Fun and Fear on Skid Row: Millburn Stone’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

by Ruth K. Brown

Josh Singer and Morgan DeTogne in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Milburn Stone Theatre through June 19.

In what has been come to be known by me as “Milburn Stone style”, the Friday night audience at the Milburn Stone Theater in North East, Maryland, was treated to a version of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS that should stay in their memories for a long time. I can say that I have seen productions with larger casts; I can say that I have seen productions with more sophisticated sets. But I cannot say that I have seen a more energetic (bordering on manic) and engaging production.

While the program spells out the comic book theory with which director, S. Lee Lewis, built this production, you have to be there to appreciate the crayon colors, the dazzling costumes, the live music and the inventive set construction alternating between the Skid Row Florist shop and everywhere else. Lewis imbued his production and his cast with his sense of “the comics” both in their characters and their timing.

Musical director, Marji Eldreth, took this comic theme and had the music match. Eldreth and four other musicians (A.J. LoPorto, Jim Fazzino, Tom Collins and Tyler Bristo) provided the pacing, color and gaiety of the comics while still keeping, when required, the hard edge focus of a graphic novel.

I am hard pressed to remember anyone I have seen do the role of Seymour as believably as Josh Singer. Singer’s physicality, dance moves, vocality and obvious adoration of Audrey were a pleasure to watch. At times throughout the production I kept having flashes of Sheldon Cooper (“The Big Bang Theory”) and Jerry Lewis doing his very best schlemiel. High praise indeed. But don’t think that Singer was alone. Morgan DeTogne played Audrey with exact proportions of dumb, helpful, and vulnerable. Both Singer and DeTogne had no issues with the music ranges and styles and their personal mikes prevented any hearing problems.

A true “trio de force” was embodied by Ariel Chaillou, Kashana Roberts, and Terrie Goins. This highly opinionated Greek chorus accompanied the happenings down on Skid Row. As Skid Row changed, so did they! Nice costume movement from disheveled street urchins to Supremes wannabes.

The florist shop owner, Mr. Mushnik, is usually played as a gruff but loveable character. Ted Cregger chose the gruff and not-so-lovable path. It worked also. The song Mushnik and Son gave Cregger his largest opportunity for showcasing this choice. While the music mixing was generally good throughout, during this particular song the mixing went somewhat awry. Since Cregger was not provided with a personal mike much of the cleverness of the song lyrics were lost. However, he held his own throughout the production even with those who were louder than he.

Our first look at Russell Matthews is as the mashochistic dentist, Orin. It hurts me to think about it!! Anyway, Matthews played Orin as mean, arrogant, self-serving and generally despicable. In other words, he was exactly right! But did Matthews stop there … indeed he did not!! A director has a choice to make when confronted with multiple cameo characters and how to portray them to the audience. Lewis chose to allow Russell Matthews to use differing vocalities. In short, the audience may have seen the same face; but they didn’t hear the same voice. A smarmy magazine reporter, a fast-talking salesman, a hypocritical TV spot vendor all gave Matthews a chance to show his vocal prowess … and he did!

There are two additional aspects of “Little Shop of Horrors” that need mentioning. The audience watches Audrey II (Seymour’s path to success) grow from a little seedling to a monster blood-aholic. When Audrey II begins to speak, another facet is revealed. Again, an interesting Lewis choice to have a female voice Audrey II. You might think that is NO choice but in this particular theatrical landscape, there is a choice here. Rachel Ann Morgan did a fine job in giving both a voice and an attitude to Audrey II. This is the other place where the sound mixing was problematical; and, when Audrey II sang, that was much of what you heard even when others had joined.

During curtain calls for “Little Shop of Horrors”, there is one character who is not seen during the show but who is easily recognized as he appears. The sweat-drenched actor who takes the stage for his bow looking like the poster child for “rode hard and put away wet” is the person who manipulated the giant Audrey II through scenes of conversation, multiple songs and multiple meals. At Milburn Stone this difficult but incredibly important role was undertaken by Brandon Gorin. Kudos and more kudos for your work under the fiberglass and fabric construction of Audrey II!!

Take your children and give them a treat they won’t soon forget. Take them to see “Little Shop of Horrors” in North East, Maryland.

Or leave them at home and come yourselves!! Not one of you will be disappointed.

by Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
June 10-19, 2011
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive, North East, MD
(410) 287-1023

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