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Tasty bites

Seacoast puts on a Horror show
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  July 9, 2008
NEEDING FEEDING: Seymour the plant

Little Shop Of Horrors | Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman | Music by Alan Menken | Based on the film by Roger Corman | Produced by the Seacoast Repertory Theater, in Portsmouth NH | in repertory through August 24 | 603.433.4472
Few conceits remain as enduring as the Faustian bargain — that is, the selling of your soul in exchange for any of a number of things that seem more immediately useful or fun. For poor schlemiel Seymour (CJ Lewis), who works in the Skid Row flower shop of Mr. Mushnik (Ed Batchelder), the negotiating Devil is a weird new flytrap species, and the currency of fame and hubris is — wooahahaa! — human blood. Yes, it’s Little Shop of Horrors, the musical that in one fell and clever swoop sends up the conventions of doo-wop and soul music, the Cold War-style alien-horror genre, and musicals in general — and still manages to be poignant. Kevin Hauge directs a production that’s fun, sharp, and well-appointed, if a touch shy on camp, for Portsmouth’s Seacoast Repertory Theatre.

All Seymour really wants, as he gives himself paper-cuts ad anemium, is the affection of Audrey (Lauren Sowa), the bleach-blond, stiletto-heeled co-worker after whom he has named his carnivorous plant. The fact that Audrey already has a sadistic, nitrous-sucking dentist boyfriend, Orin (Christopher Bradley), who regularly slaps her around, is both a problem and a solution. And so, goaded on by the sometimes street-urchin, sometimes Supremes-ish trio of a Greek chorus (Christine Dulong, Megan Quinn, and Jessica Moryl), Seymour metes out life and death on Skid Row.

It’s a place where everything normally sucks for everybody, of course. On Skid Row, as Seymour catchily laments, “depression’s just status quo,” and scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan ingeniously devotes much of his artistry to the place where all these losers most often gaze: the ground. The grimy black and white tile of the flower shop yields to the cracked and waterlogged concrete of the street and gutter, and all are arrestingly decrepit.

Director Hauge uses the Rep’s vast stage and house space to great effect — there’s a catwalk for the chorus (especially good during their more oracular and ominous numbers), steps and railings for the urchins to perch on, and a number of landings in the audience for comic-dramatic spots.

The cast ranges nimbly over all of this, with great timing and rapport. As Seymour, Lewis’s his voice and mannerisms convey a fine balance of meekness and resentment, and as his would-be paramour, Sowa mixes a nice cocktail of sweet, ditzy, and affecting. Batchelder manages to make Mushnik both a bully we despise and a schmuck we pity. John Pirroni puts plenty of soul-man machismo into the voice of the floral Mephistopheles, while puppeteer John Asher will be one buff man after a season of flapping the plant's chops. The chorus trio is snappy and beautifully outfitted by John Pirroni, who also does great work on Orin’s skinny, punkass leather get-up (and funny-scary gas mask). And as that mad dentist (and a number of small quick-change character roles), Bradley is a bright, manic presence.

As entertaining and energetic as Hauge’s production is, I did find myself hankering after an extra slathering or two of camp, just little touches at some pressure points: a little more gutter and ditz in Audrey’s accent, a little more exaggeration and knowingness in the chorus, a little more sex in the plant’s intonation. There are a few places in the script that beg to be sent over the top; one is in Orin’s fabulous death-by-laughing-gas scene. There, I’d like to see the talented Bradley set wild in his vocal work from within the mask, to even more luridly stylize both Orin’s high and his dramatic asphyxiation.

But all things said, the Rep’s Little Shop is an overwhelmingly dynamic, smart, and artfully assembled show. It will give audiences renewed strength against the monsters making offers on their spirits, and will leave them with soul to spare.

Megan Grumbling can be reached

  Topics: Theater , Kevin Hauge , Christopher Bradley , Seacoast Repertory Theatre ,  More more >
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