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Stu Brown, host of the Broadway music radio program “On Broadway,” and his staff review New York and Connecticut stage offerings as well as ruminating about other theatrical matters.

Review of “Little Shop of Horrors”

Before the composing team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken wrote the music and lyrics to such Disney blockbusters as The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast they wrote the score for the musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors. The original 1982 production, based on Director Roger Corman’s 1960 low-budget movie, became one of the longest running shows in Off-Broadway history. Always an audience favorite the sci-fi spoof, centering on a rather large man-eating plant, is receiving an entertaining, animated production at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 11th.

The plot of the musical is simple. Seymour (Nicholas Park), a nebbish of sorts, works at a flower shop on New York’s Skid Row. His co-worker Audrey (Laura Woyasz), a beauty with low self-esteem and a sadistic boyfriend (Carson Higgins) employed as a dentist, toil away at Mushnik’s (David Conaway) storefront awaiting any type of customer. One day Seymour unveils a plant purchased under mysterious circumstances that soon attracts shoppers because of its uniqueness. The trouble is regular plant food won’t suffice and as its true diet is revealed the lives of everyone in the Skid Row shop become topsy-turvy with unsettling consequences.

The strength of the show is the casting. All the principle actors perfectly fit into their roles delivering two hours of merriment, mayhem and tunefulness. Nicholas Park as Seymour is nerdy and plain without being pathetic. Laura Woyasz as Audrey may emulate the original actress, Ellen Greene, a bit too closely, but she does manage to put her own spin on the wistful, heart-of-gold character. David Conaway is thoroughly convincing as the downtrodden Mr. Mushnik. Carson Higgins, a standout from the previous Ivoryton Playhouse production of Memphis, infuses Orin the dentist with just the amount of degenerate fiendishness without being too over-the-top. The threesome of Azarria White (Chiffon), La’Nette Wallace (Crystal), and Denielle Marie Gray (Ronnette) form a winning mini Greek chorus along with their supporting roles. Even with a superior acting group Little Shop of Horrors would not work without a colorful, boisterous Audrey II. Thankfully, the team of Steve Sabol and puppeteer Austin Costello form a dynamic union that gives the growing plant a believability that is both engaging and somewhat scary.

The score by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is witty, playful, melodic and can be very funny. The songs include do-wop, yearning ballads, comedic gems, and unusual duets. You can see why Disney plucked them from the theatrical ranks to reinvigorate their moribund animated film division.

Director Lawrence Thelen lets the material speak for itself without adding any unnecessary flourishes. He has an excellent feel for the characters and the actors portraying them. Along with choreographer Apollo Smile, who adds some solid incidental dance routines, Thelen keeps the production moving to its fulfilling conclusion.

Martin Scott Marchitto’s rotating set design is seedy and decrepit, perfectly embodying this battered, broken-down area of New York City. The small and confined space of the small Playhouse stage only adds to this run-down vibe.

Little Shop of Horrors, a rollicking good time at the Ivoryton Playhouse through October 11th.


Seems We Never Get Tired of Hearing Audrey II Say, “Feed Me!”
By Lauren Yarger

Yes, there’s another production of Little Shop of Horrors you can enjoy, this one at Ivoryton Playhouse. I say “another” because it seems that there’s always a production of this Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical playing somewhere every season.

The rock musical, based on the 1960 dark comedy film of the same name directed by Roger Corman and written by Charles Griffith, has been the darling of regional, community and student theaters since it premiered Off-Broadway in 1982.

It features, Audrey II, a human-flesh-eating, venus-fly-trap sort of plant puppet (designed by Martin P. Robinson), manipulated at Ivoryton by Austin Costello, a recent graduate of UConn’s recent UConn puppetry program, and a crowd-pleasing score from Menken (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin) that includes “Suddenly Seymour,” “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Skid Row.”

The book (also written by lyricist Ashman) tells the odd story of nerdy Seymour (Nicholas Park), who creates a hybrid plant that starts bringing attention to the Skid Row flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (David Conaway). He names the plant Audrey II, after shop co-worker Audrey (Laura Woyasz), who doesn’t realize at first that Seymour’s in love with her. She’s lived a hard life and doesn’t think she deserves a nice, sweet guy like Seymour. Instead, she continues in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist, Orin Srivello (Carson Higgins).

While Seymour’s fame — and Audrey II’s size — grow enormously, Seymour tries to hide  the secret to Audrey II’s success: the plant lives on human blood. “Feed Me!” the plant demands as it grows and sings (voiced here by Steve Sabol) while Seymour sacrifices first his own blood, then others’ to satiate Audrey II’s hunger.

You can try to read all kinds of philosophical themes into the plot about greed, the drive for fame and success or even concern for the environment, but take my advice and just sit back and enjoy that fabulous score (with orchestrations by Robert Merkin) featuring a really great trio of neighborhood girls (played by La’Nette Wallace, a vocal power house, Azarria White  and Denielle Marie Gray) who hang out by the shop and sing some terrific harmonies while wearing nifty costumes and excellent wigs (designed by Vickie Blake and Elizabeth Cipollina, respectively).

When they aren’t sitting on the steps or dancing out Apollo Smile’s campy choreography in front of the shop, the trio can be seen upstairs, next door to the shop through windows incorporated in Martin Scott Marchitto’s impressive, quick-changing set. Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard referred to some technical glitches with the set during previews, but everything seemed in perfect working order when I saw the show opening night. The sound mix (designed by Tate R. Burmeister) needs adjustment, however, as some of the vocals in group numbers are overwhelmed by the chorus. Vocals are arranged by Robert Billing.

Laughter proved that the audience members seemed to be taking my advice and were enjoying the show – many probably for the first time based on gasps heard when the larger Audrey II made its appearance or in response to other plot points that wouldn’t surprise a veteran like me who has seen the show numerous times. One woman near me chortled every time the dentist was on the stage. I was enjoying her as much as the show.

A disappointment from the veteran perspective, however: Director Larry Thelen, who helmed the recent La Cage Aux Folles and the really terrific production of Dreamgirls at Ivoryton, allows Woyasz and Higgins to take their characters too far. They go over the top when it’s unnecessary. We’re going to laugh when Audrey alludes to the classiness of her gaudy outfit (designed by Vickie Blake) and we’re going to cringe when Orin gets pleasure out of using a power drill on his own teeth. It doesn’t require extra effort by the actors to try to be funny. In addition, Thelen fails to coax dialogue from Conaway at anything but a constant yell. I’d say, relax everybody. You don’t have to work so hard.

Park, who starred last year in Ivoryton’s All Shook Up, turns in another engaging performance, this time nailing the nerdy Seymour. He seems to be enjoying himself, and we enjoy watching him.

Robert James Tomasulo directs the terrific-sounding, six-man band housed off-stage.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through Oct. 11 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton, CT. Performnces are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm.  Tickets are $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children. (860) 767-7318;


“Little Shop of Horrors” Flowers at Ivoryton
By Geary Danihy

There’s something deadly growing out in Ivoryton. It’s big and green and mean — imagine the venus fly trap cross-bred with kudzu and then pumped full of steroids and you get the picture. This voracious creature goes by the innocuous name of Audrey II, but don’t be fooled — it will eat you as soon as look at you, but you may wish to look at it, at least from the safety of a seat at the Ivoryton Playhouse, where Little Shop of Horrors, a delightful, black-comedy spoof of 1950s creature-feature movies is currently enjoying a run. Following on the heels of Ivoryton’s successful productions of South Pacific and Memphis, this exploration of botanical Grand Guignol, briskly directed by Lawrence Thelen, is, by and large, a treat for the eyes and ears.

Graced by a highly adaptable, turn-table set designed by Martin Scott Marchitto, this sci-fi spoof opens with a Greek chorus of sorts: Chiffon (Azarria White), Crystal (La’Nette Wallace) and Ronnette (Denielle Marie Gray), grade-school dropouts, set the scene for the horrors that will ensue. They are denizens of Skid Row, where Mushnik’s florist shop is dying on the vine. Mr. Mushnik (David Conaway) is close to despair because business is so bad. In fact, he’s ready to fire his two assistants, the meek, amateur botanist Seymour (Nicholas Park) and the much abused Audrey (Laura Woyasz), a young lady working on exceedingly low wattage who is dating Orin (Carson Higgins), a demented dentist who grooves on pain.

Salvation arrives in the form of a small plant that Seymour came across during a total eclipse of the sun, a plant he has lovingly cared for and named Audrey II (animated by Austin Costello and voiced by Steve Sabol). As soon as the plant is put on display business starts to pick up, but every silver lining has a cloud attached — the plant is a persnickety eater: it desires only blood. At first this is supplied by Seymour, but soon the plant craves more and Seymour is forced to become murderously creative. The plant grows, Seymour becomes a success, in the process winning the fair hand of the ditzy Audrey, but there is a price to be paid when you sell your soul to a devil-plant.

Based on the cult film classic of the same name directed by Roger Corman, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, Little Shop is not only a skewed take on the paranoid “scare” films of the 50s, it is a modernized Greek tragedy complete with characters with out-sized fatal flaws. It is also tuneful and energetic, although the energy takes a while to be generated.

Perhaps it’s the initially uneven sound, designed by Tate R. Burmeister, or the less than innovative and somewhat stilted opening choreography crafted by Apollo Smile, but the musical’s initial scenes seem somewhat muted. The “Downtown” number, which should feature the voices of the two leads — Audrey and Seymour — is more of a mushy melange. In fact, Woyasz’s voice seems to get lost in the vocal crowd (she’s blocked extreme stage right for much of the number and dimly lit) and Seymour, stage center inside the florist shop, is oddly distant. Matters aren’t helped by Conaway delivering his opening lines so big that he really has nowhere to go dramatically for the rest of the show.

These problems aside, the production quickly brightens and sharpens as Audrey II begins to grow and Woyasz, Park and Higgins take control. Anyone familiar with Little Shop, either in its Broadway or Hollywood iterations, has Ellen Greene’s performance as Audrey etched in his mind. To Woyasz’s credit, she creates an Audrey that’s all her own, using a walk that reminds one of a strutting turkey, plus dips, cringes and other mannerisms, as well as subtle body-language reactions. Once her voice is allowed to be heard, she delivers a poignant “Somewhere That’s Green” and a moving duet with Park in “Suddenly, Seymour.”

Park is sufficiently meek and gawky as Seymour, and he’s able to generate real angst as he begins to deal with the moral ambiguity presented by the continued existence of Audrey II. Higgins, who shined in Ivoryton’s Memphis, does the sadistic-dentist turn to a fault, especially in the “Dentist!” number, pulls off a great death-by-nitrous-oxide scene with Park, and shows his ability as a quick-change artist when he is called upon to play three different characters (including a female editor) all seeking to get Seymour to sign contracts.

The finale finds most of the cast having been devoured by the insatiable plant, only to reappear as its tendrils singing a final warning about the danger of feeding plants. The only problem here is the use of a smoke machine, which belches out so much smoke as the finale begins that it’s difficult to see what is happening on stage. The smoke envelops the actors and wafts out into the audience – a bit of atmospheric overkill that is totally unnecessary.

Quibbles and smoke screens aside, Ivoryton’s Little Shop is a sprightly production that consistently entertains. Artfully staged (actually amazingly so, given the size of Ivoryton’s stage) and nicely paced, with excellent lighting effects by Marcus Abbott, the show, which runs just under two hours with a 15-minute intermission, is well worth the drive out to scenic Ivoryton.

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