Theatre Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at Indy Civic

Scot Greenwell and Mikayla Anne Reed in Little Shop of Horrors at the Indpls Civic Theatre

Last Thursday night I drove over to the northwest side of Indianapolis to the Marion College campus to see the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”   I hope you got to see it, too, because it was a real treat, and it closed today.

This musical is based on the film by Roger Corman, with screenplay by Charles Griffith.  The book and lyrics for the stage version are by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken.

Civic’s production was directed and music directed by Brent E. Marty.  I admired Marty’s acting work in Theatre on the Square’s production of “Die! Mommy, Die!” and ever since he and I and several other people were stranded in a movie theatre without power during a thunderstorm, I have felt as if I know him.  However, I didn’t actually meet him until right after this show.

He told me that he is looking forward to working with the Munchkins in Civic’s upcoming holiday-time production of “The Wizard of Oz” but that he has also started preparing to music direct Civic’s production of “West Side Story” in March, 2009.

“I want Leonard Bernstein to be able to look down from heaven and be proud of me,” Marty said.

I don’t know if all of the people who were originally involved with “Little Shop of Horrors” are still alive or looking down or what, but in any case, I’m sure they would be proud if they knew about Marty’s direction of this show.

Scot Greenwell is Seymour, a shy, nerdy, young man who works in Mushnik’s Flower Shop on impoverished Skid Row sometime in the 1950s. Pragmatic Mr. Mushnik (Mark Fishback) “rescued” Seymour from an orphanage and put him to work. 

I agree with the people sitting behind me whom I overheard say to each other as they were reading their programs during intermission:

“Who is playing Seymour? He’s delightful!”

“Scot Greenwell with one ‘t’…Literary manager for the Phoenix Theatre…”

“He was born to play this part.”

“Oh, yes, he’s wonderful.”

Greenwell’s portrayal of Seymour is hilarious and endearing.  His singing made me swoon. 

Ditsy and beautiful Audrey (Mikayla Anne Reed) works in the flower shop, too.  Seymour is secretly in love with her.  Audrey is kind to him, but she has self-esteem issues of her own.  She meets her abusive dentist boyfriend, Orin (Jeffrey S. Reeves), for painful dates every night after the shop closes.  Orin is, as Mr. Mushnik says, a “no-goodnik.”

Eventually we learn that Audrey wishes she could be with a good man like Seymour, but “I got a pa-yest,” she says in her hilariously ultra-feminine, high-pitched New York accent.  “I don’t desoive a guy like Seymour.”

Reed had me crying through laughter as she sang in “Somewhere That’s Green” about her Donna Reed dream of sharing “a matchbox all our own” with a good man like Seymour.  Their house would have a chain-link fence and she would cook like “Betty Crock-ah” for him.

(10/5/08 – Mikayla Anne Reed’s singing voice is exquisite.  I loved it as well as her excellent comedic skills.  I’m sorry I didn’t emphasize this more when I first posted this review!)

The plot progresses because the flower shop business has been very bad lately, so bad that Mr. Mushnik announces that he is closing the shop for good.  This is when Seymour, desperate not to lose either his own livelihood or Audrey’s companionship, reveals that he has been nurturing an unusual plantlet that he received in a mysterious manner from a Chinese man.  He named the plant “Audrey Two.”

“Maybe if we just put Audrey Two in the window,” Seymour suggests, placing the plant as he speaks, “business will improve…”

Before Mr. Mushnik can even finish scoffing, sure enough, a customer comes in and buys $100 worth of faded roses.  Within days, business is booming.  Mr. Mushnik adopts Seymour and they sing a very entertaining duet called “Mushnik and Son.”

And all the while, Audrey II is growing.  The several plant puppets of varying sizes that show this growth were produced by Don Kirk & Jim Stock of The Hastey Pudding Company in Vincennes, Indiana.   The colorful, vaguely obscene puppets are a hoot!

Seymour doesn’t tell anyone that the Audrey II feeds on human blood.  However, soon the plant demands more blood than Seymour can provide from his own body.

One day, the plant speaks:  “Feed me!” 

Karen E. Williams-Valentine is the torchy voice of Audrey II.  Williams-Valentine appears first in an early number, “Skid Row (Downtown)” as a homeless person.  I was struck by the earthy beauty of her solo voice then, and I kept peering at my program in the dark, trying to figure out who she was.  Later, when Audrey II sang “Feed Me (Git It)” with Seymour towards the end of Act One, I finally realized that one actor was playing both roles.

It took me a while, too, to realize that Jeffrey S. Reeves plays several roles in addition to Orin.  I especially admired and enjoyed the section in Act Two in which he has to make lightning-fast costume changes to play a wide variety of characters, including a Chanel-clad editor’s wife.  He makes each character believably distinct.

The person inside the largest puppet versions of Audrey II, making her move in a very life-like, funny, and disturbing manner, is Tyler C. Braun.  He uses his whole body to move her whole body – which is now bigger than any human’s  – from her tentacle-like roots and tendrils to her huge, gaping, greedy mouth.  In her largest manifestation, Audrey II’s mouth reminded me of the flesh of a pomegranate, or the “other mouth” on a woman’s body.  Usually, neither of those two things would make me shudder, but Audrey II did.

Throughout the show, a 50s-style girl group of three young women – Jennifer L. Simms (Crystal), Angela Manlove (Ronnette), and Leslie M. Hollis (Chiffon) – from the Skid Row neighborhood serve as lovely singing commentators on the story.  They wear poufy, teased hair.  They pull dazzling outfits out of garbage cans and accessorize them with wit and style.  Their voices and their dancing sparkle as well.

(Choreography by Anne Nicole Beck.  Vocal arrangements by Robert Billig. Costume design by Jean Engstrom.  Wig design by Debra Williams.  By the way, I also loved Audrey’s very poufy hair and Orin’s Elvis-like hair.  Costume assistants include Janice Hannon, Ren Duncan, Ariel Hendrickson, Stephen Hollenbeck, Jenny Hilcz, Robin Uhrig, and Jennifer Smith.)

The set, designed and lit by Ryan Koharchik, is a pleasure to look at, even though it is of a poor neighborhood.  Mushnik’s Flower Shop rotates to show the outside and the inside of the building, with a venetian-blinded window that allows us to see action in either place from more than one point of view.  To one side is a building with a fire escape.  To the other is the front stoop of Audrey’s apartment building.  A light goes on in the upstairs window when she is at home.

In Orin’s office, a truly sinister, skull-painted dentist’s chair rises slowly from beneath the floor as a huge diagram of a mouth rolls down from the ceiling.  Orin wields an over-sized drill that made my teeth ache just to look at it. 

(Denise Stockdale is the stage manager.  Troy Trinkle is the technical director.    Janet Sutton is the properties mistress.)

The orchestra is nestled under the stage.  It sounds good and is in good balance in terms of volume with the cast. 

(The orchestrations for this show are by Robert Merkin.  The sound design is by Michael J. Lasley.  The sound board operator is Amy Mullen. Todd Allen Hawks assistant music directed.  He also conducts the orchestra and plays piano.  The orchestra manager is Al French.  Shelbie Wahl is on synthesizer.  Mark Gray is on guitar.  Frank Niemiec is on percussion.  Al French and Valerie Kern are on bass.)

I looked up at the catwalk before the show started and waved at the spot operators: Hannah Boswell, Zach Rosing, and Mike Waddleton.  And then I forgot about them, which tells me they did a good job.  Same for the rest of the crew, which includes Michelle Boswell, Betsy Brunette, Danna Eismeier, Chris Feltman, Matt Keller, and Bob Louden.

People have told me about various ways they have seen to end this piece.  In Civic’s version, at the end Audrey II is well on her way to taking over the planet.  Seymour, Audrey, Mr. Mushnik, and Orin have all been devoured.  They appear as little bloom-faces in the sprawling monster that is now Audrey II.  They beg the audience, who will soon receive Audrey cuttings in the mail, “Don’t feed the plant!”  

Of course, what they are really saying is, “Don’t feed the greed, the shame, the jealousy,” the whatever damaging emotions that threaten to take over all of our lives from time to time.

Or at least, that is what I first thought was the message that I was supposed to take away from this show.

However, after the show some of us were standing in the parking lot talking.  The talk turned to unrequited lust and love.  One person, in particular, was wishing another certain person liked him back.

All I could come up with at the time was, “Well, if you decide to try jumping his bones, use a condom!”

Now, after spending the last few days compulsively singing, “Suddenly Seymour is standing beside you…,” what I wish I had said that night is this:

It’s none of my business how you conduct your social life, but I understand about desire.  In fact, a friend told me that one of the things she likes best about my blog is that I’m honest about my feelings.  For example, often when I think an actor is sexy, I say so in my review, even when I know there’s not a chance that he will feel the same about me and I wouldn’t be able to handle it if he did.  It’s just a part of my response to the art. 

But in real life, you deserve someone who loves you and wants you, not someone who only tolerates you, not someone who thinks he is doing you a favor by being with you, not someone who can’t decide if he is flattered or ashamed to be seen with you, and not someone whom you have to get drunk or otherwise manipulate into spending time with you.

In other words, you deserve a Seymour of your own.”

We all do.

For more information about, and to reserve tickets for, the rest of the Indianapolis Civic Theatre’s 2008-2009 season, please visit the Civic website or call 317-923-4597.

Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com

2 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at Indy Civic”

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