Friday, June 08, 2012

'Little Shop' — Laughs, blood and doo-wop

The Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center in Fryeburg, Maine has been invaded by a carnivorous alien plant bent on nothing short of world domination in Arts in Motion Theater Company's enjoyable production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

"Little Shop of Horrors," which opened June 1 and is continuing its run Friday, June 8, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, June 9, at 1 and 7 p.m., is based on a 1960 black comedy of the same name produced and directed by B-movie master Roger Corman.

The musical, a parody of 1950s sci-fi, written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken (who went on to do Academy Award-winning work on Disney's "Little Mermaid," "Aladdin" and "Beauty and the Beast"), made its off Broadway debut in 1982. Four years later the musical got the Hollywood treatment featuring such comedy superstars as Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Bill Murray and John Candy.

That's quite a pedigree to live up to, but Arts in Motion does so admirably thanks to crisp direction by director Barbara Spofford and musical director Ben McNaboe, and a cast that is lively and fun.

Chris Madura stars as Seymour Krelbourn, a klutzy nerd, who works at a Skid Row flower shop along with Audrey (Taylor Hill) and shop owner Mushnik (Craig Holden). Business is bad until Seymour begins displaying an unusual plant he has named Audrey II. Suddenly, people are flocking to the store to look at the plant and spend money. The problem is Audrey II's diet is exclusively human blood and Seymour has run out of fingers to prick.

As Audrey II gets bigger, the plant becomes a foul mouthed R&B singing monster who is increasingly more hungry and manipulative. While Seymour is contending with Audrey II, Audrey I is contending with her sadistic dentist boyfriend (Reed Van Rossum). A better candidate for plant food never existed.

Eric Andrews provides the voice of Audrey II and Keith Force puppets the ever growing plant. It is an impressive bit of teamwork as nearly every line of dialogue or music is perfectly in sync.

Madura is strong in the lead role. He brings the nerdiness of the character across, but also manages to be a confident stage presence with a commanding singing voice. He is his best when singing with the Audreys. "Suddenly, Seymour" is Seymour's sweet proclamation of love to Audrey. "Feed Me (Git It)" is a raucous, tongue-in-cheek duet with Audrey II.

Hill is sweet and lovable as Audrey and has an easy chemistry with Madura. Her powerhouse voice shines on "Somewhere That's Green," a ballad lampooning the 1950s idea of a perfect life.

Van Rossum is a bit flat as Audrey's cruel boyfriend and on his big number "Dentist!" seems to be trying too hard to emulate Steve Martin's performance in the film. He fares better on "(Now) It's Just the Gas."

Courtney Rae Phelps, Natasha Repass and Shannon Oliver form a doo-wop singing Greek chorus that provides narration and commentary throughout the show. They steal several scenes with Phelps and Repass particularly standing out.

Choreography by Nancy Shappell leaves something to be desired with the exception of "Skid Row (Downtown)," a complex musical number with lots of extras. In terms of the staging, it is perhaps the most challenging song of the show, so kudos to Shappell, McNaboe and Spofford for nailing it.

Live music is ably provided by a band consisting of McNaboe, Graeme Gengrass, Al Hosper, Chuck O'Connor and Rafe Matregrano. Set design by Colleen Bousquet, costume and wig design by Patricia Hibbert and makeup design by Lori Cashman are all impressive

The show itself is top heavy with the script shoving nearly all of its best songs and moments in the first act leaving only "Suddenly, Seymour" to make an impression during the muddled second act.

But flaws in the script aside, Arts in Motion has provided is a bright, fun production of this popular offbeat show.

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