Little Shop of Horrors started out life as a largely improvised film shot over a two-day period when director Roger Corman found he had two days’ rental left on a set and enough actors to make a quick flick. If you are unfamiliar with Corman, he was an amazing filmmaker who relied heavily on hungry actors on their way up, and desperate actors trying to hold on.
His films tended to populate the lower half of double features and had a grip on the drive-in theatres that dotted the American landscape. If something succeeded, he pushed it as hard as he could, and if something failed, so what, there was another movie coming out next week.
When Corman found himself ahead of schedule on Bucket of Blood, he figured he could squeeze one more movie by working his crew to death over two days. With more of an outline than a script (even though one is attributed to Charles Griffith) and only a handful of actors (including the brand new, never before seen Jack Nicholson in a small but significant role) they went to work.
That’s probably more of a history lesson than anyone ever needed, but I think it’s important to examine the roots of this killer plant musical. Some 22 years later, the writing dynamo that is Howard Ashman and Alan Menken began tooling around with this barely remembered cult film. This was before they would hit their stride with so many Disney musicals and they were just perfecting their craft.
No matter it’s origin, Little Shop Of Horrors is a lot of fun. It had a very long run off-Broadway, was turned into a big movie musical (where the coffee and doughnut budget was probably larger than the 1960 version’s entire costs), and ran on Broadway as well.
Add to that numerous touring and local productions and you have a genuine bona fide smash on your hands. There’s something to this story of the nebbish who finds happiness and the girl of his dreams by growing and fostering a killer plant that goes out of control.
The current production of Little Shop of Horrors, now playing at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse has a great deal to offer. In the roles of Seymour and Audrey, the star-crossed lovers, Ian Page and Audra Honaker give their hearts and souls to bring them to life. Page makes a good nebbish and he has a lovely singing voice. He’s starting to make a name for himself and this could be one that gets him a lot of attention. One area that comes off a little weaker than it should is Seymour’s inner turmoil between desiring fame and fortune and realizing that fame will devour him in the end.
Honaker is almost always a delight to watch, and here, she attempts to slide into a character that is nothing at all like herself. It’s a different voice, mannerisms, and nuances that force her to become a more vulnerable and brittle character. She’s done a good job with changing her singing voice and on numbers like “Somewhere That’s Green,” and “Suddenly Seymour,” she does a fine job.
The Greek Chorus of Katrinah Carol Lewis, Jessi Johnson, and Ashlee Arden Heyward set the scene and mostly hover over the action like Skid Row Angels watching and commenting, but only one in a while interacting with the other players. They all have lovely voices and it’s a joy when they perform.
John Hagadorn appears as Mr. Mushnik, the proprietor of the skid row florist shop for the third time. Does anyone else see humor in the fact that there IS a skid row florist shop? Hagadorn pushes most of the right buttons and Adam Minks, who plays so many characters I lost count. He’s very adept at giving each character a specific life and mannerisms and his turn as Orin, the sadistic and abusive dentist is chilling.
The voice of Audrey Two – the plant – is provided by veteran performer Durron Tyre. Tyre’s vocals are sharp and his one liners are delivered near perfectly. His deep whine when he needs food is hysterical and his turn on both “Feed Me” and “Suppertime” are standouts. Manipulating this giant sized puppet is no easy task and hopefully Benjamin West will grow more confidence in it as the show runs.
Director Tom Width also designed the set which allowed for ample playing areas in the Flower Shop as well as in front of it – the actual skid row. Joe Doran’s lights are good, but a little less showy for this version of Little Shop.
Maura Lynch Cravey’s costumes however are truly wonderful. From the sublimely tacky of Audrey’s outfits to the beautiful frocks that the chorus sports, they are all lovely to see.
Little Shop of Horrors is a lot of fun – and well worth the short trip to Colonial Heights to catch it.
For 88.9 WCVE, I’m John Porter.