Bringing Little Shop of Horrors to life is no small feat for any theatre company, and it’s even more difficult when performing in a very limited space, but the Potomac Playmakers and Director Nic Sigman do just that with verve and obvious love for the production, to the delight of their patrons.
Originally a 1960s campy, sci-fi B-movie by Roger Corman and Charles Griffith, in 1982, Little Shop premiered Off-Off-Broadway as a musical with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. After runs Off-Broadway, on Broadway, internationally, and a 1986 film based on the musical, this show has reached cult-classic status in the theatre community.
Running a florist shop on Skid Row is no easy task for Mr. Mushnik. When he reaches the point of closing the shop permanently, his shop clerk, Audrey, who has a penchant for not choosing the most upstanding boyfriends, tells him he should see the strange and unusual plant that his other clerk, Seymour, a bumbling klutz, has been growing. When he brings it out in a Maxwell House Coffee can to show Mushnik, the plant, which Seymour has named Audrey II, immediately catches the attention of a passerby who decides to purchase flowers while he’s there. Realizing they are sitting on a potential goldmine, they display it in a prominent place, and business starts booming.
While trying to figure out how to help this plant grow, Seymour pricks his finger and soon discovers this plant, which he acquired during a total eclipse of the sun, has a bizarre taste for blood–specifically, human blood. When Seymour has no more blood of his own to give, the plant starts talking to him and convinces him there are people out there who deserve to die and he’d be helping society as well as feeding the plant. Suffering from a bad case of unrequited love for Audrey, Seymour decides the first person who deserves to die is Audrey’s evil, sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin. When Orin asphyxiates himself with laughing gas, Seymour feeds him to Audrey II, convincing himself that he didn’t actually kill him, even though he had intended to, and the world was better off without him.
As Audrey II grows larger, Seymour becomes an overnight celebrity and also earns the love of Audrey, who dreams of getting out of Skid Row and moving to the suburbs where it’s green and peaceful. In order to have all his dreams fulfilled, Seymour continues to find victims, I mean food, for the plant, until he realizes the plant intends to spread throughout the country and eat everyone. At that point, after Audrey has sacrificed herself to the plant to help Seymour, he determines he has to stop feeding the plant and kill Audrey II before it destroys the human race.
As the clumsy, hapless schmuck, Seymour, Maverick McKee is well cast. The audience can feel his inner turmoil as he tries to win Audrey’s love, Mr. Mushnik’s approval, and keep Audrey II well-fed and happy so he can eventually get out of Skid Row with Audrey. His plaintive “Grow For Me” was a delight.
Ashley Cade as Audrey was charming. Feeling as though, because of her past, she doesn’t deserve a nice guy like Seymour, she instead finds herself in a cycle of abusive, controlling relationships, even as she dreams of an idyllic life in the suburbs, beautifully and heart-wrenchingly depicted in the audience favorite, “Somewhere That’s Green.” After Orin, her abusive dentist boyfriend, disappears, Seymour is finally able to convince her she deserves love and a nice guy, and together they can dream of a better life elsewhere.
Portraying down-on-his-luck florist, Mr. Mushnik, Barry Harbaugh was wonderful. His song, “Mushnik and Son,” sung with Seymour, was fun to watch.
Making up the small Greek chorus, Amaya Dull as Crystal, Andrea Miles as Ronnette, and Brett Palmer as Chiffon were hysterical with their sarcastic attitudes and facial expressions. Their tight, ’60s harmonies were perfection. Miles was a standout and really wailed on her featured solos. Skid Row inhabitant Christopher Leatherman kept very busy as a jack of all trades, jumping from being onstage to running around and joining the band at times as well.
The men behind Audrey II were fabulous. Richard Dobson, the voice behind the plant, has a gorgeous voice well suited for this role. “Feed Me (Git It)” was a highlight of the production. Andrew King, puppeteer inside the ever-growing plants, had his work cut out for him as he “sang,” danced in his pot, and ate his way through the production and did so with incredible energy. With these two men creating Audrey II, it’s no wonder the plant was able to convince sweet Seymour to kill people to keep the plant alive.
The ultimate scene-stealer in this production was Colt Smith as Orin, the dentist, as well as a few more small roles. When he was rolling on the floor as he died, the audience was right there with him, rolling with laughter. His rendition of “Dentist!” was pure comedy gold.
Director Nic Sigman and Assistant Director Brittany Elbourn didn’t have a large stage in which to work, but they did a wonderful job making the most out of the limited space. Choreography by Colleen Cheney was perfect for the 1960s setting. Her choreography for the three ladies was spot-on girl-group moves, but the standout numbers were definitely “Mushnik and Son” and “Dentist!”
Musical Director Ruthy Japzon not only did an outstanding job with the vocals, especially the tight harmonies of the three ladies, but she also led a small combo of musicians that sounded fantastic. Band members included Brian Rizer (drums), Evan Tritapoe (guitar), Karin Lytle and Ruthy Japzon (keyboards).
Set design by Blaine Smith and Chris Lane did a great job making the most use out of the available space. Lighting and sound design (both by Jeff Marcum) were well done to set the mood of the show. The only difficulty with it was some people, including Audrey, were sometimes hard to hear due to their mic placements.
Special commendation goes to puppet creators Natasha Smith and Max Poston. All the Audrey II puppets were beautifully made and operated very well.
If you are a fan of fun, campy, sci-fi musicals, the Potomac Playmakers’ production is not to be missed. Seating is limited, so purchase your tickets in advance so you don’t miss out on the fun.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.