Cabrillo Stage hits the mark with 'Little Shop of Horrors'
By Joyce D. Mann
Could anything be more weirdly out of place than a florist in the heart of a dreary New York skid row neighborhood? Mr. Mushnik's flower shop, a "customer-forsaken" place on the brink of ruin, is just such a setting. So it's no surprise that things take a turn for the bizarre when dorky assistant Seymour introduces a harmless-looking little succulent lovingly named in honor of his secret crush, ditzy shop assistant Audrey, to the shop's desolate environment. Like Seymour, Audrey II has a secret: it's a rapidly growing plant of the Venus' flytrap variety, and it doesn't limit its diet to flies.
The premise is set for Little Shop of Horrors, which opens Cabrillo Stage's summer season with a bang. This dazzling production, directed by Dustin Leonard, brings to hilarious life the book and lyrics of Howard Ashman and the music of Alan Menken through deft performances, clever choreography and great costumes.
Andrew Ceglio's Seymour is inspired, a broadly played sentimental nerd who ably anchors the play and who is motivated solely by a desire to impress Audrey, winningly played by Ariel Buck. Seymour's cultivation of Audrey II brings him fame and fortune, but it also presents him with a dilemma--how can he continue to find food for the plant? Ultimately he overindulges Audrey II, with devastating results.
For her part, Buck is more than the quintessential dumb blonde. She possesses a touching naïveté, especially when she describes her modest vision of life in a little house "somewhere green" with the unassuming Seymour. However, there is the looming problem of boyfriend Orin, a sadistic biker/dentist brilliantly played by Brad Shreve. Low on self-esteem, Audrey allows Orin to knock her around, a dynamic that could get creepy fast. Shreve, however, skillfully walks the line, traveling to extremes of weird behavior but never really going too far--until he does go too far, in a particularly gruesome but humorous manner. Shreve plays a variety of other quirky characters to equally good effect. Counterpoint to him is Ben "Jammin'" Holck as the overbearing Mr. Mushnik, holding together the eccentric little group with his considerable stage presence.
One of the delights of the evening is the chorus: Chiffon (Ashley Little), Crystal (Briana Michaud) and Ronnette (Victoria Morgan). They kick off the show and appear throughout in a variety of guises, singing everything from blues to gospel to doo-wop backup. And finally, we have Audrey II herself, convincingly brought to life by puppeteer Yahel Townsend and given voice by Jennifer Taylor Daniels.
The show relies heavily on good ensemble work, and the versatile cast belts out songs and dances up a storm. Trevor Little's choreography is well thought out and well executed; music and vocal director Michael McGushin elicits great performances from his cast, while his seven-piece band (Brad Hecht, Robin Anderson, Kylan deGhetaldi, Q. Morrow, David Nordgren, Jeremy Cross and McGushin) is an event in itself.
Maria Crush has clearly had fun with the gorgeous and elaborate costumes, which take us back to 1950s pop styles. Mark Hopkins' set design is a tour de force that conjures up the dingy underbelly of Gotham City with fascinating detail, while Stuart Ponder's sound design and Kyle Grant's lighting evoke a variety of moods and settings from the streets of New York to the gates of, dare we say, hell.
Not since John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids has there been a more predatory and horrifying plant than Audrey II. Little Shop of Horrors may make you think twice before you venture into your local flower shop, and it will definitely give "plant food" a new connotation. Don't think twice, though, about venturing into a performance of this excellent production. Despite the macabre subject matter, it is laugh-out-loud funny, colorful and clever. It provides a wonderful start to the summer theater season.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through July 22 at the Erica Schilling Forum on the Cabrillo College campus. For tickets, call 831.479.6154 or visit www.cabrillostage.com.
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