LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, THE MUSICAL has never been my favorite musical, but that most likely has to do with its origins and Roger Corman, who directed the 1960 low-budget black comedy film by the same name. It is still a black comedy, although it portends to be a comedy horror rock musical.
The Eagle Theatre keeps that, but makes it more, for the better. The story is a simple one as always: a hapless flower shop employee named Seymour finds an unusual plant one night in the woods (no reason) and brings it back to work, thinking it might bring in some business. While trying everything to make the plant thrive, he discovers it is human blood or human bodies that make it grow. Although providing his plant such food is a heinous thought to him, his living in skid row, his inability to make his girl, Audrey, happy without fame and fortune, and his being green with envy for her dentist friend, he finds his first food for Audrey II. Like Faust, he is caught in the Devil’s grasp.
Howard Ashman, the writer, spoofs science fiction “B” movies, musicals and The Faust legend. But that was a long time ago. LITTLE SHOP still does that and in some ways this production does it better, but perhaps we can add to the list of spoofing: the horror genre, the poor as always the victim of getting rich schemes, as always exploited by the rich or powerful, and as always the victim in any catastrophe. Perhaps, this is an upgrading for today’s taste.
As I researched the musical, I realized that Corman’s film was my only experience with this enormously successful and popular show. It ran for five years off-Broadway, won many awards and has several memorable and popularly successful songs. And, never a year goes by that you don’t see a theatre producing its version. The Eagle Theatre’s production is an interesting and perfect diversion, molded for today’s themes as well as the season. I have to admit I found myself engaged, amused and quite entertained, while I may not have expected it. I always appreciate something new.
Led by Director Ed Corsi, the Eagle Theatre production took a Burtonesque approach to the musical—making it dark and gothic. Yet, at the same time, he worked at making it realistic. In the end—these touches make the result more interesting in the creative rendering.
In black comedy, the subject matter is something most of us do not take lightly, nor do we care to discuss it, i.e., gross or gruesome details, dying or death; however, when it is presented it makes us smile at the serious, yet undeserved irony. Think ARSENIC AND OLD LACE. Senior ladies poisoning gentleman visitors and burying their bodies in the basement doesn’t sound funny. Black comedy.
Especially in black comedy, actors are taught to play comedy straight. That is, to play the situation as their characters interpret it. If the actors believe it and it is honestly played, the audience will see the humor in the character and situation, if it is there.
One of the differences in this production is that not all the characters are played for slapstick, silliness or stupidity, but rather true comedy, and it works. One character, or rather a series of characters played by one actor, is played for slapstick and it works, too. The difference between the two is that we care about the characters played honestly, but not the ones played for slapstick because they are not real.
In most other productions of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, all characters are airheaded, slapstick characters. None of the dialogue has changed–just the approach. The spoof is the same. The slapstick is still funny in a slapstick kind of way, but no more. “Feed me more!” roars Audrey II. Well, this is more.
The director, with vision, also took some liberties that I won’t go into for now. It would mean spoilers if you haven’t experienced the show yet. For those of you who have, you will probably find the changes enlightening. The musical, Howard Ashman, or composer, Alan Menken wrote changed the original story from the film a great deal, too, with success.
In the original show much happens for “no reason” and here there is a reason. Although, if that reason is too well hidden whether you discover the mystery will depend on your attention to detail. There was a little tweaking done here to give the show meaning instead of just poking fun. Nothing is done for “no reason.”
Justin Goldman, The Eagle Theatre’s new technical director, created a fantastic set with a revolving “shop” and a flat that was moved out to become the dentist’s office with white tile and other realistic features. Chris Miller was responsible for both scenic design and lighting. Lighting effects were pretty amazing and important in the show. Both sound and music as always are incomparable in South Jersey.
Kate Scharff’s choreography was in serious doo-wop mode and in the hands of a very capable do-wopper. (I liked the additional do-wopper.) Kate Tharp Shafer did a terrific job on costumes as well.
In fact, this more “realistic” approach to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS had the makings of a Greek tragedy with our protagonists with fatal flaws and a chorus “singing” the tale, but no one is wearing “masks” but one. It’s still an American comedy horror musical by definition so it didn’t go as far seriously, but it was interesting to ponder.
The cast was brilliant in its acting, singing and dancing. One thing about following a company like this is the opportunity to see some of the same actors in different parts and see them stretch.
Tonight I saw a lot of stretching from Tim Rinehart who played “Orin…and everyone else;” he was the one character who didn’t have to play it straight so I’m sure he had fun. He was a riot. There is a reason for this. Hint. He is not what he seems. Beware – the do-woppers (urchins), terrific singers and dancers with street attitude, are greenish seductresses. And, Audrey II, don’t get too close. The moves, dialogue and songs behind the great plant monster work well for two. Great job guys.
Frankie Rowles was the perfect Seymour–just as Naomi Weiss, the perfect Audrey. David Wills did a fine job with Mr. Mushnik. I loved all the girls (urchins), above and on the sides. Audrey II scared me. The music was never better.
If you like the LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, you’ll definitely like this version at The Eagle Theatre. If you don’t think you will, trust me—give it a shot. And don’t forget the wine bar.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Ed Corsi
November 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 21, 22, 23 at 8:00PM
November 10 & 17 at 3:00PM
The Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton, New Jersey