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Chicago by John Olson

Little Shop of Horrors
Quest Theatre Ensemble

Little Shop of Horors
David Korzatkowski and Audrey II
My fervent belief that there is no consistent price/value relationship in theatre has again been reaffirmed. On leaving the Quest Theatre Ensemble's recent production of Little Shop of Horrors, I recalled the time a few years ago when I had a last-minute opportunity to see a nearly sold-out preview of Little Shop's 2003 Broadway revival for the full price of around $100.00. The price of the Quest production? Free and not just for invited reviewers, but for everyone. Would I have gotten $100.00 more enjoyment out of the Broadway revival? I doubt it. And lest this sound like faint praise, the Quest Ensemble production is as good as any of the better non-Equity companies doing musical theater in Chicago these days.

Quest is known for its use of imaginative life-size puppetry, so Little Shop, with its life-size man-eating plant, is a natural for them. Quest's set and puppetry designer Nick Rupard again delivered. He designed three Audrey IIs, one for each of the plant's stages of growth. Audrey II's initial appearance is as a little hand puppet, and then is represented by mid and full-size big green puppets which were operated by David Leef and voiced menacingly by Will Hare. Rupard's delightful set of Skid Row feature cartoonish backdrops and flats and a rollaway exterior of Mushnik's flower shop.

The humans on stage are perfectly cast and give solidly entertaining performances under Andrew Park's direction. David Korzatkowski, a diminutive actor outfitted in thick glasses, makes a lovably nerdy Seymour and has the chance to show off physical performing skills as well as his capable singing voice. His Audrey, Mary Candler, is new to Chicago and makes a most impressive debut. Her "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" soared through the church basement as if to say "take that" to the basketball game being played above the theater.

Playing Orin and six other roles, Bret Beaudry shows considerable comic skill and restraint in knowing how just far to push these broadly written part. Only in one, as the effeminate "Customer," does he go with obvious choices. Brian Rabinowitz is a schleppy Mr. Mushnik, and only the Greek chorus of Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal are a little disappointing. Though all three (Courtney Freed, Vallea E. Woodbury and Mallory Green) have nice voices, they could be better served by the sound system and used a little more comic spark (Note to choreographer Kerrie Korzatkowski: videos of the girl groups that inspired the characters are all available on YouTube).

Quest has more frequently done original adaptations of classics, and this is the first time to my knowledge that they've licensed a popular title. The proven appeal of this show ought to bring in some new audiences for them and help spread the word that this company is a little-known gem in the Chicago theater scene. These performers and creative team members all deserve the visibility and the recognition.

Little Shop of Horrors will be performed Feb. 15 March 23, 2008 at the Quest Resident Space, 1609 W. Gregory. Performances will take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Reservations are highly recommended. For more information, please visit www.questensemble.org or call 312.458.0895 for reservations.


Photo: Jeremy Lawson

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-- John Olson



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