- OnStage Washington D.C. Critic
I’ve always had a soft spot for Little Shop of Horrors. It was the first musical I ever saw live and it solidified my dreams of wanting to be a performer. That being said, I try to see it whenever I can, especially when an institution with a reputation like SSMT mounts a production. Little Shop was first introduced to the world with a 1960 “dark comedy” film that was eventually transformed into a stage musical by Alan Menken (Music) and Howard Ashman (Book and Lyrics). It was first mounted in 1982 and reached main stream fame with its 1986 movie adaptation. This production was directed by Robin Higginbotham, with musical direction by John Clanton. This show follows Seymour Krelborn as he begins to find success in his poor community, all thanks to a new breed of plant life he’s discovered. However, things take a turn when his plant reviles it can talk and make all of Seymour’s dreams come true, including winning over the love of Seymour’s life, Audrey. However, like with most things, the plants favors come with a price.
This cast consisted of only 8 actors. That’s it. Now I fully understand that this is “traditional”, in the sense that that is how it was done when the show was first put up but it’s hardly ever done that way anymore, and I feel for a good reason. The stage looks so empty when you only have 5 or 6 actors on stage for the large numbers like “Skid Row” and “Suppertime”. It felt like SSMT had spent their budget for actors on the other shows in their summer stock so they decided to do this show with as few people as possible, which is very unlike them. All that being said, with what little cast they had, they still had some good performances. Jeremy Scott Blaustein excelled as the show’s lead, giving us great vocals and a defined character. Lauren Wright also did remarkably well as Audrey, a role that requires serious commitment and focus. The “urchins” were played by Dorian McCorey (Chiffon), Jordan Leigh McCaskill (Crystal) and Adia J. Seckel (Ronnette). All though at times it appeared the group struggled vocally at some points in the show, Mrs. McCaskill never disappointed, acting as the leader of the 3, she definitely gave the strongest performance of the group. Jef Mueller and Russell Rinker both also gave solid performances as Mushnik and Orin/others respectively.
The real star of this show was the set and lights. The set was beautiful, which is ironic sense it was depicting the worst of America. Every part of the set was used at some point and it just captured the tone of the show so well. I particularly enjoyed the strong uses of green to drive home the main theme of envy/greed in this show. Kudos to Michael “Jonz” Jones for the scenic design in this production. Lighting credit goes to William McConnell Bozman, whose designs really drew the audience in. Plus everyone loved the lightning bolts shaped like plant roots!
My biggest issue with this show was the plant, Audrey II, both as a prop and as a character. Now I don’t believe that the plant always needs to be cast as it’s traditional race, but it needs to have that soulful jazzy voice and , in this case, Dan Morton didn’t have it. If you’ve ever seen Little Shop before then you know how important the plant is and this Audrey II felt very wooden, as if he was reading from a script. I also had an issue with how fake the plant looked, now I understand it must, obviously, look a little fake due to its nature but it was so clearly a puppet that it took the audience out of the moment. I think that was a big directing issue with the whole show, it couldn’t decide whether it took itself seriously or not. I appreciate that this show can be slightly cliché at times but the message in it is still important and it felt SSMT comically brushed over the messages to get laughs. Don’t get me wrong, this show had absolutely strong moments, it just didn’t deliver on other aspects. That can be said of all shows.
Little Shop of Horrors is up through the end of this weekend in Winchester Va. The cast is having fun throughout and the set alone is worth the price of a ticket! Tickets can be found here http://www.ssmtva.org/.