Saturday, May 26, 2018

Little Shop of Horrors at Lakewood

Little shop, big rewards
by Michael Dresdner

Seymour (Niclas Olson) with Audrey II     all photos by Tim Johnston 

Little Shop of Horrors, the perpetually popular, delightfully campy, energetically silly musical, opened last night at Lakewood Playhouse to a well-deserved sold out house.

As it was directed by Chris Serface, I was expecting great things, and I was in no way disappointed. Serface has (again) assembled a fantastic cast of triple threat singing and dancing actors backed up by an equally stellar production crew. The result is a near-perfect version of an enchantingly fun musical laced with lovable (and lovably evil) characters, great music and dance numbers, non-stop action, and enough humor to keep the audience enthralled from curtain to curtain. In short, you’re in for a thoroughly enjoyable evening.

Baby Audrey II with Seymour (Niclas Olson) 
Little Shop started out life in 1960 as a B movie, reputedly based on a 1932 short story about a man-eating plant. The 1983 musical version retained both a wealth of 60’s cultural references (Howdy Doody, plastic furniture covers, Levittown) and a modest dose of Jewish humor, all atop a score interwoven with upbeat period music, including doo wop, classic rock and roll, and even a bit of Motown.

Mr. Mushkin (Tim McFarlan) 
Sweet (and sweet voiced) nerd Seymour (Niclas Olson) works for gruff but likeable Mr. Mushnik (Tim McFarlan) at his failing skid row 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 (Jennifer Redston), a wonderful blend of Betty Boop cuteness and blonde cluelessness wrapped in a Bowery accent.

Crazy dentist Orin (Will Johnson), Seymour (Niclas Olson) 
Though she’s the secret love of Seymour’s life, Audrey is in an abusive relationship with a hilariously sadistic dentist (Will Johnson.) Johnson, a relative newcomer to Lakewood and acting alike, absolutely commands the stage in what is surely a break-out performance as the giddily twisted, gas-inhaling dentist, then returns in a handful of other guises. With a fine array of voices, postures, facial expressions, and mannerisms, he’s a veritable one-man-band of on-stage entertainment. This is definitely someone to watch.

As Audrey II grows ever larger, the plant brings fame and fortune to the shop while helping to sort out troublesome individuals, but what happens when the “bad guys” are all eaten and the plant is still hungry? 

Ronnette (Brittany Griffins) Audrey (Jennifer Redston) Crystal (Antoinette Nicole Bridges) Chiffon (Joelle Craft)
Tying things together is a thoroughly engaging doo wop trio with names reminiscent of the “girl groups” of the 60’s. Crystal (Antoinette Nicole Bridges), Ronnette (Brittany Griffins), and Chiffon (Joelle Craft), in exaggerated bouffant hairdos and bobby sox outfits, act as a Greek chorus to fill in background story lines with sixties era song and dance. They are one of the many high points of a play simply bristling with top-notch singing, dancing, and acting.

And let’s not forget Audrey II, an increasingly larger and more menacing series of puppets voiced by the multi-talented Eric Clausell and manipulated by James Wrede, reprising his puppeteer role as Tacoma Little Theatre’s Audrey II five years ago.

Audrey (Jennifer Redston), Audrey II, Seymour (Niclas Olson) 
The charming revolving set by Blake York, arguably the South Sound’s best set designer, was a perfect background for the efforts of a very talented production crew. Karrie Morrison handled the wonderful props and set dressing, and lighting design was by Kate Wilson. The costumes, which were an absolute hoot, are thanks to Blayne Fujita. Make sure you get a gander at the back of the dentist’s coat. We can thank TLT's Jeffery Swiney-Weaver for the superb and hilarious wigs and hairdos. 

An excellent live pit band (LaMont Atkinson, James Vincent Sloan, Joseph Ralston) was led by musical director Zachary Kellogg, and supplementary sound design was by Artistic Director John Munn. The masterful choreography was thanks to Heather Covington Malroy. Finally, let’s tip a hat to stage manager Ana Bury, more often seen either on stage or painting it.

Theatre regulars might have noticed that Serface and John Munn, the artistic directors of TLT and Lakewood respectively, have lately been “trading places” by each directing a play at the other’s theatre. This is just one of many cooperative initiatives that’s been raising the bar at both theatres.  

I really can’t say enough good things about this whole production, but I can tell you it all adds up to an evening of non-stop fun. Even though it has a month-long run, expect it to sell out, so get your tickets early. Frankly, this is a wonderful way to end a theatre season.

Little Shop of Horrors
May 25 to June 24, 2018
Lakewood Playhouse