Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Joseph Lazarus; Choreography by Cynthia Domino
Produced by JRL Productions
Ran through 11.11.16
Dante Hall Theater, 14 North Mississippi Avenue, Atlantic City
by Ken Kaissar on 11.17.16
Michael Zlabinger and Liz Maurer in Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Uriel Malizia.
BOTTOM LINE: An excellent revival of the familiar musical that suddenly seems topical.
After a killer of an election week, ending it with the levity of another production of Little Shop of Horrors was delightful. Revisiting a story you know and love is comforting when your spirits are low. It’s like re-watching The Wizard of Oz for the 50th time when you’re sick with the flu. But though I attended in search of diversion, I was surprised to find that Little Shop is actually quite topical and—dare I say it—maybe even political.
This is the story of a plant, Audrey II (Philip Sheldon, puppeteer; and Rick C. McIver, the voice), that feeds on human blood. When Seymour Krelborn (Eddie Varley) discovers what his plant needs to thrive, he contributes a few drops from his own finger. The Audrey II blossoms beautifully, bringing fortune, fame and the love of the beautiful but battered Audrey (Liz Maurer), Seymour’s coworker in the flower shop. To keep up his newfound success, Seymour has to keep feeding his plant. Eventually The Audrey II grows so big that it takes over the world, eating everyone in its wake. This ostensibly innocuous musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, the song-writing duo that saved Disney in the '90s with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, is really a morality tale about avarice. As hard as I tried to escape from our depressing political reality, the blood-thirsty Audrey II struck me as a metaphor for the power hungry orange-hued puppet that just seized control of our government.
No matter how you read this colorful musical, this production was a joyous treat. Under the direction of Joseph Lazarus, who also designed the set and lights, the show was cohesive and visually dynamic. The set design simultaneously created a dingy, urban environment, while still lending a vibrant color scheme appropriate for a musical. The set functioned fluidly, allowing for quick changes that seemed reliable and simple to execute.
Varley offers a familiar and appropriate interpretation of Seymour. Underneath Maurer’s comical portrayal of Audrey are layers of pain and trauma that bring genuine tragedy to her story. Her admission that she doesn’t deserve Seymour because she has a past didn’t seem like a campy joke, but the honest to goodness truth that would prevent this relationship from ever being successful. Michael Zlabinger’s portrayal of the dentist, Audrey’s sadistic and abusive boyfriend, is a completely new take that marries the charm and affability that psychopaths possess to win over their victims with a Jack Nicholson-esque, psychotic temper. But Zlabinger shines as he portrays six secondary roles and constructs a varied, complex character for every one of them. His meticulous ability to transform himself lends true craft and artistry to this excellent production.
Although the production enjoyed a short run, and closed on November 11, Little Shop of Horrors feels more relevant than ever. As we continue to face greed and a thirst for power that threatens to undermine our American values, more theatres may turn to this show to remind audiences not to “feed that plant.” Perhaps an enterprising producer might even reunite this excellent ensemble or revive this production.
(Little Shop of Horrors played at Dante Hall Theater, 14 North Mississippi Avenue, through November 11, 2016. Tickets were $25. The running time was two hours with one intermission. For more information visit stockton.edu/dantehalltheater.)
Little Shop of Horrors is by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken; based on the film by Roger Corman. Directed by Joseph Lazarus. Choreography is by Cynthia Domino. Set and Lighting Design is by Joseph Lazarus. Wigs and Costumes by Patricia DelSordo. Puppets by Eric Princz. Stage Manager is Rosemary R. Selah.
The cast is Eddie Varley, Liz Maurer, Richard G. McMahan, Michael Zlabinger, Philip Sheldon, Rick C. McIver, Divinia Davis, Christy Simpson, and Anthony Chiaro.