You know the story. A meek, mild-mannered floral shop worker meets an other-worldly plant during a solar eclipse, and the rest is doo wop history. Fredericktowne Players, a Frederick County-based theater group active since 1969, drew the curtain on their latest production, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s Little Shop of Horrors.
The inaugural production of their new season, The Players have set the bar high for the year with LSOH. A simple but large one-piece set dominates the big stage at Frederick Community College’s Kussmaul Theater. It has exactly what it needs, and nothing more. A few stoops, streetlights and a park bench frame what becomes the interior of Mushnik’s Florist shop, home to most of the show’s action. Tim & Kyle Huth’s set design and construction displays the desperation faced by Mrs. Mushnik, a florist with drab and dusty flowers in an all-but empty store.
A really tight rock quintent sits just off stage, sort-of hidden behind some large plants. They definitely let you know they’re there, but the music is great, so even if it’s a bit loud, no sweat.
The Skid Row singers, Kendall Sigmund (Crystal), Shaina Freeman (Ronette) and Katie Kennedy (Chiffon) are the glue that holds the whole comic/tragic tale together, and these girls BRING IT. Big voices, lots of gum-chewing and finger-snapping attitude, and a recurring sight gag related to the dollar bills they often receive make you glad to see them whenever they saunter across the stage.
Director Steve Cairns took some chances with his casting choices, but when risk gets rewarded, audiences get entertained. In one interesting move, he cast Lee Hebb as Seymour Krellborn, the nebbish floral shop hand, and Amy Hebb, Lee’s wife, as Mrs. Mushnik, the long-suffering shop owner. Trust me, it works. Lee seems perfectly cast as the lovable nerd, pining away for his sexy coworker Audrey, played by Sara Charbonneau. More on Sara later.
Lee’s Seymour pours his love for Audrey into the exotic plant he discovered in Chinatown. He also pours his blood into the plant, which he calls Audrey II. Lee Hebb has played lots of great character roles in Frederick-area productions over the years, but with Seymour he may have found his perfect star vehicle. He really is that good!
Amy Hebb’s Mrs. Mushnik pushes the audience, most of whom expect a male in the role. Again, the casting works. She’s a comic tour-de-force, shuffling across the stage as she watches the shop’s fortune turn on the growth of the blood-sucking plant. It’s always the eyes and face that get the laugh, and watching Amy is watching a comic master at work.
Another risk Director Steve Cairns took was casting himself as Orin Scrivello, DDS. We’ve all seen productions where a director took a major role, and then the show suffers from the split-allegiance. Not in this case. Steve Cairns is almost a human hurricane when he takes the stage. The scene in the dentist office with the laughing gas almost stole the show. The only downside is that he’s gone (literally) by intermission.
And that brings us to Sara Charbonneau, our tortured but lovable Audrey. She has a great New Yawk accent, she looks great in her slightly risqué attire, and her facial expressions get the laughs she deserves, but when she opens her mouth to sing: Oy Vey!
She sings the two signature songs of the show, “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour,” but that’s not giving her deserved credit. She belts these songs from the soles of her feet. We’re talking goosebumps here! Ms. Charbonneau is simply fantastic, and worth the price of the ticket.
A few others deserve special mention, although every ensemble member adds greatly to the quality of the production. The two puppeteers, Ashley Hall and Thomas Bricker, take one for team buried under the weight of the Broadway-quality Audrey II puppet. You can tell when they emerge from the bowels of the plant at curtain call what a physical toll their work takes. Likewise, the soulful voice of Audrey II, Lucas Badger, really belts out the song “Feed Me” on a microphone hidden backstage.
That’s not to say there weren’t a few minor glitches. A couple of the wireless microphones were clipping and screechy. The music was a bit loud, at least at the start of the show. Whatever minor tech hiccups and skipped dialogue snuck through was easily overcome by powerful voices singing on key, a groovy, soulful backbeat and some great comedic timing.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 4, 2015 at The Fredericktowne Players performing at at the JBK Theater at Frederick Community College – 7932 Oppossumtown Pike, in Frederick MD. For tickets, call (240) 315-3855, or purchase them online.