‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at Stillpointe Initiative Theatre by Amanda Gunther

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FOUR AND A HALF STARS
Look out. Look Out! LOOK OUT! A strange alien plant-like species has found its way to the back alleys of Baltimore as The Stillpointe Theatre Initiative presents the classic monster-musical Little Shop of Horrors as the first show in their new season, entitled “Feed Your Obsession.” Directed by Ryan Haase with Musical Direction by Stacey Antoine, this deliciously dark musical comedy is sure to satiate even the hungriest of theatre goers.

Seymour (Alex Xourias) and Audrey (Kim Jacobs). Photo by  Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.
Seymour (Alex Xourias) and Audrey (Kim Jacobs). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

True to the imaginative vision of Stillpointe Theatre Initiative, Artistic Director Ryan Haase has taken this musical to new heights, retooling a classic in a way you’ve never seen before. The show becomes an experience, from the moment you’re lead—by some wildly outfitted hobos— back through a “Skid Row” alley to reach the theatre’s rear entrance and come up into Mushnik’s Florist Shop you know you’re in for a real thrill ride.

Haase, as the show’s Scenic Designer, takes the unique store-front spacing of the Strand Theatre and transforms it back into a likeness of its original existence. With the audience seated behind the counter, those watching become part of the show; entangled in the messy lives of those involved. Haase’s use of the space really hones into the setting of the show; creating a realistic atmosphere for this sci-fi thriller.

As the show’s director Haase really focuses on making this show the ultimate audience experience. During little moments of ‘between-scenes’ as well as before the show and the intermission the people of Skid Row are interacting with the audience, completely in these well-developed and sharply honed characters that Haase has created. The doo-wop trio is the prime example of this breed of fun; the way these three stellar ladies engage with the audience makes for a scream of a good time.

Haase’s most stellar concept for the show is, unfortunately, the thing that can’t be discussed, The Audrey II. But I can guarantee you that you have never ever seen an Audrey II like this. Haase’s unique and intriguing interpretation of this larger-than life character puts a revitalizing new spin on this production – inspiring new work played out within the confines of this riveting classic.

Musical Director Stacey Antoine commands such incredible sounds from the ensembles and the individuals; every time a song is sung it completely fills the space with a powerful blast of energy and emotion. The one inevitable drawback is that there are moments when the live band, despite being elevated above the play space and slightly masked, does wash away the more subtle singing moments. This happens at the beginning of numbers like “Call Back in the Morning,” and “Closed For Renovation.”

Having only two members of the ‘ensemble’ is a bold move for this musical, but Lawrence D. Bryant (playing the female ensemble roles) and Charles Long (playing the male ensemble roles) hold their own against this epic show. Long and Bryant have powerful voices that are easily recognizable in group harmonies for larger numbers like “Skid Row.” Bryant’s falsetto adds a teasing comic element to his roles, particularly in the dentist’s office during “Dentist!”

The Doo-Wop trio consisting of Chiffon (Malinda Markland), Crystal (Amanda J. Rife), and Ronette (Ciera Dennis) are sensational. Their voices alone are vocal dynamite, each of these three ladies taking turns belting in the spotlight for numbers like “The Meek Shall Inherit,” and “Ya Never Know.” The inventive nature of the relationship that this trio forms is startling but refreshing. Formulating a catty camaraderie among themselves adds layers of humorous depth to their moments in the spotlight…particularly when Dennis shoves Rife out of the way to hog it. With nasally accents and all the right ghetto attitude of girls who grew up on skid row, these three singing sensations nail their characters on the heads.

Mushnik (B. Thomas Rinaldi) has a versatility to him not previously explored; a gruff and blustering exterior with a flagrant flamboyance burbling beneath the surface. Rinaldi does not start off as the most powerful of singers but when he gets to “Mushnik and Son” he’s belting out beautifully and really delving into the campy over-the-top nature of the character. His racy almost flirtatious dance routine with Seymour in this number leaves the audience in peels of laughter.

Be sure to say “Aah” for Orin Scrivello D.D.S. (Will Carson) the most terrifying maniacally possessed man in the cast. Carson gives a stunning rendition of the doctor, perfectly balancing his whacky nitrous-high side against his furious raging monster side. His voice is enormous when singing “Dentist!,” and he strikes fear into those watching. But its Carson’s laugh that really sent shivers up my spine; there’s something unnatural about it that fits the character to perfection.

Sweet nerdy Seymour (Alex Xourias) and simple air-head Audrey (Kim Jacobs) really craft the epitome of these iconic characters. The impressive thing about their performance is that they maintain their characters’ integrity that they have created for these two awkward little people while singing. I never lost sight of Xourias’ clumsy nature, nervous voice or overall geeky presence even when he was belting out in numbers like “Sudden Changes,” and “Suddenly Seymour.” The same can be said for Jacobs, her accent and overall lofty approach to the character rings true, especially in her syrupy rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green,” where her eyes really reflect the images she paints as she sings.

The sweetest moment in the play comes from Xourias and Jacobs’ duet, “Suddenly Seymour” where the pair sings in darkness, lit only by flashlights on their faces showing them in their simplest and most honest form. The pair makes beautiful harmonies together and have rich emotional vulnerabilities that they readily share.

(l to r) Crystal (Amanda J Rife), Mushnik (B. Thomas Rinaldi), Ronette (Ciera Dennis), and Chiffon (Malinda Markland). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.
(l to r) Crystal (Amanda J Rife), Mushnik (B. Thomas Rinaldi), Ronette (Ciera Dennis), and Chiffon (Malinda Markland). Photo by Britt Olsen-Ecker Photography.

Last but certainly not least— The Audrey II (Danielle Robinette). There’s an attitude and ferocious presence here that needs to be seen to be believed. The conceptualized notion of the show’s big surprise would not work with any other performer. Robinette is fierce, both vocally and physically, commanding everyone’s attention the moment she ‘arrives.’ There are moments early on in “Feed Me (Git It)” where the notes in the extreme low end of the songs range sound a little too low for her, but she easily makes up for that with the gritty and sultry character that she infuses into the plant for “Suppertime.” Robinette’s soulful sound burns like a ravenous beast from within and really blasts her voice for maximum effect during that number and the “Sominex/Suppertime (Reprise.)”

This show is so intense that it’ll make you want to feed the plants— especially the ending with the full ensemble doing something simplistically clever to really wrap up the show right. Make sure all your cuts are bandaged before you head down to Stillpointe Theatre Initiative…you never know when Audrey II might be coming for you!

Running Time: Approximately 1 hour and 50 minutes, with one intermission.

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Little Shop of Horrors plays through November 2, 2013 at The Stillpointe Theatre Initiative at The Strand Theater—1823 North Charles Street, in Baltimore, MD. Tickets can be purchased at the door, or in advance online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.