Theatre Review: The Road to Hell…

review

Little Shop of Horrors, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken; produced by Kansas City Repertory Theatre: seen April 27, 2012

In every deal with the devil, it’s done either for money, power, or love. And while Seymour Krelborn, our hapless hero, does get all three in his deal with the alien plant in Little Shop, it’s that third – love – that cements his (and eventually our) fate.

I have a special place in my heart for Little Shop of Horrors. My alma mater, Park University, produced it – and my husband played the part of Orin. Now, I know that production wasn’t anywhere near professional, but it provides a mental ‘perfect version’ in my head that makes it hard to review with any kind of distance.

The Kansas City Rep’s production started off a little late opening night: Rosen claimed there were tech issues, and considering the plethora of times there were mic issues led me to believe not all of them had been resolved by the time the curtain finally came up. Thankfully, that (and some minor plant puppet malfunctions) were the only tech issues.

Special kudos definitely needs to go out to Meghan Raham and Grace Hudson for their work on the various Audrey IIs. When it’s an extension of Seymour’s arm, it’s only the awkwardly folded elbow that shows that it’s a fake arm, and the veininess of the plant (if there is such a word) makes it look otherworldly and allows for some great lighting bits showing the innards. While the puppetry was a little off at times, I also have to give a standing O to puppeteer Nick Uthoff, as I know how hard that job can be.

Photo by Don Ipock
Photo by Don Ipock

Seymour (played by Joseph Medeiros) did a fine job of playing that thin line between awkward spaz that makes you want to run away and shy nerd that makes you just want to hold and comfort (bow ties are cool now, after all). And while they did include him doing a Superman knockoff of taking his glasses off when he wanted to be more ‘manly’, he inevitably followed it up with the gaze of someone who actually needs those things to see.

As I mentioned above, I can’t really review Nick Cordero’s Orin with any kind of distance, but it felt to me as if he was playing it too clinical – never really making it his own. (I had to wonder during his dentistry scenes whether the man had ever been high, or really knows the fine line where pain can be pleasurable.) However, his (very) quick changes in the second half of all the various people offering Seymour his deals made me respect the actor. I wonder how much of the double (well, more like quintuple) casting was due to keeping the cast small and how much was to create the metaphor of Seymour still being bullied.

The three Do Wop girls played their part of Greek chorus very well, playing them part devil and part narrator. I was also actually quite impressed with Gary Neal Johnson’s Mushnik. While Michael James Leslie, as the voice of Audrey II, wasn’t bad, the choice to have him on stage up with the band meant he was literally upstaging the production any time he was on, a massive distraction – and I also felt he never really commanded the room.

However, it was Ashley Blanchet as Audrey that really shined in this production. Her heartfelt plea during “Somewhere That’s Green” helped sell that inevitably goofy song (that I find hilarious that Menhen revisited the theme for The Little Mermaid‘s “Part of Your World”) that still is sweet, and all I could say after “Suddenly, Seymour” was ‘Wow – that girl can belt!’. It was the first time in a long while where I got chills watching a production.

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and if that’s so, this production has plenty of merit to go to hell. It’s not a bad show, but it could’ve been so much better.

Little Shop of Horrors plays until May 20, and more information can be found at www.kcrep.org.

This review has been posted to the KC Stage review system. Agree or disagree? You can rate / review this show yourself (requires free registration) by going to KC Stage.

  • The quadruple casting of Orin as the three characters in “The Meek Shall Inherit” is actually written into the script. Anytime that they are played by separate actors it is because the director has chosen to stray from the original casting method. For example, when I was in Little Shop at Northwest Missouri State University, I played Mrs. Luce because the director wanted a larger cast. Ironically, when my husband was in another production, he ALSO played Mrs. Luce since he was cast as the dentist. I often joke that while I’m sure he did a fine job, I’m positive that I filled out the costume better.