'Little Shop of Horrors' by Warner Theatre Performance Lab

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • OnStage Connecticut Critic
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“My students joke that in order for me to choose a musical to direct, there must be a darker storyline and at least one or two deaths. I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, but keeping that notion in mind, I do keep ‘Little Shop’ close to my heart as it is a fun and campy musical that has no problem whatsoever laughing at itself.” - Isabel Carrington, Director & Instructor, Performance Lab at the Warner Theatre

Torrington, CT - The Warner Theatre Performance Lab, the most advanced class at the theatre’s center for arts education, presented the campy ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ this weekend in the Nancy Marine Studio Theatre. The book and lyrics were written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken and the musical is based on the film by Roger Corman with a screenplay by Charles Griffith. The show has long been one of the favorites of director Isabel Carrington and she writes that this is because of the “tongue-in-cheek homage to long-ago sci-fi/horror B movies, the comedic dialogue, and some of the catchiest music ever to grace the stage.” Ms. Carrington has made no secret of the fact that she is not an ardent fan of what she terms “fluffy musicals,” and calls ‘Little Shop’ with its dark moments about the fluffiest musical that she keeps in her bag of favorites. In her notes, she also credits her P-Lab students with reaching and exceeding their next level with fearless enthusiasm. 

Les Ober designed a ‘Little Shop’ set like none that I remember which had the musicians sitting on a raised platform center stage behind brick screens until the plant reached its largest size. Dawn Marie Conroy conducted the group while playing keyboard, Michael Conroy was on guitar, Matt Albert played bass and Andrew Svitlik was on drums; the group sounded amazing. Those plant puppets performed beautifully thanks to puppeteers Meghan Sullivan, Shanna Shotwell and Steve Picard. Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts junior Connor Picard was the voice of Audrey II, but also covered the role of a derelict early in the show. Mr. Picard also assists with various tech elements for most WTCAE productions.

Mr. Ober managed to outdo himself on the set and he designed the lighting himself to make it look even more like Skid Row. I cannot remember a seedier dental office in which Orin laughs himself to death. There were a few sound issues at the closing matinee but they were worked out.  

The talented group of students rose to every challenge of this technically and musically difficult work. Hannah Begley, an Avon HS sophomore, played a flower shop customer and Snip Snip, while Burlington freshman Allison Rau was another customer and Ms. Bernstein. Freshman  Aspyn Bean was Ms. Luce, and Michael Conroy did a voiceover as an interviewer. Nicholas Calabrese, a Burlington sophomore that I remembered from ‘Dogfight,’ took on the role of the evil dentist Orin and won; he reappeared in the second act as Mr. Martin. 

Seventeen year old HS junior Charlie Rau was strong in the role of shop owner Mr. Mushnik. The girls in the Greek chorus brought plenty of attitude and sang well in harmony. At the final performance that I attended, Torrington HS senior Julia Traub played Ronette, Burlington freshman Morgan Rinaldi rocked the role of Chiffon and the fabulous Isabella Riccio, who will soon graduate from Cheshire HS and attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, wailed on many a note in the role of Crystal. 

Ms. Traub shared the role of Ronette with Catherine MacKay. All three young ladies were perfectly synched on the outstanding choreography by Katie Brunetto and their dancing truly added to the attitude of their characters. I loved it. The three also had several costume changes, one more fabulous than the next. Kudos to Johanna DeZurik on spectacular costume design for each and every member of this cast.

Veronica Johnson was the perfect Audrey; she had the fluffy voice for speaking and a wonderful singing voice when she needed it. With her brunette hair in curls, she had the classic Audrey wiggle as she walked into her high heels. Her “Somewhere That’s Green” was a highlight. Ms. Johnson, who is often chauffeured by her mother, community theatre actress Mary Cantoni Johnson, is a sophomore at Chase Collegiate School in Waterbury. Just as great was sixteen year old Jacob Honig as an adorably geeky Seymour; this young man who lives in Harwinton, CT, can sing and made “Suddenly, Seymour” sound amazing. 

Overall, this production was very impressive musically, technically and in every other way needed to get it on the stage. Ms. Carrington spoke during her curtain speech of the requisite hair tearing involved with doing just that. As the crepe paper “plant tendril” fell on the audience as the last notes were sung, it was clear that it had been worth the angst. 

Photos of the cast of 'Little Shop of Horrors' by WTCAE