Little Shop of Horrors
Howard Ashman (Book & Lyrics); Alan Menkin (Music)
Ray of Light Theatre
Ray of Light Theatre
|Mary Kalita & Sam Faustine|
How do you take everyone’s favorite horror, fully-tongue-in-cheek, rock musical about a human-eating plant and ensure that your production will be noticed when this musical has already been produced in the past thirty years on almost every community’s stage in the country in local and big touring productions? The answer is to turn the musical over to Ray of Light Theatre and let this proven gem for producing quirky musicals with Broadway quality and flair (and an added edge others dare not employ) have at it. The outrageously enthusiastic crowd on opening night at San Francisco’s Victoria Theatre roared their resounding approval hearing the opening bars of Little Shop of Horrors, assuring that Ray of Light’s production of this Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) classic is bound to be another sold-out run and success.
|Katrina McGraw, Phaedra Johnson & Jacqueline Dennis|
The story they help narrate and highlight is well known and simple. A flower shop in the middle of a ghetto is about to go out of business until a loser of a sweet guy named Seymour discovers that a little, sick plant with a big mouth likes his blood, a succulent he names Audrey II. Those few drops fertilize a fantastical turn-around for him, for his dippy blonde and shop mate named Audrey whom he silently adores (but who is stuck in an abusive relationship with a nitrous-oxide-loving dentist), and for his boss -- the cranky floral failure, Mr. Mushnik. The more human blood the plant consumes, the larger she grows; and the richer and seemingly happier the other three become. But the ever-increasing greed for more human blood (and body and bones) by the plant and for more fame and fortune by Seymour to share with his beloved Audrey leads to disasters on all parts – except for the now firmly rooted Audrey II.
|Audrey II (Jessica Coker) & Seymour (Sam Faustine)|
Puppet Designer Devon LaBelle has created several generations of ever-blossoming-in-size Audrey II’s. On the slight end of the range is the cute, shuddering-in-shyness sprig with over-sized head that Seymour holds (and manipulates cleverly with his own hands). By the end, Audrey II is a colossal, bloated, leggy beast with shark-like teeth in her cave-like mouth that eats up all the space in the flower shop as well as all its inhabitants. Billy Raphael and Josiah Minued are somewhere deep in her bowels, expertly operating her every move, twist, bite, and outstretched root. (They each also play a variety of ensemble roles – mostly of the wino variety -- while Audrey II is still in her younger, anemic stages.)
Music Director Ben Prince has assembled and directs an excellent orchestra hidden in the heights above the stage. The set’s massive wall is a mixture of corrugated metal, chain fence, and the kinds of discarded boxes, pipes, and garbage one might find in any urban Skid Row. When Chrissy Curl’s set opens to reveal the small flower shop, dingy and depressed is its ‘pre-Audrey II’ look while things spruce up nicely as her fame grows -- the contrast aided greatly by the lighting design of Kevin Landesman. (Particularly clever and funny is Ms. Curl’s revelation of Orin’s dentist office.) Maggie Whitaker and Lexie Lazear combine their talented forces to create each character’s look of the early ‘60s and of the down-and-out and/or the just plain off-beat and wacky through their designed costumes and make-up/wigs, respectively.
The one production issue that continues too often to plague Ray of Light (and other) productions in the old, cavernous Victoria Theatre is sound. Even though Anton Hedman is a known, accomplished sound engineer, on opening night there were times when the volume balance was off. The crucial, opening, off-stage voice recalling a time when the human race “suddenly encountered a deadly threat” was so muddled that unless one had seen the musical previously, the set-up was probably lost. On the other end, the company’s “Finale Ultimo (Don’t Feed the Plants)” was so miss-miked that too many of the final lyrics were lost. Volume and clarity adjustments hopefully will be made as the show progresses, but it is disappointing that this is an ongoing issue at the Victoria.
But be assured, Ray of Light Theatre has once again opened a show that its growing audiences of loyal fans are going to flock to see and come away delighted (as well as humming, probably singing the well-known classics of Little Shop of Horrors). This “shoppa horrors” is do-wop fun for sure.
Rating: 4 E
Little Shop of Horrors continues through October 8, 2016 at Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco. Tickets are available online at http://rayoflighttheatre.com.
Photo by Eric Skanlon