Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

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It’s the heartwarming story of a hapless boy and his exotic plant. No, wait, it’s a cautionary sci-fi allegory about human desire. Correction: it’s a fun doo-wop musical packed with archetypical characters and catchy tunes. Or maybe it’s better described as a romantic musical comedy that skewers 1960s American values. You want a show that has everything? Stop beating around the bush and walk into the Little Shop Of Horrors at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 12, 2018, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 12, 2018, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland.

The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center houses multiple performance venues. Little Shop plays in the Kay Theatre, and the curvy raked seating with box seats and a mezzanine gives a cozy feel to a space that seats over 600. The smallish stage is used very imaginatively, with multiple levels, dual-duty set pieces, and fluid “locations.”

Little Shop Of Horrors has evolved from its origins as a Roger Corman B-movie sci-fi/horror/comedy flick in 1960 to an Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical, which opened Off-Off-Broadway, then ran Off-Broadway for five years. It also ran for two years in London’s West End, and was adapted into a Frank Oz-directed movie in 1986. Curiously, Ellen Greene played Audrey in all versions but the Roger Corman film.

Director Ron Himes molds this now oft-produced community favorite into a lively romp celebrating fuzzy nostalgia in the manner of Grease, while highlighting the sci-fi elements, and with them, the underlying admonition central to the original Corman movie. His careful casting generates a watchable ensemble and memorable featured characters.

Music Director Deborah Jacobson does a wonderful job allowing vocals to build, rather than hitting us full force in the early numbers. The trio of “urchins” are prominently featured in this production, and are a joy to observe and hear. Taylor Stokes, Paige Weiss and Samara Brown as Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette sing, sass, sashay and slither all over the stage, brilliantly performing their function as touchstone narrative-minders. Live musicians perform onstage, screened by a chain-link fence stuffed with trash. They are acknowledged but don’t take a bow; they deserve one.

Singing is uniformly high quality in ensemble numbers. “Skid Row” is everything an opening number ought to be, and the yardstick against which other opening numbers are measured. This cast and choreographer promise excellence in this number, and deliver in later ones. Smaller numbers shine or stumble, depending on the skill and surety of the vocalists. Erin Valade, in the role of Audrey, is a powerhouse singer and offers a hilarious rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green.” Playing antagonist Orin Scrivello, Gabrys Wronka is very convincing and we loathe him as we are meant to do, despite his stirring rendition of “Dentist.” As Seymour Krelborn, Andrew Saundry is endearing and earnest, and with backup support by the vocal trio, performs a rousing duet of “Suddenly Seymour” beside Valade’s Audrey.

A school of UMD’s size has many stage production toys to play with, and a better-than-shoestring budget. Naturally, production values overall are strong. Scenic Designer Grace Limbach Guarniere’s set is eye-catching and full of details, detritus, and neon. It makes good use of the space and has a definite flow, accommodating the movement of rolling set pieces. Sound quality is excellent; actors’ mics all deliver clear audio, ensuring maximum comprehension of Ashburn’s snicker-worthy lyrics. Peter Leibold VI’s flashy lighting design is clever and compensates for the inspecificities of setting imposed by the stage’s size and the show’s necessary mechanics. The very special effects required in Little Shop are done as one would hope of Jim Henson’s alma mater.

Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 12, 2018, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland.
Little Shop of Horrors plays through October 12, 2018, at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. Photo by Stephanie S. Cordle/University of Maryland.

If you’re a fan of the 1986 film version of Little Shop, be advised that there are some components of the musical which are different. You’ll enjoy several musical numbers that were left out, and a more sci-fi focus than the movie’s altered ending permits.

There are not many performances left of this production, so weed best not wither away! Go see whether everything’s coming up roses for Seymour in this carefully cultivated production of Little Shop Of Horrors. Abloom with comedy and song, it’ll take root in your heart and leaf you laughing.

Running Time: Two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Little Shop Of Horrors, presented by the University of Maryland School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies, plays through October 12, 2018, in the Kay Theatre at UMD’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, 8270 Alumni Drive, College Park, MD. Buy tickets at the ticket office, located in The Clarice lobby, by phone at 301-405-2787, option 0, or purchase them online.

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