Theater Review: Sometimes the Charm of Song Can Overpower Theatrical Flaws

There is nothing like the comfort food of a great musical. Even if the play is a bit overdone and moldy, and spotted with a few holes, it’s hard to resist its cheesy charms. WaterTower Theatre supplies the fromage in its energetic, beautiful to look at, yet slightly hollow rendition of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s classic crowd-pleaser Little Shop of Horrors.

The story of an insatiable plant bent on world conquest began as a 1960s cult classic by Roger Corman, and then Menken and Ashman adapted it into an Off Broadway musical in 1982. Then it became the iconic 1986 Hollywood movie. Now it exists as a near-constant revival piece cropping up in professional and amateur theaters.

Amy Anders Corcoran directs this version of Little Shop down the middle with notes taken from all of those famous iterations, yet with an artist’s eye for detail. However, the production bizarrely combines some understated acting with some anachronistic over gesturing, and singing that is all over the place, keeping it from truly taking off.

The cutesy, curly-haired Jason Kennedy as Seymour, the young boy working in a dying flower shop, is a dependable double threat displaying serious pipes to go along with some great characterization and the best Skid Row dialect in a show with many good ones.  His “Suddenly Seymour” number with love interest Audrey (Mary Gilbreath Grim) is one of the highpoints of the show.

Grim is all blonde inhibition, but with some vocal guts.  She is able to mince and shrink within herself despite her natural height, but a bit of bad girl edge would have improved her character. Seymour’s boss, Mr. Mushnik (Randy Pearlman), is light on his feet, and his duet with Kennedy in “Mushnik and Son” is a surprising triumph. Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin (the everywhere and impressive Alex Organ), has inescapable echoes of Steve Martin’s interpretation of the role, yet he does his utmost to make it his own, noshing on every syllable with excited relish. Organ’s popping up in a variety of other roles builds even more hilarity into the show.

The performance of voracious Venus plant, Audrey II (Joseph Holt as the voice) lacks punch, and borrows quite a bit from the great Levi Stubbs’ movie portrayal.  Nice puppetry though by Kevin Moore. Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (Kristen Bond, Janelle Gray, and Traci Lee) go for the finger-snapping choreography (Corcoran) full tilt, but their singing vacillates between exceptional to muted and off-key.

Christopher Pickart’s Skid Row set provides a professional and eye-pleasing realm for all of that singing and dancing. Lovely period costumes by Aaron Patrick Turner set the mood, and props designer Georgana Jinks hits a homerun with Dr. Orin’s gas apparatus.

Yes, there are flaws here, but those silken tunes and clever, clever words are insidious and stay with you long after they are gone despite their mode of delivery.

Photo:  Jason Kennedy and Mary Gilbreath Grim (Photo by Mark Oristano)

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