Friday, September 27, 2019

LITTLE SHOP at the Playhouse

The Pasadena Playhouse, The State Theatre of California, was established in 1912.  The heavy early California architecture shouts History in its cobblestone courtyard and its interior design.  No expense was spared when the Playhouse came back from what might have been its final curtain in 2010.  Fortunately, for Pasadena and California History,  a few months after the announced closure, an anonymous angel landed;  the house was refurbished with fancy seats and a new lease on Art was extended.  This is an important historical venue.
Mj Rodriguez (“Audrey”) and George Salazar (“Seymour”) in Little Shop of Horrors. // Photo by Jenny Graham

Roger Corman's feature film, The Little Shop of Horrors, typical of his low budget and quirky style, was released in  1960. It featured the lovely Jackie Joseph as Audrey and a newcomer that Corman brought along in a small role, Jack Nicholson.  In director Mike Donohue's rendition, Little Shop, the Musicalbook and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, we are reminded that this is a completely original take for this production at The Playhouse, turning on Corman's story via Ashman. It is NOT a regional tour.

With a nod to the growing awareness of the emerging LBGTQ culture, Audrey is played by MJ Rodriguez, who according to a bio, knew from an early age that she wanted to be an actress and has now become one.  
Scenic Designer Dane Lafferty has driven a '57 Chevy convertible off down stage left where Ronnette (Brittany Campbell), Chiffon (Tikwanya Jones) and Crystal (Cheyenne Isabelle Welles)  often retire to comment and show what a mess Skid Row, where Mr. Mushnik's (Kevin Chamberlin) Flower Shop is moldering. 

Mushnik's belabored assistant, Seymour, (George Salazar, fresh from Be More Chill on Broadway) longs for the attention and respect of Audrey and names his alien botanical find (only a dollah ninedy five!) after his fantasy love.  

One memorable tune,  "Somewhere That's Green", works beautifully. It's the lament that Audrey sings hoping for a better life than the abusive relationship she has with her mad dentist biker boyfriend, Dr. Orin Scrivello (Matthew Wilkas, whose multiple characters almost steal the show). 
The awakening of the abused Audrey to the love of Seymour with "Suddenly Semour" in Act II is bright and engaging. 

When a huge production takes a simple and amusing story to new 'heights' we expect New Heights.  The use of hard working puppeteers to create the eventually humongous Audrey II, who, thanks to greed and promotion eventually takes over the Planet Earth, is clever and laborious. This effort deserves to be mentioned. Gone is the Giant Pod that throughout Corman's film continues to exponentially grow large enough to swallow, entire human beings. Instead an imagined miasma of tendrils forms the carnivorous maw that eventually devours everyone. All the while the original Audrey II remains a tiny talking potted thing sitting in the middle of the stage.

There are moments to applaud, especially in the enthusiastic opening number with dancers Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal who advance the plot much like a Greek Chorus. One robotic version of Audrey II draws chuckles.  

Mike Donohue's direction misses a bet by not creating a tighter and more physically and vocally engaging Audrey II. A nod to diversity, perhaps was the casting of  Amber Riley as Audrey II's voice which was more whiny and annoying than effective.  Another idea might have been to  put the whole story into one act.  The Playhouse's  awkward Continental seating design makes intermission a traffic jam at the act break.  

It's a musical, after all. It's a diversion from our daily bouts with what the 'real world' reminds us of day by day. However, Little Shop does contain a metaphorical warning of sorts. When an "alien" being is allowed to propagate:  the world .. as is shown  in the final shadow puppet play reveals... the world is devoured by evil.  Brrr. 

Sean Cawelti designed the puppets and dircted the puppeteers: Tyler Bremer, Kelsey Kato, Tim Kopacz, Sarah Kay Peters, and Paul Turbiak.

Little Shop of Horror
Based on Roger Corman's 1960 Film
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken

The Pasadena Playhouse 
39 South El Molino Avenue 
Pasadena, CA 91101
Tickets and Information:

No comments:

Post a Comment