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Theater Wed Apr 25 2012
Oh, what price paid for fame and for-choon! Long before the rumors of the mythical and mysterious "Illuminati" of modern times, where celebrities are rumored to pay homage (see: Blue Ivy Carter, Nikki Minaj's Grammy Award performance) and human sacrifice (see: Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston; On Deck: Lindsay Lohan), the thirst for exclusive club membership must be satiated by any means necessary. Writer Charles B. Griffith gave the musical theater world a taste of things to come with the 1960 movie The Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman with an unknown Jack Nicholson portraying the sadistic cruel-to-cruel dentist. Made for less than $30,000, Corman's LSH raked in the money and went on to being performed on Broadway and worldwide stages, as well as a movie remake in '86.
Stage 773's ensemble brings LSH back to stage, but with a more cautionary twist to reflect the "anything for the glory that is fame" timescape that we now live in. The Stage 773 revival begins as like previous stage and film versions: Seymour Krelborn (John Sessler), orphaned florist, works hard against the reality of the eventual failure of Mushnik's Florist Shop, located on New York's Skid Row. There's no getting off Skid Row, crooned in marvelously synchronized time by the Greek chorus of Skid Row streetwalkers, updated to include transvestite Chiffon (great team player Will Hoyer). Along with Ronette (Krystal Metcalfe) and Crystal (Sharriese Hamilton), The Street-Greeks musically narrate the action, and participate in the flow of crime and mayhem, also serving as advice columnists to the lovelorn Seymour and the object of his affection Audrey (Erin Creighton), whose initial blindness to Seymour's interests are either the result of perpetual beatdowns from sadist-dentist-boyfriend Orin (hard to see anything with both eyes swollen shut) or Seymour's just too milquetoast to grab a gal's attention.
Just as Mr. Mushnik (Scott Olson) proclaims the last day of business for the doomed flower shop, a surprise solar eclipse momentarily darkens the Earth, and with its passing left behind is a most unusual plant. Strange and magnificent in design, Seymour musters the courage to pick it up and haul it back to Mushnik's. So unusual this plant placed above the "Going Out of Business" sign, customers come in like raindrops, purchasing flowers, and for a glance at the plant Seymour christens Audrey II (Candace C. Edwards).
Money and TV cameras make life much easier for Seymour and Mushnik, and the flower shop is saved. Yet Audrey I is still taking it in like Frasier from Ali as Orin's beatings, cigarette burnings and knockabouts continue. Audrey II is also on sick bay, as ordinary plant food just won't due, and she seems to respond only to the droplets of blood that Seymour sprang while fixing a floorboard. Audrey is the bread and butter, the fame and fortune for Seymour and Mushnik's, and Seymour opens up a vein. Audrey II finds renewed strength and begins to speak and sing in human voice: "feed me Seymour, feed me!" He complies, but grows weak from Audrey II's gastric demands. As he's deciding whether it's really worth the newfound attention and glory to keep Audrey II around, Audrey I comes in with new bruises and a busted arm, Seymour decides it's time to pay a visit to Dr. Orin's office - and bring along a gun.
Of course Dr. Orin is as crazy looking as his actions against Audrey I, including the wearing of a mask by which to sniff up gas, his way of rewarding himself after causing unbridled pain to patients and Audrey I. Before Seymour can deliver the kill shot, Dr. Orin does himself in by binding his mask too tight and laughs himself to death. Seymour chops up and feeds Orin to Audrey II - on the surface a "win-win", until Audrey grows stronger and bitchier in her new bloom, demanding more blood, meat, human sacrifice. Mushnik voices his suspicions, and soon finds himself on the same chuck wagon with Orin. Audrey II further blossoms and blooms, and the cameras and now the licensing deals pour into Seymour's portfolio.
But nothing will satiate Audrey II; she becomes bitchier, more demanding, meaner -- "feed me Seymour, feed me!" She curses, she screams, she sings - it's Skid Row after all, how difficult could it be to find a body or dozens?
Audrey II is corralled, but not for long, and her celestial mission of haute cuisine pursuit are revealed to Seymour, and it's beyond anyone's power to stop her.
Corman went with a happier ending with his 1960 film version because the original ending tested negative with test audiences. My feeling is that ending was restored in Stage 773's rendering as it should be: the immediate correlation between this musical reincarnation and today's gossip sites is an allegorical straight line. The entire cast hits the mark in song and verse, the production is almost flawless. I say "almost" because there were times when I could barely hear Candace C. Edwards above the house band - she was in direct competition with the combo that should have been in tandem with her singing. House acoustics in need of fixing, but a musical story and cast very much deserving of a full house.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 27 with regular performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $38 and may be purchased at stage773.com, by phone at 773-327-5252 or in person at the Stage 773 box office. Senior, student and group discounts are available. For more information on Street Tempo Theatre visit streettempotheatre.com.