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Regional Reviews by Gil Benbrook

Little Shop of Horrors
Brelby Theatre Company


Michael Moramarco and Ashleigh Fall
With a capable cast and smart direction, the audience-pleasing musical Little Shop of Horrors is receiving a scaled down but still rousing and fun-filled production from the Brelby Theatre Company in Glendale. The musical spoof of 1960s sci-fi films has an infectious score comprised of doo-wop, Motown and girl-group style ditties that help bring the story of a talking, man-eating plant to hilarious life.

When klutzy, poor, orphaned floral shop assistant Seymour stumbles upon a new breed of plant, he doesn't realize that the fame and fortune the plant promises will require him to continually feed it blood. The plant, dubbed "Audrey II" by Seymour in reference to his co-worker and secret love Audrey, gets bigger and bigger from the feedings and seems to have plans of its own that go far beyond bringing Seymour love and happiness.

While Little Shop composer Alan Menken and lyricist/book writer Howard Ashman found worldwide fame and won multiple Academy Awards for their scores for the films The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, their first success came when they decided to make a musical spoof of the Roger Corman 1960 sci-fi/horror filled, B-movie Little Shop of Horrors. In 1982 the show premiered Off Broadway and became a smash hit, running for five years. A semi-successful 1986 film version followed, featuring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, and the musical is a continual favorite of regional theatres due to Menken's upbeat tunes, the fun characters, Ashman's charming and humorous book, and the overall quirky nature of the show. It's a black comedy musical with a big heart, big laughs, big toe-tapping songs and an even bigger plant as the star.

Director Shelby Maticic has assembled a cast who skillfully manage their way around the intricacies of Menken's score and Ashman's sometimes tricky lyrics. But the cast doesn't just sing well, they also skillfully deliver Ashman's well-written dialogue, getting the most out of the comical lines and the sweet, emotional ones as well.

Sure, Seymour's nerdy demeanor and Audrey's ditzy blonde look may make them stereotypical characters at first glance, but Michael Moramarco and Ashleigh Fall embody them with ease and make both characters much more than what they first appear to be. Moramarco's wide, expressive, puppy dog eyes show his excitement at life and quickly display how much Seymour pines for the seemingly unattainable Audrey. But it is his sweet and charming disposition that makes his take on Seymour so winning, endearing and likeable. He also has an excellent singing voice. Fall is just as good as Audrey, making her less of a dumb young woman and more of a naοve and uneducated one. Her cotton candy hair-do (courtesy of hair and make-up designer Melody Chrispen) and skin tight outfits may make Audrey come across as a sexpot, but Fall's innocent take turns Audrey into a sweet and touching heroine. We laugh with her, not at her. Like Moramarco, Fall also has an excellent voice.

As Seymour's harried boss, Mr. Mushnik, Deryl Wayne has the appropriate frenzied take on a man at wit's end. While Wayne's line delivery and singing abilities are top notch, wringing laughs from the borsht belt style jokes with ease and singing his songs in a rich voice, his movement during his couple of dance numbers seems less assured. Hopefully, this has become more natural with a couple more performances under his belt.

Menken's score relies on the sounds of the '60s, with plenty of required back-up vocals. A trio of female street urchins—April Rideout, Melissa Kamel and Emily Heald—are on hand to provide not only the vocal assist, but plenty of witty lines. All do a nice job, with pleasant singing voices, and add many humorous contributions to the show via their comic line readings.

As Audrey's abusive boyfriend Orin, Rob Dominguez gives his all, making his performance as the leather jacketed, pain inflicting, bad-boy dentist just approach the line of going too far, without stepping over it. For the voice of Audrey II, Maticic has gone against the norm and cast two females to sing for the plant. While it makes sense having a female voice come out of a plant named "Audrey" it doesn't quite have the same effect, or resonance, that a deep male voice has, and the deep, maniacal laugh is sorely missed. While Melody Chrispen and Rachel Cartwright are fine in the part, at the performance I attended there was an ongoing issue with the mic levels for both of them being so low that many of their lines and lyrics were completely lost under the sound of the orchestral amplification.

Maticics's staging and choreography make nice use of the small space, using just about every entrance and exit way possible to get a sense of the bustling Skid Row location of the flower shop. She adds some nice creative dance steps for many of the songs, including a sweet and touching moment where a "dream" Seymour participates in Audrey's song about her hopeful future, "Somewhere That's Green." Maticic also makes sure the comic moments are sharp and delivered so the humor lands, though in the "Downtown" sequence she should have the ensemble be a little less prevalent and over the top, as some of them are trying too hard to get laughs, and pull the focus away from Seymour and Audrey's solo lyrics during the number. Maticic and Kamel designed the costumes as well, and they nicely tie into the caricatures and traits of the characters.

Brelby's stage is a small one yet set designer Brian Maticic has crafted an inventive double rotating platform that nicely moves us from the exterior to the interior of the flower shop and back again, as well as, with the simple addition of an old fashioned dentist chair, into Oran's office. Worn down brick walls give a nice sense of the Skid Row location. The Audrey II puppets are also quite effective.

At the opening night performance there were a few hiccups, with some of the scene changes taking a bit too long and some of the scenes in the flower shop lit fairly darkly. Fortunately, these glitches didn't detract from the overall joy of the show and should be easily remedied to tighten up the scene changes and provide a better focused lighting plot.

Little Shop of Horrors is an extremely enjoyable show with plenty of laughs and some really great songs. The intimacy of the Brelby space not only lets the humor and charm of the show be more resonant, but also makes the ever growing Audrey II be prominent and literally "in your face" which is very effective. Sure, it might be a small, low-cost production, but with a fine cast and assured direction it proves you don't need elaborate budgets or even a large theatre when you have a director and cast that know what they are doing.

The Brelby Theatre Company production of Little Shop of Horrors runs through September 6th, 2014, with performances at 6835 N 58th Avenue in Glendale. Tickets are available at www.brelby.com or by phone at (623) 282-2781

Director/ Choreographer: Shelby Maticic
Music Direction: Nico Angelo de Garriz
Asst. Directors: Jaren Navenma, DJ Hall
Stage Managers: Erin Coen, Zachary Arnold
Scenic/Lighting Designer: Brian Maticic
Costume Designers: Shelby Maticic, Melissa Kamel
Hair & Makeup Design: Melody Chrispen
Sound Designer: David Magadan
Cast: (this production is double cast, and below is the cast who performed at the performance I attended)
Seymour Krelborn – Michael Moramarco
Audrey – Ashleigh Fall
Crystal – April Rideout
Chiffon – Melissa Kamel
Ronette – Emily Heald
Mr. Mushnik – Deryl Wayne
Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. – Rob Dominguez
Audrey II – Melody Chrispen/ Rachel Cartwright
Ensemble – Jaren Navenma, Crystal Chavez
Puppeteers – Jamie Terran, Niki DeShazo, Kaylah Kermode


Photo: Shelby Maticic

--Gil Benbrook


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