Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Little Shop of Horrors
Taking inspiration from the German legend of Faust, who makes a pact with the devil in exchange for worldly pleasures, Little Shop follows the meek and awkward Seymour (a delightfully funny Brian Fisher), who works at a struggling florist shop on Skid Row with his secret crush Audrey (an amazing Mackie Raymond). An eclipse of the sun brings Seymour into the unexpected ownership of a strange and unclassified plant. Before long, Seymour learns that this plant, which he names Audrey II in homage to his crush, does not live on just sunlight and water. Audrey II quickly becomes too big to handle, and it manipulates the gullible Seymour to go to greater and greater lengths to "Feed Me!" with promises of fame, fortune, and even love.
Director Patrick Torres has assembled a production team that seems to have taken into consideration the cult affection enjoyed by this musical. They have not strayed too far from the structure and techniques of the original production. Facilitated by David Bennett's simple yet effective scenic design and Liz Grimes Droessler's mood enhancing lighting design, the flow is tight, with rarely a lull throughout. Costume design, provided here by Jenny Mitchell, whimsically captures character in cloth, especially in the outfit worn by Audrey II's voice (a booming and hilarious Chase Rivers). The initial costumes of the three street urchins, who later serve as Audrey's chorus, seem a bit bulky and confusing in style. While choreography is not the most essential component of this show, Chasta Hamilton's work stays largely on the level of staged movement, passing up opportunities to give some numbers extra pizazz.
A central component to the success of any production of Little Shop is the puppetry of Audrey II, actually a series of increasingly larger plant puppets. Raleigh Little Theatre uses a set of Audrey II's designed at Shenandoah University, and they are brought to life here with determination by Dane Swanser. The wise decision to have the source of Audrey II's voice (Chase Rivers) be visible, through a window above the puppet, adds significantly to the characterization; by the end, the plant is too large to move with expressive subtlety. But the combination of Swanser and Rivers hits all the marks, from comedic to horrific.
Brian Fisher's lovable portrayal of Seymour is instantly winning. The sadistic yet comedic Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., performed here by the charismatic Tristan Yonce, is a true highlight of the production. Audrey (the woman, not the plant) has always been synonymous with Ellen Greene, who created the character both in the original Off-Broadway production as well as the film adaptation in 1986. With Ms. Greene's iconic voice and characterization looming large, it might be easy to fall into the imitation game, but Mackie Raymond strikes a brilliant balance here, paying just enough homage to the Greene while finding fresh notes to contribute.
It is interesting to note that this musical, set at an unspecified time in the 1960s, traditionally has a black man play the voice of Audrey II, while his chorus typically is performed by black women (though in this production, one of them is Latina). The rest of the cast typically are white, and I wonder whether Mr. Ashman intended this casting model as an allegory for the fear some whites had of the African-American community during the Civil Rights Movement. Whether you read that much into the musical or not, it is a rare show that offers this much: drama, comedy, horror, uplifting music, soaring ballads, great characters, and even a moral to be learned. And you may never look at your houseplants the same way again.
Little Shop of Horrors, through February 25th, 2018, at Raleigh Little Theatre in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. Tickets are $28 for adults, $24 for seniors (62 and up) and students. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.
Music: Alan Menken