‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at 2nd Star Productions by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR STARS
Whatever you do…don’t feed the plants! The advice could not be more crystal clear and once you head down to the playhouse in the woods for 2nd Star Productions’ production Little Shop of Horrors you’ll know exactly why! Directed by Jane B. Wingard with Musical Direction by Joe Biddle, this sci-fi musical is exactly what the doctor ordered to head you into the fall theatre season. With their own unique version of the iconic plant, the show is really taking shape…and devouring audience members with its campy comic style.

Seymour (Nathan Bowen) and Mushnik (Gary Seddon).Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.
Seymour (Nathan Bowen) and Mushnik (Gary Seddon).Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

It has to be handed to Director Jane B. Wingard for so fluidly incorporating the ‘puppet’ into the overall show so well. It is often no easy task to work with a puppet (especially not one that changes multiple times throughout the duration of the show in size and complexity) as an additional character on the stage. Wingard’s puppeteering skills makes you feel to the “Audrey II” for nearly every scene. The one drawback to this enormous alien plant life is during its final form when Wingard chooses to utilize several chorus members. Because of the angle at which most of the actors remain hunched and bunched up it really ends up looking quite awkward, like humans without faces in brown cloth. But that small misstep aside, Wingard’s work with the puppets and main puppeteer Steve Hudgins, was a pretty remarkable success.

Other design elements did not fall into place quite so readily. Costume Coordinators Linda Swann and Gail Bagaria had a mismatched approach to getting the 1960s era off the ground. While Seymour, Mushnik, Audrey, and Orin looked like the epitome of these iconic characters, the ensemble drifted along in more of a vague notion of 60’s fashion. The Doo-Wop girls in particular stood out because their outfits never matched, even just having all three of them in skirts or dresses instead of one in a dress, one in a skirt, and one in modern-looking clothes could have helped alleviate this awkwardness.

The stage design, however, was impressive. Wingard, doubling as the show’s Set Designer, crafted her vision of “Skid Row” in lower East Manhattan  with the right drab color schemes and derelict looking surroundings. These details never detracted from “Audrey II” when it was meant to be the focus of the scene – but rather enhanced the enormity of the alien plant.

 Hannah Thornhill as Audrey. Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.
Hannah Thornhill as Audrey. Photo courtesy of 2nd Star Productions.

Musical Director Joe Biddle overall created solid sounds from the ensemble. There were times, particularly during “Da-Doo” and “The Meek Shall Inherit” where the harmonies and intonation were wavering a bit, but otherwise the lyrics were crisp and understandable and the melodies carried quite well. Voices that really popped and caught my attention were Amy Mack and Malarie Novotny, playing two of the Da-Doo-Doo-Wop girls. Mack in particular is a vocal powerhouse that can be heard belting her heart out during “Skid Row” and is a particularly animated performer.

Biddle really masters the special effects notion behind the projection on the microphone of “Audrey II” (voiced by Jeff Sprague). That haunting other-worldly voice of the alien plant comes bursting through the scene and it sends a little chill up your spine, especially when Sprague starts singing “Feed Me (Git It.)” Sprague has an exceptionally smooth and yet richly flavorful voice that is perfect for this blood-lusting plant.

The real show-stealer is Orin Scrivello D.D.S.(Dean Davis). With an extremely powerful knockout voice, Dean blows the audience away during “Dentist!” His slimy brutal characterization of the masochistic character is too good to be believed as he really gets to the root of that character’s blackened soul in his feature number. The belt alone sustained near the end of that song is phenomenal. Davis is a brilliant character actor and although his role is short-lived he’s a knockout that is clearly out of this world.

Rounding out the talent in the performance is Mushnik (Gary Seddon). Another greatly talented character actor, Seddon showcases his vocal prowess during “Musnik and Son” with an equally impressive (though not as long in duration) belt of power. His amusing dancing during this number also keeps the audience roaring with laughter. Seddon has a masterful hand on the broken New York accent, really giving his character that extra dimension needed for comic success.

Putting her hands on the perfect accent is Audrey (Hannah Thornhill.) Vocalizing the character in her nasally uncertain New-York sound, Thornhill really grounds herself in the character’s flighty nature. And a talent to boot, Thornhill sings a rather amazing rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” hitting the notes of the song while maintaining the vocal integrity of the character’s voice that she has created. Thornhill achieves the impossible by creating depth in this rather static stereotypical bimbo, showing two clearly distinctive sides of her personality; one for the terrifying dentist and the other for the syrupy sweet Seymour.

The botanical genius behind it all is Seymour (Nathan Bowen). An adorably charming performer with a keen sense of awkward comic timing (which really lends itself to this character in particular) Bowen also crafts a voice for Seymour that makes him amusing and enjoyable. Though at times he is unfortunately washed away by the orchestra during numbers like “Grow For Me” he shines through with an incredible sound for “Suddenly, Seymour,” a riveting duet shared with Thornhill. Overall Bowen is the quintessential nerd and perfect for the role, giving his heart, sweat, and blood to Seymour’s overall growth and development.

Make sure all your cuts are bandaged, we don’t want any temptations, and get down to 2nd Star Productions’ Little Shop of Horrors in the playhouse in the woods before the plants take over!

Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.

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Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 26, 2013 at 2nd Star Productions performing at The Bowie Playhouse—in White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 575-5700, or purchase them online.