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Seymour (Nicholas Park) takes aim at Orin (Carson Higgins) in Little Shop of Horrors at Ivoryton Playhouse. (Photo by Roger U. Williams )
Audrey (Laura Woyasz) backs away from Audrey II (Steve Sabol-voice, Austin Costello-puppeteer) in Little Shop of Horrors at Ivoryton Playhouse. (Photo by Roger U. Williams )
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At 30 years and counting, Little Shop of Horrors is one of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows and the dark musical comedy’s arrival at the Ivoryton Playhouse sets an appropriately creepy pre-Halloween mood.
It’s not easy to present a show that’s so regularly produced by so many regional theaters that isn’t the same old fare, but the Ivoryton is up to the challenge and essentially breathes new life, under Larry Thelan’s focused direction, into a play about a death-defying carnivorous plant that feeds on human blood.
This spoof on old horror movies is about a nerdy flower shop assistant named Seymour (Nicholas Park) who attempts to “grow” the failing business in one of New York City’s worst areas, The Bowery, run by his cranky boss Mushnik (David Conaway). When Seymour discovers a Venus flytrap-type plant that keeps growing to monstrous size, as long as it’s constantly being fed, the flower shop’s sales rocket due to passersby fascination with this aberration of nature.
The plant is named Audrey II in honor of Seymour’s co-worker and unattainable love interest, the lovely Audrey (Laura Woyasz) who is in an abusive relationship with Orin (Carson Higgins), a sadistic dentist.
Audrey II, although nonhuman, is a key character in the production and delivers big time. Audrey II is a collaboration between Steve Sabol, whose deep, demanding “feed me!” voice gets everyone jumping; along with UConn graduate school puppeteer Austin Costello, who adds to the menacing mood every time he gets Audrey II to “open wide”; and New York designer Martin P. Robinson, who created the bizarre and colorful big-fanged plant that grows to enormous proportions.
In the other “human” roles, Park plays a splendid Seymour with his nebbish-y looks and voice, but he seems to go from sweet innocence to street smart and power-hungry a bit too fast and furiously.
The petite and pretty blonde Woyasz is true to her character, funny and ditzy and on the more serious side, torn between her attraction to the gentle, attentive Seymour versus staying in an abusive relationship with Orin out of low self-esteem and financial desperation.
Conway does justice to his role as the down-on-his-luck city shopkeeper who can’t catch a break, until he finally does.
As Orin, Higgins (who recently starred as Huey in Memphis at the Playhouse) makes for an appropriately high-strung, chilling, control freak, particularly in the scene in his dentist’s office, which could be argued is a tad overplayed.
While it’s no fault of the characters, who are just performing their lines as written, and, at the risk of sounding politically correct, it feels really uncomfortable when they try to elicit laughs about domestic violence in this day and age. This is something that wasn’t taken as seriously 30 years ago. Also, the stereotypical falling down drunk, although a minor bit, is more disturbing than humorous.
A backup chorus made up of Chiffon (Azarria White), Crystal (La’Nette Wallace), and Ronnette (Denielle Marie Gray) fills out the terrific bouncy, doo-wop, rock ‘n roll score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. And Woyasz and Park perform a splendid “Suddenly Seymour,” the most recognizable song in the show that’s not known for big hit numbers.
The Ivoryton Playhouse keeps upping its game in set design and the current production by Martin Scott Marchitto is no exception with rotating scenes and lots of great contrasts from windows filled with colorful flowers to dark, seedy, worn-out buildings.
Marcus Abbott’s opulent and exaggerated lighting compliments the fantasy feeling of the show. Victoria Blake’s early ’60s-style costumes (Audrey’s outfits especially) are a treat for the eye.
It doesn’t have a particularly happy ending and it may be too scary for very young children, but this is a play that will thrill adults and older kids alike.
Amy J. Barry is a Baby Boomer who lives in Stony Creek with her husband and assorted pets. She writes arts features and reviews for Shore Publishing newspapers and is an expressive arts educational facilitator. Email her at email@example.com or at www.aimwrite-ct.net.
Little Shop of Horrors is at the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton through Oct.11. Tickets are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
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