When Little Shop of Horrors opened in New York in 1982, it was in a small, 98-seat Off-Off-Broadway theatre. Its success led to its move Off-Broadway to Manhattan’s 299-seat Orpheum Theatre, where it ran for five years. It had a chance to move to the Great White Way, but playwright/lyricist Howard Ashman felt the show might lose its heart and soul on Broadway. A decade after Ashman’s passing, the trustees of his estate licensed a Broadway production. It received mixed reviews and closed in under a year.
The show’s history came to mind as I watched the College of Marin production running through Oct. 13 in the 572-seat James Dunn Theatre. Having seen a delightful production last month at Petaluma’s quaint Cinnabar Theater, I was curious as to how a show usually done in smaller spaces would play in a cavernous auditorium. With some difficulty, it turns out.
Based on the 1960 cult-horror quickie directed by Roger Corman, Little Shop is the musical tale of nerdish Seymour Krelborn (Michael Kessel) and his unrequited love for co-worker Audrey (Sophie De Morelos), and how the arrival of a strange and interesting plant at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist seemingly makes things better for Seymour—until it doesn’t. The show has an infectious rock ’n’ roll-, doo-wop- and Motow-influenced score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Ashman), outrageous characters, wickedly dark humor and a giant, man-eating plant.
Director Lisa Morse has a typical (mostly) youthful college cast here, which made me question the lack of energy on stage. This show should bounce but, with few exceptions, it was flat in pacing and presentation.
Kessel does fine as Seymour, and De Morelos makes for a very sympathetic Audrey. She doesn’t overdo the character voice and shines with “Somewhere That’s Green.” Andrew Pryor-Ramirez as Orin Scrivello, DDS (demented dentist & sadist) brings the energy that’s lacking elsewhere, and while he may not exude a real sense of danger, it’s the cockiest take on the role I’ve seen.
Sound is a real issue with this production. Microphone levels were erratic, with the good vocal work being done by Matt Kizer, as Audrey II, often lost. A good sound mix could compensate for some of the intimacy lost in a larger space.
COM brings a fun musical with a stylish set, colorful costumes, wonderful wigs, creative choreography and some plucky performances to the stage. Could they please bring volume to the vocals?