Friday, March 14, 2014

It would be "Horror"ble if you didn't go to "Little Shop of Horrors"

Audrey (Jessica Skerrit, center) and the trio (l-r) Crystal (Naomi Morgan), Chiffon (Alexandria Henderson), and Ronette (Nicole Rashida Prothro) in Little Shop of Horrors (photo: Tracy Martin)

Little Shop of Horrors
ACT Theatre (in co-production with 5th Avenue Theatre)
through June 15

Little Shop of Horrors may have been around for more than thirty years, but time hasn't dimmed its wacky appeal. Sure, there are stock characters: the brusk boss, the nerdy store clerk, the unassuming but beautiful store clerk, the bad-boy boyfriend. But each of them has enough unique characteristics to give them plenty to play with.  

The newly opened co-production at ACT Theatre (with 5th Avenue) has a kick-ass cast and is so intimate that the audience is pulled right into the middle of the action immediately. The Greek Chorus trio, Ronnette (Nicole Rashida Prothro), Chiffon (Alexandria Henderson) and Crystal (Naomi Morgan) walk in with powerhouse belting that stirs everyone up and gets the energy going. Their doo-wop sound instantly lets us know we're back in the 1950s.

Joshua Carter as Seymour, the rescued orphan boy who has grown up to expect little from life, is humble and nerdily appealing. Jeff Steitzer as his unlikely rescuer-boss, Mushnik, is irrascible and a bit calculating, even when he does nice things. When it's his turn to "go," we don't feel sooo badly about it.

Jessica Skerritt does what seems like her "usual" job of playing the bombshell with the heart of gold, and convinces us that she doesn't think she deserves being treated well. Her turn as Audrey is fully believable. She makes us all want her to realize that she is better off with Seymour than her current masochistic dentist bad-boy.

David Anthony Lewis as the bad-boy and then multiple others handles all those duties excellently. Lewis has been many musical bad-boys recently and can switch on a dime from that portrayal to "everyone elses" of varying niceness. But Dentist, the signature song of torture is hysterical, and he certainly makes us hate the dentist. 

Apparently, you can rent the entire Audrey 2 contraption, which this production did. It's an elaborate piece of work, and it's easy to see why they would rather just do that and avoid recreating it. The man who sits inside and sweats out the puppetry is Eric Esteb. He does everything he has to perfectly. So does the man who has to sing for the monster: Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. Harrid's voice is the mellow, seductive, Barry-White-substitute that can also roar his hunger and nasty threats.

Bill Berry's direction and R.J. Tancioco's music directing combine to bring out the fun, the fantasy and the feeling of the show. The technical support is stellar, with a fabulous and intricate set design that pushes the action far toward the audience (by Martin Christoffel), colorful costuming (by Pete Rush), complicated lighting - including aspects of sci-fi storytelling (by Robert Aguilar) and additional soundscaping (by Justin Stasiw). 

The Howard Ashman/Alan Menken songs remind us what an award-winning duo they have been all these years. Also, this is the REAL story, not the movie story. This has the ending that played Off-Broadway, rather than the altered ending that came about when focus groups said they were displeased with an ending that involves every main character dying. But it all adds up to them reminding us: Don't Feed the Plants!

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