I’m not a set designer or a director, but if forced to guess, I’d say there’s nothing easy about putting on a solid staging of Little Shop of Horrors. When one of the main characters is a giant talking/singing/murdering plant, it logically follows that this is going to take some creativity.
So before even getting to the players in Olney Theatre Center’s Little Shop of Horrors, props have to be given — no pun intended — to director Mark Waldrop and the set designers for making it work and work wonderfully. The fact that an enormous plant is often singing isn’t distracting in the least.
Of course it helps to have a stellar cast. James Gardiner puts on a wonderful performance as the meek Seymour who stumbles upon fame and fortune, for a steep toll, when he discovers an unknown plant that feeds on human blood. He gives Seymour a nasal, “geeky” voice and dresses him up in a perfect example of “dweeb.” But he never goes too far with it. During his introduction in “Skid Row,” he hits the rafters and during the touching “Suddenly Seymour” and the angry “The Meek Shall Inherit,” he shines with a colorful palette of emotions, never forgetting his character as a fairly helpless person given power he can’t control.
He plays opposite Carolyn Agan as Audrey, the girl who he’s had an eye on for as long as he can remember. But she’s busy dating a rougher type, convinced she doesn’t deserve to be with a good, kind man. Her voice can stop a man’s blood and does so on the heartbreaking “Somewhere That’s Green.”
It can be difficult to give depth to characters in what amounts, at times, to a gag-filled B-Horror musical. But the script is written for such depth, and these players nail it.
I’d be remiss to not mention Bobby Smith, who is a tour de force of comedy as Orin, the rough guy mentioned earlier. Excuse me, Dr. Orin. He animates his character so strangely, it’s hard to relate in words, but it’s perfect. He’s a physical actor, and he sings with a purposely thick tongue as the nitrous-guzzling dentist. His duet with Seymour in which Seymour faces the biggest ethical dilemma of his life is terrifying, heartbreaking, hilarious and creepy. That takes a master actor to pull off, and he does so perfectly.
Then there’s the plant. Voiced by Stephawn Stephens, it’s got a deep, throaty voice. The voice of cool. Couldn’t have fit better, as he belts out his favorite lines: “Food! Feed me! Feeeeeeed me!”
Shaunte Tabb, Leayne C. Freeman and Kara-Tameika Watkins are likable, pretty and funny as the wise narrators/street rats Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette. Every time they give a good “doo-woop,” the crowd lit up.
If there’s anything to be down about here, it’s that sometimes during the ensemble numbers, the characters sing over each other a little too much. During the fantastic duet with Orin and Seymour, for example, it was hard to catch every line. Which is a shame, because what I heard was hilarious.
Opening night kinks, probably. Hopefully they’ll get ironed out. Also, while the theatre is funded by donations, there was something oddly off-putting about the players requesting donations at the end. In their defense, none of the actors seemed particularly comfortable with this (and Bobby Smith mocked the fact that they were doing so). Still, one of the nicest parts of a good performance is the afterglow. No need to quell it.
Again, small quibbles on an all-around wonderful show.
Little Shop of Horrors is scheduled to run thru Aug 26, 2012 at Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD.
Details and tickets
Little Shop of Horrors
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Mark Waldrop
Music direction by Ross Scott Rawlings
Choreography by Vince Pesce
Produced by Robert Dohmen