Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Little Shop of Horrors
At first glance, Little Shop of Horrors might not seem the kind of show for Ford's Theatre in Washington to present. Where's the dramatic scope, the historical and philosophical questions regarding the roles of people in a society, the legacy of Abraham Lincoln? But remember that the 1982 musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is now well into "classic" territory, and that its plot concerns downtrodden folk desperately straining to achieve for a better lifeand who's to say that Lincoln, a man of common tastes who enjoyed a funny story, wouldn't have been thoroughly entertained by this tale of an extra-terrestrial monster plant that lives by eating people?
Director Coy Middlebrook and choreographer Karma Camp have pulled out all the stops on this production, which is a rollicking delight from start to finish. The cast is perfect, including some of the area's most notable performers; the five musicians, led by pianist George Fulginiti-Shakar, stay with them throughout; and the whole thing never drags for a minute.
On Court Watson's cleverly designed, turntable-driven, 360-degree set, the residents of Skid Row go about their business in the early 1960s. Crotchety old Mr. Mushnik (Christopher Bloch) worries that no one buys flowers from his shop; saleswoman Audrey (Jenna Coker-Jones) tries to cope with her abusive boyfriend Orin (Evan Casey in a gravity-defying pompadour wig); and nebbishy shop assistant Seymour (Christopher Kale Jones) longs to take Audrey away from the gritty streets to the suburb of her dreams. With the arrival of the mysterious plant Seymour names "Audrey II," he might just be able to do it.
Jones and Coker-Jones, who are married offstage, convey the genuine sweetness as well as the silliness in their characters, and they both have the necessary singing voices. (If anything, Wade Laboissonniere's costumes for Audrey are a little too tasteful at first.) Bloch is properly dyspeptic as Mushnik, and Casey gets a chance to show off in several roles. Felicia Curry, Eleasha Gamble, and Kara-Tameika Watkins sparkle as the girl-group Greek chorus that provides attitude along with narration.
And one must never forget Audrey II itself. Elliot Dash brings a winking, omniscient quality to his spoken and sung lines, while puppeteers Scott Hitz and Marc Petrosino maneuver the plant as it grows to fill most of the stage.
Middlebrook and designers Watson, Laboissonniere, Chris Lee (lighting) and David Budries (sound) demonstrate great ingenuity in their production design. Their love of pulp science fiction comes through, displayed in ways ranging from the "comic-book cover" stage curtain to the out-of-this-world costumes for the chorus and the use of colored light to create moods.