Little Shop of Horrors opened last night at the Laurel Mill Play House directed by Michael Hartsfield and produced by Maureen Rogers. This quirky satirical farce has become an American classic. It is hard to believe that it has been around over 50 years. That this originally off-Broadway musical has become an American standard is due in part to the music by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the same duo who gave us The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Although the story takes place in the 50s, the comedy reaches across the decades and is still funny today.
The musical itself is very simple. Ungainly boy falls for sexy girl who is in an abusive relationship. Luck gives him a magical plant and it’s, to quote Mr. Menken, “A Whole New World.” The humor comes from the fact that this is no kindly genie but voracious man-eating flora.
The schleppy young man is played by Cam Sammartano. He captures the vulnerable and smitten Seymour. He has just the right timidity and torn conscience to make us believe this stereotype is a real person His visit to the dentist captures his conflict whether to be a good person and unhappy or a bad person and miserable. He delivers fine renditions of “Grow for Me” and “Sudden Changes” and is terrific in the dentist’s chair with “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” with Michael McGoogan (Orin).
Miranda Snyder plays the sexy young woman stuck in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist The actress is only 18 years-old but her poise on stage never belies her age. Ms. Snyder and Mr. Sammartano have great chemistry together both when they are “just friends” to when they become a couple. The young thespian captures the character’s naïveté, sweetness and poor self image, and like her cast members, keeps this Audrey three-dimensional. She delivers a moving and funny “Somewhere That’s Green,” and she and Summartano sing some beautiful harmonies in “Suddenly Seymour.”
In supporting roles Andrew Acevedo, as Mushnick, and Michael McGoogan, as Orin, the Dentist, quickly expose the essence of their characters. Mr. Acevedo shows us the kindness and morality of this schnook who owns the plant store. He and Sammartano show how the shopkeeper and his now famous clerk have a symbiotic relationship based on need (greed?) and genuine affection. Mr. McGoogan plays the very mean and manic dentist expertly, catching the satirical nature of the tooth man, as well as his underlying sociopathic behavior especially in the chilling “Dentist!”
The other supporting roles of note are the backup group, named after Phil Spector’s creations, the Ronnettes, the Chiffons, and the Crystals. Melissa Volkert (Crystal), Attey Harper (Chiffon) and Aaron Hancock (Ronnie) are not just window dressing. Their harmonic voices and cute 60’s r&b steps enhance the production. Making Ronnie a male might even make things funnier.
I have to mention Audrey II, the alien plant. It comes to life through the puppetry of Paul D. Grodt and Julie Rogers and the voice of Alex Pecas.
The rest of the ensemble does a commendable job as well, and includes James Raymond, Cory Neeley Hillary Glass, Brianna Morton, and Taylor-Kay Prendergast.
The most amazing part of production is the wonderful set by James Raymond, which goes way beyond what we usually see in local theater. Mr. Raymond has recently created some very terrific sets for Laurel Mill Playhouse, but this one is spectacular. There is a extraordinary curtain across the stage at the opening. LMP rarely, if ever, uses a curtain. This one was created especially for this show. It is funny, bold, and scary. It tells us what we can expect to shortly unfold before us.
The set itself covers every small aspect of the stage without seeming overcrowded. The flower shop is the locale for 90% of the show both outside and inside. The outside which is Skid Row has two doorways both stage right and left complete with old 3 dimensional bricks and includes stoops and doorways. Center stage is a desk which at the start is framed by a window. (You will swear there is real glass). Later the desk is moved to stage right and the window frames the plant Outside of the window is a very detailed city skyline that sweeps to stage left. There is also a door to the shop with a window that is framed in another brick façade. The most brilliant part is the ceiling of the shop complete with skylights with stained windows. It is creatively angled to bring our attention to at first Seymour, Muchnick, and Audrey, and then to the mysterious plant. Leaving no stone unturned, Raymond put a bit of skyline over the stage left part of the roof. The lighting by Michael Hartsfield, especially the way it frames the skyline, helps illuminate this production.
Michael Hartsfield, who is also directing the show, directs his wonderful cast most ably, allowing them to develop their characters but still pays attention to moving them around this small stage without blocking anyone from the audience and keeping enough movement to keep things from becoming static. The plant feedings, which are probably very complicated choreography, were seamless.
The four-piece musical ensemble is under the direction of Bill Georg, and the live music is a nice addition and the group of musicians performed the popular score quite well.
Laurel Mill Playhouse’s Little Shop of Horrors will quickly grow on you. Eat well before you arrive, and remember not to feed the plant.
Running Time: About 2 hours, with one intermission.