most heart-wrenching, show-stopping moments with her lament over Sarah’s death, and she is no less effective and captivating here, in a role the complete polar opposite to that signature piece.
In an almost Faustian “deal”, Audrey II promises Seymour that if her feeding needs are met, his dreams of wooing and winning Audrey will come true. Initially repulsed by the idea, Seymour witnesses his secret love Audrey being subjected to repeated abuse at the hands of her boyfriend Orin Scrivello…D.D.S., IF you please …and he lets his lesser demons overcome his better angels as Audrey II “persuades” him that Orin’s death can be the happiest of solutions for all concerned…with the notable exception of the dentist.
Pat Moran roars onto the stage as the leather-clad, chain-dripping, nitrous-oxide sniffing “Leader of the Plaque” Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., and makes the most of his relatively brief sadomasochistic moment on stage. As my companion noted “this guy is a little too much into his role”, as Moran swiveled, leapt, drilled, inhaled, and otherwise milked every deranged dental moment from both “Dentist” and “It’s just the gas”. At least I’m fairly certain what his comment was; I was laughing too hard to be sure I heard correctly. Orin’s eventual demise is the result of self-administered asphyxiation, but also enabled by lack of assistance from Seymour, who watches with an ice-cold demeanor as the abusive dentist breathes (in) his last. Moran is always a pleasure to watch; he throws himself into every role with unbridled enthusiasm, authenticity, and passion. His menacing, abusive, demeaning treatment of Audrey makes not just Seymour and Mushnik cringe, but the audience as well, and more than justifies the slight cheer that went up as Act 1 concludes with what remains of the dismembered dentist becoming Audrey II’s latest meal.
As the fashion-challenged, boyfriend-abused, initially worshiped from afar, love interest with a heart of gold Audrey, Emily Kron returns to the Mac-Haydn stage with all the presence and voice that makes her a perennial show-stopper. As she acknowledges her own stirrings of affection for Seymour, she absolutely BELTS her dreams of domestic bliss “Somewhere that’s Green”, leaving the audience longing for their own plastic covered furniture, frozen dinners, and cookie-cutter homes in suburbia. Joyously joining Mushnik and Seymour as the florist shop is “Closed for Renovation”, and later “Call Back in the Morning,” Kron shows us an Audrey beginning to bud with confidence that will eventually lead her to embrace and return Seymour’s love, before ultimately becoming another of Audrey II’s meals, a victim of Seymour’s struggle with the temptations of fame and the call of moral conscience. Her duet with Kelly of “Suddenly Seymour”, as Seymour and Audrey finally recognize and admit their feelings for each other is a resounding declaration of new-found love and determination to start a new life, even as Seymour has essentially resorted to dentist-cide, and Audrey still struggles with feeling of guilt that she may be responsible for Orin’s mysterious “disappearance.”
As Act 2 proceeds, Mushnik, suspicious of the “little red dots” all over the florist shop floor, hears the penny drop and realizes that Seymour is responsible for Orin’s death; unfortunately for Mushnik, Audrey II convinces Seymour that Mushnik is USDA Prime and that it’s “Suppertime” for the now domineering plant. Back on the Mac stage after his memorable Daddy Warbuck’s in last year’s “Annie.” George Dvorsky takes his turn as a curmudgeonly and sprightly Mr. Mushnik, spouting Yiddish and prancing with abandon. Alternately grumpy and paternal by turns, Dvorsky’s Mushnik plays perfectly against the initial naivete and timidity of Kelley’s Seymour, only to ultimately be betrayed by the “son” he greedily adopted to assure the future financial success of the business he leaves behind. Conned into the gaping maw of the hungry Audrey II, Mushnik disappears from the scene and the shop with a scream, and a flash of hot pink socks.
With his employer/father now consumed by the engorged foliage, Seymour is left as the sole owner of the flower shop, and find himself besieged on all sides by reporters, lawyers, agents and salesman, all wanting a “piece” of the Audrey II phenomenon, and tempting him with promises of fame and fortune. Coming to the realization that he can no longer be morally responsible for the murders Audrey II has forced him to commit, he considers killing the conniving plant, but remains convinced that Audrey could only love him for the success he has achieved since Audrey II came into their lives. Audrey, suspicious of Mushnik’s sudden departure to visit a sick sister in Czechoslovakia, visits Seymour hoping for an explanation, but finds him rambling incoherently, and at his urging, she retreats, but not before Seymour realizes her love is not dependent on the fame Audrey II has thrust upon him.
Audrey II must die. Alas, before Seymour can make reparation for his sins, Audrey returns to the shop, where her evil namesake cunningly entices her to water her withering limbs, which spring to life and begin to pull Audrey closer to her own death. Snatched from the jaws of the behemoth plant by the returning Seymour, but wounded beyond hope of recovery, Audrey begs to be fed to the plant after her death, so she will always be with Seymour. Reprising “Somewhere that’s Green” as Seymour ever so gently honors her dying wish, Audrey becomes one with the instrument of her death.
Finally realizing the plant has come from another planet with the ulterior motive to conquer the world ,Seymour also realizes that the World Botanical Enterprises plan to sell cuttings of Audrey II across America will only spread the evil. In a grief-induced rage, he tries to murder the murderer from the outside; when shooting, cutting and poisoning fail, he wields a machete and plunges into its open jaws, to be reunited in death with those who have gone before him. Cuttings are taken, distributed, and sold, and as our Skid Row chorus relates that across the country, blood-seeking plants are enticing their owners to feed them in exchange for promises of prosperity and profit, Audrey II reaches her pinnacle of size and power. In a finale that reaches a thunderous crescendo presented by the entire company, Orin, Mushnik, Seymour and Audrey reappear like walking zombies, entangled in and trailing vines, also imploring the audience “Don’t Feed the plants”, as a dancing, writhing, clearly victorious Audrey II reaches over and into the audience as the lights fade to black. In a show beautifully lit by Kevin Gleason from start to finish, the finale is a truly perfect technical moment.
In addition to the principle roles, as Motown-channeling, doo-wop crooning urchins, Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon serve as a Skid Row Greek chorus, narrating and defining and commenting on the action from the sidelines. Madi Cupp-Enyard, Angel Harrison, and Maya Cuevas bring vibrant life to the chorus with harmonious song stylings throughout the show. From introducing us to the “Little Shop of Horrors,” presenting the mysterious plant in “Da Doo” , telling the tale of “Dentist” and other musical moments throughout the show,
Any production of “Little Shop” depends on the quality “performance” of Audrey II, and at the Mac, they do it with textbook precision. As the humans’ lives proceed apace throughout the show, Audrey II grows to immense proportions, presented with skill and style and puppeteering expertise by Atsushi Eda . Eda manipulates Audrey II with increasingly threatening menace, surely not the easiest of tasks working in a circular theatre where virtually every “side” is exposed to the audience. By staging Audrey II’s “backside”, or in floral parlance, her root ball, against one of the corner “entrances” to the round stage, director Ledford and Eda have created the best possible space to display Audrey II for maximum impact. “Her” movements and size increase with every victim she devours; the finale is a masterpiece.
Once again, Costume Design deserves its own ovation as well. Alison Zador has captured the essence of Skid Row, with each of its denizens telling a story from the flasher to the milkman to the urchins, while the principle characters’ dress captures each individual personality. Audrey is the very definition of “fashionably tacky” ..or is that tackily fashionably?…with Mushnik and Seymour sartorially appropriate as well.
There is no need to get carried away looking for deep and hidden meanings in this show . Certainly there are weeds of domestic abuse, greed, class struggle to be found among the flowers of Mushnik’s shop, but this production offers what Mac-Haydn does best….bright, vibrant, enthusiastically performed musical theatre. This is a perfect show for a hot August night— cancel your dentist appointment,, bandage that paper cut, and head to Chatham before the offspring of Audrey II complete their nefarious plan of world domination. DON’T feed the plants before you go, but DO expect to have great good fun.
Little Shop of Horrors, book & lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, directed by Erin Spears Ledford, choreographed by Lauren Monteleone and music directed by David Maglione, runs August 8 through 18 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, NY. Costume design by Alison Zador, wig and makeup design by Matthew Oliver, scenic design by Emma Cummings, lighting design by Kevin Gleason, props by Joshua Gallagher and sound design by Nathan Schilz, stage manager Eoghan Hartley. CAST: Andrew Burton Kelley as Seymour Krelborn, Emily Kron as Audrey, Goerge Dvorsky as Mr. Mushnik, Pat Moran as Orin Scrivello..D.D.S., Alecsys Proctor-Turner as Audry II, Maya Cuevas as Ronnette, Angel Harrison as Crystal, Madi Cupp-Enyard as Chiffon, Atsushi Eda as Puppeteer for Audrey II, Anthony DaSilva and Joe Hornberger as Vine Puppeteers, Joe Hornberger as Skip Snip, Jonah Hale as Bernstein, Rachel Pantazis as Mrs. Luce, William Taitel as Patrick Martin, Sam Seleznow as Junkie, DeShaun Tost as Pimp, Kylan Ross as Milk Man, Spencer Petro as Uptown Square, Justin Forward as Plumber, Anthony DaSilva as Priest, Zoey Bright as Star to Be, Angie Colonna, Chelsea Lynne Myers, and Elizabeth D’Aiuto as Dental Assistants.
Running time: 2 hours including a 15 minute intermission.
For tickets and details please visit www.machaydntheatre.org or call the box office at (518) 392-9292.