Love in bloom: Amy Goldberger, Josh Lamon and Ray Arrucci in Merry-Go-Round Playhouse’s Little Shop of Horrors.
There’s no need for a spoiler alert
about what Audrey II is supposed to be. Six-year-olds entering the
theater already know the line, “Feeeed me!” What audiences may not know
going in is that while the story of Little Shop of Horrors has
been told three times, it does not always come out the same way. In
director Roger Corman’s original 1960 black-and-white movie the story
is set in Los Angeles, and the florist shop of the title belongs to Mr.
and Mrs. Mushnick, who have been squeezed together into one character
in the musical. In the 1986 color movie version of the musical, with
memorable performances by Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, the ending has
been softened beyond recognition.
Only in this version now at MGR do you
get the straight ending. Or perhaps that should be the twisted ending.
Anyway, it was the willingness to take chances, not the cheapness of
production values, that made Little Shop of Horrors the quintessential off-Broadway musical, as well as the biggest moneymaker in the history of off-Broadway.
The continued popularity of Little Shop
with American regional audiences makes for a liability in the short
run. The models available for rent of the different versions of Audrey
II were too tatty for MGR standards, so a new one had to be ordered
from Monkey Boys Productions, who also work for Sesame Street and such Broadway productions as Avenue Q. Enter Auburn-born puppeteer Marc Petrosino, whose credits range from Sesame Street (again)
to the Metropolitan Opera with Anthony Minghella. His arms and legs are
long enough to do the work of four players in other productions. So the
Audrey II in the last scenes is not large enough to swallow the city of
Auburn but fresh enough to have just sprung out of the garden.
To refresh memory, Mushnick (Ray Arrucci, who played Max Bialystock in MGR’s The Producers)
runs a money-losing florist shop in Skid Row in New York City. He knows
he can no longer rely on his kewpie-doll blonde employee Audrey (Amy
Goldberger), who’s chronically late and regularly abused by her
boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Chuck Rea), a leader-of-the-pack biker who
satisfies his sadistic craving by working as a dentist. The versatile
Rea also plays all the walk-on parts, male or female, including a wino
and a compliant customer who happily shells out $100 for wilted roses,
thus saving Mushnick’s business.
Also working in the shop is hyper-nerd
Seymour Krelborn (Josh Lamon), a former orphan adopted by Mushnick.
Seymour is futilely smitten with fellow employee Audrey and thinks
constantly of ways to improve his employer’s failing business.
Setting the scene are three
African-American girls, Chiffon (Jade Hicks), Ronnette (Kellee
Knighten) and Crystal (Gabrielle Porter), who sing in the style of the
doo-wop girl groups of the 1960s. Although when spoken to they have
plenty of attitude, the girls are chic (thanks to costumer Travis Lope)
and poised, a kind of Greek chorus with urban maturity. Still, their
name in the program is “Urchins.”
Director Steve Bebout, who has much experience with Little Shop, gives them more class, even hauteur,
perhaps a sign that we look back on the early days of rock’n’roll
differently in 2008 than we did in 1982. Their opening numbers, “Little
Shop of Horrors” and “Skid Row (Downtown),” set a high mark. With Mark
Goodman’s dynamic musical direction, Robert Billig’s on pointe vocal
arrangements and Lori Leshner’s choreography, production standards for Little Shop
promise all the company’s high professional gloss. On opening night,
alas, that promise was not always delivered, as chronic miking problems
plagued the two leads through both the first and second acts.
Both Lamon and Goldberger are well-cast
performers who play just a little bit against type. Lamon is smarter
and gutsier than previous Seymours, but when his glasses begin to
scrape against his microphone, starting with the first act’s “Grow for
Me,” his efforts are undercut. Goldberger’s Audrey (yes, rhymes with
“tawdry”) is usually seen as a street tart with a heart of gold and
lungs of brass, like Cathy Moriarty in Raging Bull or any
youthful appearances of the late Mae Questal or Iris Adrian. Goldberger
and director Bebout give us a subdued, more restrained Audrey, who’s
sweet on Seymour before the bullying Orin has been removed from the
picture. The tender “Somewhere That’s Green” in the first act should
have been a reminder of how much heart is in the show, but too many of
the words were unintelligible even in the rows where critics sit.
These weaknesses had the effect of
elevating the supporting roles. Orin’s first solo, “Dentist!” is a
show-stopper, and the pre-intermission duo with Seymour, “Now (It’s
Just the Gas),” blows off the roof. Mushnick’s “Don’t It Go to Show Ya
Never Know” makes us glad Arrucci stayed in town. Michael James Leslie,
incidentally a Cornell law graduate, owns the voice of Audrey II. He’s
already sung the role, with the second act’s solo “Suppertime,” on
Broadway, in London and on the road, garnering award nominations each
With all its subtext about consumerism and ambition, unexamined here, Little Shop of Horrors
is a young man’s show, where composer Alan Menken is constantly pushing
the envelope. He went on to write the great Disney crowd-pleasers, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and last year’s Enchanted. After 26 years, his multi-level spoof about a killer plant comes on like Broadway.
This production runs through Sept. 6. See Times Table for information.