Monday, August 15, 2005

REV: A Pro's take on Little Shop

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ delivers campy fun
By Liz Kellar, The Daily Times, Published August 13, 2005

The Point’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” might be the perfect end to summer — it’s campy, Motown-inflected fun full of pop-culture references and winning performances.

“Little Shop of Horrors” originally was a 1960 Roger Corman film, turned into an award-winning off-Broadway show, which morphed into a Hollywood film in 1986 and then was revived on Broadway in 2004.

With that kind of history, any local performance must bear the burden of past performances; think Jack Nicholson and Steve Martin, in turn, as the sadistic dentist and Rick Moranis as the nebbishy Seymour Krelborn. But under the direction of Sarah Tacey, the cast has risen to the task of fleshing out those juicy roles.

As the story begins, Audrey and Seymour are about to be laid off by Mr. Mushnik, the owner of the rundown flower store where they work.

At Audrey’s urging, Seymour brings out a strange and unusual plant he recently bought, a plant he has named Audrey II. Customers soon crowd the shop to get a look at the potted pod, and business booms.

But Audrey II is ailing. And like everybody else with a sick plant, Seymour tries vitamins, food spikes, more sun, less sun, etc. It is only after he pricks his finger on a rose that Seymour learns of the plant’s thirst for blood. At first, Audrey II is satisfied with daily transfusions from the ever more anemic Seymour.

Kerry Goff and Elizabeth Ilseng, two imports from Fredericksburg, are particularly appealing as Seymour and his lady love, Audrey.

Goff does a fantastic job of investing his character with sweet awkwardness as he discovers the true price of his growing fame. Goff — perhaps inevitably — brings Moranis to mind, especially in the initial scenes where he stumbles around in a baseball cap and glasses. But he more than holds his own as Seymour, especially in his duets with his carnivorous pet.

Ilseng also shines in the role of Audrey, the sales clerk with a near-fatal case of low self-esteem. As Audrey, Ilseng has the difficult task of delivering pathos and laughs in equal parts as she sings a paean to a 1950s suburban dream, “Somewhere That’s Green.” That she delivers on both counts is a testament to a fresh talent of which I hope Kerrville audiences get to see more.

Part of the fun of “Little Shop” is watching the bloodthirsty Audrey II as it grows — in this production, thanks to the talents of puppeteers Glenda Barnes and Josh O’Brien. And audience members will get a huge kick out of the moment when the ever-expanding cabbage finally opens its mouth to demand fresh meat. Isaac Grimmer, who provides the voice of Audrey II, nails it with a dead-on impression of a voracious man-eater from outer space. Grimmer also portrays a drunken bum in the chorus, provoking a great audience response during the show’s opening number, “Skid Row.”

Jerry Mertz is a standout as Audrey’s abusive boyfriend. As the motorcycle-riding, leather-jacketed dentist with a taste for pain, Mertz is over the top — in a good way — as he describes his career path in “Dentist” and as he dies by degrees in “Now (It’s Just The Gas).” Mertz also delivers laughs in a quick-change segment at the end of the play when he takes on, in quick succession, the roles of Mr. Bernstein, Clare Boothe Luce and Skip Snip as they each offer Seymour more exposure in “The Meek Shall Inherit.”

The Greek chorus of the three doo-wop girls — Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon — deserve kudos. From the opening minutes, when they rise from the orchestra pit, to the finale, “Don’t Feed The Plants,” the trio — beautifully voiced by Sarah Tomlin, Jessica Roberts and Emily Houghton — provide ironic punctuation to the mounting body count. And Curtis Ashby’s cluttered alleyway of a set works well with the muted palette of salmon, mustard, red and black to bring Skid Row to life.

As in past outdoor productions at the Point, there were a few sound issues; hopefully these will be ironed out in succeeding performances. And this is just a minor quibble; overall, “Little Shop of Horrors” fares very well indeed out at the Point.

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