Saturday, May 4, 2013

Little Shop of Horrors at TLT

Little slice of heaven
by Michael Dresdner

photos by Galen Wicks
L to R, back: Deshanna Brown, Alexandria Henderson, Kenya Adams. Front: Benjamin Cournoyer.

Laurels are definitely in order for Tacoma Little Theatre's current offering of Little Shop of Horrors, a high camp, over-the-top musical comedy that hides its dark side with exaggerated stereotypes, impossible situations, and flat out gaudy silliness. It’s a wonderful, lively romp with a sterling cast, an inventive set (Micheal O’Hara), great direction (Maria Valenzuela), superb musical backing (Terry O’Hara), and of course, the delightful puppets comprising Audrey II, in all their growing iterations.

Little Shop started out life in 1960 as a B movie reputedly based on a 1932 short story about a man-eating (person eating?) plant.  It was shot for only $30K and laced with enough Jewish humor that some saw it as anti-Semitic. Much of the Jewish humor remains. For instance, owner Mushnik’s top customer is the Shiva Funeral home, a not at all subtle reference to sitting shiva, the traditional Jewish seven day mourning practice.  

L to R: Andrew Fry, Benjamin Cournoyer, Gretchen Boyt 
Seymour (Benjamin Cournoyer), who is the spitting image of Toad from American Graffiti, works for Mr. Mushnik (Andrew Fry) in his skid row NY flower shop. Just after an eclipse, Seymour finds and buys an odd plant that seems to thrive only on human blood. He names it Audrey II after his beautiful but ditzy co-worker, Audrey (Gretchen Boyt), the secret love of his life who is in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist (Justin Michael Thornton) . As Audrey II grows ever larger, the plant brings fame and fortune to the shop, eventually sorting out all the personal issues afoot, though not necessarily in a good way.

Cournoyer is wonderfully nerdy as Seymour, though admittedly, his singing does not quite come up to his acting chops. The same is true of Fry’s gruff, decidedly Jewish Mushnik. Boyt is delightfully slinky as the lower east side denizen Audrey, replete with great singing voice and convincing accent. Thornton , as her dentist boyfriend, sings, dances, and struts magnificently, doing yeoman service not only in that role, but in three other smaller ones as well. Unseen but just as vital is James Wrede working the series of oversized Audrey II puppets, all voiced by Carmen Brantley-Payne. Both work mostly behind the scenes but also have bit parts on stage.  

Shining through this overall excellent cast is an amazing doo wop trio. With names reminiscent of the “girl groups” of the 60’s, they act as a Greek chorus to fill in background and story lines with sixties era style song and dance. Crystal (Alexandria Henderson ), Ronnette (Kenya Adams), and Chiffon (Deshana Brown) are a most endearing triple threat in both senses of the term, separately and together delighting the audience with their considerable singing, dancing, and acting skills. In many ways, they are both the glue that ties everything together and the high point of the play.

All the support work is equally noteworthy. O’Hara’s rotating, two-sided sets, convincingly aged with Brie Yost’s noteworthy painting skills, create just the right mood when amplified by Niclas R. Olson’s lighting. Michele Graves’ costumes, as usual, are excellent, especially the doo wop trio, who are also aided by Jimmy Shield’s fine choreography. Unseen but definitely worth kudos was a terrific band, whose names are unfortunately omitted from the program. I don’t know who you are, but my hat’s off to you.

Taken as a whole, it’s fun, it’s boisterous, and it’s silly, but it’s definitely worth your time. Go see Little Shop of  Horrors while it continues its run at Tacoma Little Theatre. It’s a worthy musical finale for this season’s main stage offerings.

Little Shop of Horrors
May 3 to 26, 2013
Tacoma Little Theatre

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