I have a confession to make, by the end of The Arlington Players’ production of Little Shop of Horrors, I wanted to feed the plants. With book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, this talented and clever community of theater performers deftly transported a rainy night in Arlington to the shaded streets of Skid Row.
The small cast was lead by Jonathan Jackson as the klutzy and adorable Seymour, a wonderful surprise right from the start. In a role that he’s has been refining for years, according to his bio, Jackson used every moment on stage and in his songs to bring to life this sincere and insecure character.
His love for Audrey, played by Nina Jankowicz, was so innocent it made perfect sense for him to be look up lovingly into her eyes instead of vice verse.
Jankowicz was another highlight of the evening. Given how heavily the character of Audrey is drawn from the stereotypical Brooklyn blonde, it can be easily overplayed, but this Audrey nicely walked the line between character acting and Broadway diva. I was flinching as she nervously scampered around the flower shop for her good for nothing Orin Scrivello, DDS (Matt Liptak), but I couldn’t help a smile as she dreamt of that 12 inch TV. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” was wonderful, as was her heartwarming rendition of “Suddenly Seymour” sung with Jackson.
The thread running in and out of the fabric of the show were the doo-wop trio of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette played by Tahara Robinson, Jocelyn Hunt, and Ivana Alexander. Each incredibly talented soloist sang those streets to life with their interwoven harmonies and some fantastic breakout moments.
Matt Liptak was also another staple as a man of many hats, accents, and statures. Taking on everything from the motorcycle-riding dentist to the female editor of Time Magazine, Liptak was always the person to watch.
The thrifty and observant owner of the Mushnik (and Son) Flower Shop was played by Christopher Gillespie. His Mushnik had an awkward knack for comedic timing that worked well. The song “Mushnik and Son” in particular had me groaning with laughter, almost enough to make you forgive his horrible treatment of the confidence-less Seymour.
But possibly my favorite character was the beautiful plant, Audrey II. He was wonderfully and creepily voiced by D’Arcee Neal and animated by Todd Paul, who was also the show’s Producer. It was clear that The Arlington Players took this elemental part of Little Shop of Horrors very seriously in their staging and prop choices as the alien plant grew. Each iteration was adorably overstuffed, which was more than appropriate for this fantastically themed musical, and several version involved creative animation tricks from strings to hidden hands to full character costume. I also very much liked how Neal was incorporated downstage during his spectacular vocal battles with Seymour; a very clever way to keep the voice of Audrey II on stage while not detracting from the dialogue between foolish amateur botanist and felt plant.
One of the people behind the smart decisions I saw on stage was Director and Choreographer, Lisa Anne Bailey. A veteran of the DMV theatre world, she put that experience to good use with the nicely staged and well-paced show. Another standout of the crew was Lighting Designer Jeffery Scott Auerbach. There were several times I was utterly impressed with the variety and finesse of the lighting choices made. One moment near the end of the second act and I could have sworn I saw a Broadway playbill photoshoot in action.
The small but mighty Little Shop of Horrors orchestra was lead by Conductor and Music Director Blakeman Brophy, who also played the keyboards. Mike Stein, David Smigielski, David Burrelli, Matt Robotham, and Scott Luxenberg all did an excellent job from just offstage to keep the characters in line. Sound Designer Drew Moberley, Costume Designer Kasey M. Dunton, and Set Designer Amanda Acker also dressed the cast and stage to a slightly campy T that would have made the original production proud.
A delightfully playful production that was peppered with grins, giggles, and outright gasps, Little Shop of Horrors is certainly one I’d shop at again. You must plant yourself at The Arlington Players and enjoy this bloody good show!
Running Time: Two hours, with a 15-minute intermission.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 24, 2015 at The Arlington Players performing at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre – 125 South Old Glebe Road, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 549-1063, or purchase them online.