Ripped from the pages of a 50’s pulp comic, Ford’s Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors is a colorful explosion of retro humor and sci-fi horror. This delightful production offers a simple, important lesson: whatever you do, “Don’t feed the [alien] plant.”
Little Shop tells the sad, darkly funny tale of Seymour Krelborn, a bumbling flower shop clerk who becomes an overnight celebrity when he discovers a bizarre new plant species. At first the public eats it up. Business is booming, and life is good. However, once the plant starts to develop a dangerous appetite of its own, Seymour’s new life quickly spins out of control, and he’s forced to make some dark choices to prolong his newfound fame and success.
Director Coy Middlebrook has embraced a small-scale approach to this story of big dreams and even bigger flora. Using a rotating stage showcasing two detailed back-to-back sets, Middlebrook has crafted a concise, efficient world with a cast of only eight actors and two puppeteers. Several of the actors play multiple roles, allowing for a fully fleshed out story.
Christopher Kale Jones delivers an appropriately nerdy and soft-spoken performance as Seymour. He handles the shy florist’s increasingly conflicted nature with a delicate touch, creating a tragic portrait of a good man who has simply gotten in over his head.
Jenna Coker-Jones’ portrayal of Audrey as a brave, self-deprecating survivor makes for a magnetic performance. “Somewhere That’s Green”, perhaps the show’s best known song, has never sounded better than in her care. Coker-Jones provides an endearing, comic take on the song, barely hinting at a deep vulnerability lying beneath her smiling façade.
Evan Casey is the workhorse of the show. His turn as Orin the Motorcycle Dentist is demented, disturbing, and a joy to watch. An admitted sadist and laughing gas enthusiast, Orin provides an edgy, abusive counterpoint to Seymour’s reserved, nice-guy persona. The mesmerizing “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” shows Casey at the peak of his powers, as he laughs himself uncontrollably toward an untimely end, his own horror masked by a ghoulish grin and intensely creepy giggling. Aside from this difficult role, he is tasked with bringing to life a wide range of secondary characters, breezing through a gradually accelerating progression of contrasting personalities and costume changes without breaking a sweat. At one point, my eager anticipation of his next chameleon act totally blocked out the rest of the action onstage, if only for a minute.
As the voice behind Audrey II, Elliot Dash handily delivers the booming tone, demanding octave jumps, and the combination of allure and danger that are essential components of the voracious plant persona. Dash’s performance of the dark funk odyssey “Supper Time” allows him to explore the full range of Audrey II’s evil, as he instructs Seymour to secure him more “food” beneath an eerie, blood red light.
The plant itself is a magnificent monster. The hulking, brightly colored flytrap oozes an air of menace that intensifies in proportion to its rapidly expanding bulk. Starting as a tiny, innocuous bulb, Audrey II slowly fills the shop, eventually arriving at a final stage featuring a gaping maw and fearsome appendages that have to be operated by two grown men.
With inspired performances, dazzling costumes, and one of the most magnificent stage monsters you’ll ever see, this quirky little show provides a welcome blast of campy, energetic fun as DC wakes up from the long, dreary winter.
Little Shop of Horrors
By Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Directed by Coy Middlebrook
Produced by Ford’s Theatre Society
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Little Shop of Horrors plays thru May 22, 2010.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS