THREE'S COMPANY Olivieri, Audrey II, and Papacostas.
All girls wanna have is a good scream. At least they did when they were clinging to their dates at B-movie sci-fi horror flicks in the 1950s. That's what filmmaker Roger Corman was making fun of in his classic 1960 flick Little Shop of Horrors. The 1982 off-Broadway musical of the same name, which made further fun of the film, was a big hit, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken.
Theatre by the Sea is having a grand old time staging it (through August 1), directed by Amiee Turner and choreographed by Ann Cooley. Audiences don't lack for laughs here, but at least a few sheet-twisting dreams of slavering vegetables running wild will surely be induced.
Much of the reason that Little Shop has remained so popular — some years it's the most produced musical on high school stages — is that the black comedy is backgrounded by the dark setting of inner city poverty and inner life paucity. If meek antihero Seymour and his boyfriend-battered sweetie Audrey can find strength in each other, how much does it matter if the planet might be taken over by carnivorous house plants? Cosmic catastrophe takes a backseat to a microcosmic romantic victory.
Seymour Krelborn (Guy Olivieri) is a grown-up orphan who as a boy was taken in by Mr. Mushnik (Joel Briel), not from affection but for unpaid help in a skid row flower shop. Here in the ghetto, the story is brightly commented on by an African-American doo-wop chorus consisting of Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon (Rheaume Crenshaw, Angela Williams, and Kerri J. Alexander).
Trying to sell flowers amidst this misery is a dark joke itself, but prospects change when Seymour brings in an exotic plant he mysteriously came across at the flower market. He names it Audrey II, after fellow shop assistant Audrey (Katerina Papacostas), with whom he is smitten. The front window attraction brings attention and lots of business to the place, especially after it grows bigger and bigger.
In the course of his song "Grow For Me," Seymour learns the specific qualities and requirements of his new responsibility. The smell of a drop of blood from a rose thorn prick makes Audrey II shudder to life and speak. But a few drops from bandaged fingers will hardly do and, by the end of Act One, the by-now enormous plant is demanding human being tartare —"Feed Me" is a rollicking high point of the show.
One victim we want to see munched is the sadistic, nitrous oxide-addicted dentist, Orin Scrivello. He's played with exquisite laughing gas glee by Timothy John Smith. Smith's multiple roles, from the orotund opening prologue reader to a smarmy TV network promoter to a be-furred aristocratic lady, are high points of our fun and his actorly prowess in a mostly well-acted production. Papacostas's Audrey is the meticulously dressed and coiffed, plainly pretty bundle of self-consciousness that's written. (Costume designer Patrick Bevilacqua gets big kudos for Audrey's glittery success dress and leopard skin pumps in Act Two.) Olivieri gives his stock-nebbish Seymour enough personality, but Briel's Mushnick is woefully stagey until he gets real when singing "Mushnik and Son" with Seymour.