Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at the United States Naval Academy

The Department of Musical Activities at the United States Naval Academy’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is a fun, fast-paced romp through a modern classic. The musical about a man-eating plant that descends from outer space and attempts to take over the world from a Skid Row flower shop features book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. Little Shop premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982, and in 1986 was turned into a movie. This version, directed by Brian Hissong, with musical direction by Monte Maxwell, features wonderful singing and acting, with plenty of comedy and some emotional punches.

The cast of 'Little Shop of Horrors.' Photo courtesy of the US Naval Academy.
The cast of ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ Photo courtesy of the US Naval Academy.

Colin Gallacher brings a physicality to Seymour. Slightly stooped over, his first appearance onstage is to trip and drop a box. In “Ya Never Know” he joins Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon (Maddie Reynolds, Lael Sommer, and Tiera Sterling) in a conga line, while keeping the plant from nibbling on them. He leaps onto the stoop in “Suddenly Seymour.” He fills “Grow for Me” with exasperation. He brings out a combination of determination and despair in the end of “Skid Row” that made this viewer a little weepy. After the reprise of “Somewhere That’s Green” he falls to the floor in anguish.

Hayden Burger captures the crankiness of Mushnik, constantly negative. He comes alive in “Mushnik and Son,” falling to the ground and vocalizing before Gallacher sits on his knee. At the end, Gallacher leaps into Burger’s arms.

Mackenzie Hirth gives a wounded quality to Audrey. In “Somewhere That’s Green” she wistfully sings of a suburban fantasy, a strange mix of hope with resignation. She fills the reprise with deep sadness. She trembles around Orin (William Paris), quickly apologizing for interrupting him, and racing around the shop.

William Paris brings a swagger to Orin. Even when standing still, he sways his hips. In “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” he holds Gallacher in the dentist chair, tenderly stroking him while manically laughing. In “Be A Dentist,” he sings with joy of inflicting pain. He projects a dominating air when around Hirth, snapping his fingers and hurling insults at her.

Maddie Reynolds, Lael Sommer, and Tiera Sterling give no-nonsense street smarts to Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon. They sass Burger when he asks why they’re not in school. They attack Paris when they realize who he is. They energetically move across the stage in “Little Shop of Horrors.” They give wonderful effects to Gallacher’s narration in “Da Do” before gliding out the shop. They sing seductively in “Suppertime,” beckoning Gallacher from the edge of the stage.

Andre Rascoe gives a sultry, seductive feel as the voice of Audrey II, while Michael Ware expertly moves the plant’s mouth as the Plant Operator. Rascoe brings the jazziness to “Git It,” while filling “Suppertime” with anticipation. He gives an urgency to the plant’s cravings. Ware gives an expressiveness to Audrey II right from the beginning, its mouth open in glee after “Grow for Me.”

Mackenzie Hirsch and the cast of 'Little Shop of Horrors.' Photo courtesy of the US Naval Academy.
Mackenzie Hirth as Audrey and the cast of ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ Photo courtesy of the US Naval Academy.

Scenic Designer Terrence Hissong has constructed a colorful set that cleverly unfolds for various scenes. Outdoor scenes have two brick walls, one with a door, the other with a boarded-up window, each with its own stoop. These roll back to show Mushnik’s Flower Shop, with a front door and windows and a door leading to back. Trash cans are on the far right and left of the stage, and on the far left is a sleeping bag.

Orin’s dental office is a wall, with painful-looking instruments attached to it, including a mace, and a dentist’s chair. Props Master Anna Farnan makes sure all sort of unusual items lie around the stage ready to be picked up by the cast, including a gun, an oversize bottle of rat poison, and a machete for the climatic scene. Thanks to Production and Props Artist Helen Arguello, the body parts fed to Audrey II look good without being gory. And the bigger and bigger puppets used for Audrey II look beautiful, the last one dominating the stage.

Costume Manager Charlene Carr and Costume Assistant Daniel Moriarty have made outfits that help reflect each character’s personality. Seymour wears a blue and white striped shirt, with a gray vest and yellow bowtie. Audrey wears a tight black dress, accompanied by a black and white sling, later changing into a leopard print dress with red sash, and finishing the show in a frilly pink bathrobe and slippers. Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon are in skirts, t-shirts, and jackets, later wearing red sparkly dresses with feather boas. Orin wears leather pants and a leather jacket with a dentist’s smock. Makeup Artist Monica Johnson makes sure Audrey’s black eye is visible even from the back of the theater.

Michael Klima uses lighting to great effect as Lighting Designer, helping to enhance the musical’s atmosphere. In “Suddenly Seymour” the light spotlights on Seymour and Audrey, while they slightly darken in “Suppertime,” adding to the suspense. Colored lights flash during “Da Do.” Sound Engineer Hunter McGavran throws out sound effects, like Orin’s motorcycle, and makes sure the performers come through clearly; in fact, this viewer finally heard all the lyrics to “The Meek Shall Inherit” for the first time.

Music Director Monte Maxwell energetically leads the Orchestra from a space between the stage and the audience. The catchy toe-tapping music comes through clear without overwhelming the singing. Jodi Hissong does a terrific job as Choreographer, creating movements for the performers that feel natural and give a lot of action to the stage. Director Brian Hissong manages the cast wonderfully. The performers expertly navigate the stage and each other. They sing with passion and perfectly hit both the comic moments and the more emotional ones. Whether you’ve seen the show a million times before or this is your first time, you’re sure to enjoy this production. You might even want to sing along!

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 15-minute intermission.

Little Shop of Horrors plays through March 3, 2019, at Mahan Hall at the United States Naval Academy – 121 Blake Road, Annapolis, MD. For tickets, call 410-293-8497 or purchase them online.