Sunday, August 14, 2005

REV: Little Shop of Horrors

Review, Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Sarah Tacey, The Point Theatre, Ingram, Texas 13 August 2005

I got to see Sarah Tacey's Little Shop of Horrors at The Point last night. What a hoot.

My only quibbles would be that it rained, and a number of folks had to sit under umbrellas or paper towels. Not much anyone could do about that. And it's a giant compliment to the cast and crew that no one vanished at intermission.

It was especially nice to see some old faces back on the stage -- notably Jessica Roberts, Emily Houghton, Josh O'Brien and Roy Nordgulen. Top that off with some really fine newcomers, an absolutely incredible set, and you have one mighty fine show.

The two front and center humans were both new -- Kerry Goff and Elizabeth Ilseng. She, as Audrey, was just fantastic. Her character, of the Betty Boop-charming-floozy type, was adorable -- we ached as she displayed her result-of-the-can't-get-out-of-it relationship with the despicable dentist Orin. But when she finally downshifted into overdrive and started singing -- well, oh my. What a voice.

Goff was also perfectly in character, stretching the arc from the nebbish backroom boy to the media star quite handsomely. He too has a smooth and finely wrought singing voice (he just needs to hit some of the first and last notes a bit closer to home).

Sarah Tomlin, Roberts and Houghton as the Ronnette/Crystal/Chiffon trio of unemployed somethings were an outstanding counterpoint to every scene, and their sublime harmonies literally lifted every song off the stage. I'd watch the show again just to see them.

And Roy Nordgulen as Mushnik was his usual endearing self. Sometimes you just wanna go hug the guy -- he's a giant warm fuzzy.

The puppeteers and voice, O'Brien, Glenda Barnes and Isaac Grimmer, worked the expected magic with Audrey II the voracious flytrap. In particular, Grimmer's near bass vocals, and the blind timing of the inside-the-puppet manipulators stole the scenes they were in. Quite a turn for that crew.

Although obviously it was a total crew effort to bring this off, i'd like to mention three areas of special merit.

First, the choreography. In my estimation many local/regional musicals fail miserably simply because of choreography (and that most delicate of stage magician work -- combining blocking with choreography and creating what we call "flow"). All too many times i've seen a lot of hard work be rendered drab by the use of standard steps and routines. Until about five years ago this was a Point standard -- steal the choreography and squeeze it in. Several talented folks in the meantime have made their way to the theatre on the Guadalupe. The latest is Ambra Freeman.

Last night's show was proof of a personal dictum -- it doesn't have to be showy or acrobatic to work. All things should be in service of the story. The routines here were short, elegant, flowed very nicely into the blocking, and more than anything else, were well-adapted to the skills of the actors and the setting. Very nicely done.

Next is the set design. Another thing that sometimes gets in the way of bringing an audience in for more is that too many things can become stale in an inbred community. Through eight HCAF directors i've seen way too many set styles become standards. Although a couple of those directors in particular were very creative and introduced new elements, still flats were flats, and sets kind of were sets. But Curtis Ashby and his crew of builders created the single freshest and most delightful eye-candy of a set i've seen on this stage (and, p.s. i was not able to make the other three summer shows so they may have been creating this kind of magic all summer). In any case the Skid Row florist's shop was superbly appointed and creatively rendered. The graphics looked professional, theatrical and metaphorical all at once. On opening curtain, i immediately wanted to know what was going to happen in this little fairy-tale land.

Lastly, the costumes. And this is another Ashby thing, along with Barnes, and a crew of sewers and makers. I particularly liked the juxtaposition here of everyday work clothes with flamboyant archetypal costumes. Outside the center of reality that was the shop, everyone was basically a prop to set a scene or further an action. So it was perfect to know a drunken bum at first sight, a homeless woman, a media shark. Very nice.

And finally, congrats to Sarah Tacey for another in a long line of excellent productions she's managed to direct. May she have many more.

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