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Theater Wed Apr 25 2012

Street Tempo Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors: Still Kicking and Screaming

Little Shop 3.jpeg

front: Ben Burke, Erin Creighton, John Sessler, Sasha Smith. Back (holding phones up): Zach Drane, Natalie June

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.

Wrong / May 3, 2012 7:24 PM

It's the movie musical that changed the ending. Roger Corman's movies never had test audiences.

YoureDumb / May 4, 2012 10:34 AM

Hope you didn't get paid for this review because you clearly couldn't even be bothered to do a simple google search to check your "facts."

The Corman movie was not a musical. It also did not have a happy ending. It was adapted into a stage musical in 1982. This stage adaptation, of which you saw a production of, also did not have a happy ending. This Chicago company did not "restore" anything. There was a movie made of the stage musical in 1986 that changed the ending to be happy, but that only exists in the 1986 movie adaptation of the stage musical. The stage musical itself has never had a happy ending.

If any of this was insider information, I wouldn't fault you. Unfortunately for you, it's all easily obtainable information on the internet so basically you look like a complete idiot. By association is also makes your assessment of this and any other stage productions pretty unreliable.

SERIOUSLY? / May 4, 2012 10:45 AM

Wow, this really gets it all wrong. First came the 1960 film directed by Roger Corman and written by Charles B. Griffith. This was adapted as an Off-Broadway musical in 1982 with music by Alan Menken and book/lyrics/direction by Howard Ashman which retained the original dark ending. Next, was the 1986 film adaptation of the Off-Broadway musical directed by Frank Oz. This also retained the original dark ending, but test audiences hated the ending, so it was re-shot with a happy ending (original finale music retained on the soundtrack recording, however). The licensed stage production never changed the original ending including the Broadway production which did not occur until 2003, directed by Jerry Zaks. Nothing was "restored" by Street Tempo's production (not to be confused with Stage 773, which is the space rented by Street Tempo).

Worst review ever / May 4, 2012 12:50 PM

Wow. Is this a review? If so, it is the worst review ever written. Who needs a synopsis of the ENTIRE plotline? Add to that all of the previously mention gross inaccuracies and this is pure crap. I might have liked to know a little bit about the production or the perfromances, not a wikipedia style rehashing of "then this happened, then this happened". (Oh and milk toast would be gross - it would be a slice of grilled bread dipped in the excretion of a cow's udder. I think you meant milquetoast, which means a weak, ineffectual or bland person.)

EricMontreal22 / May 4, 2012 2:35 PM

And it needs to be pointed out the original Corman ending was actually LESS dark than the stage musical ending--the plant didn't take over the world. Instead there's just an odd little coda where the other characters see Seymour's head pop up in one of the blooms of the plant--fade out.

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