Monday, March 31, 2014

Don't Feed the Plants, but go see "Little Shop of Horrors"

Seymour (Joshua Carter) and Audrey (Jessica Skerritt) in Little Shop of Horrors,
a co-production of ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre.  

Photos: Mark Kitaoka & Tracy Martin
For the last three years, the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) have joined forces, combining what each does best into one fantastic show. This year’s Little Shop of Horrors is no exception. For unfamiliar with the musical, you may be wondering what if any redeeming value can come from it. While based on a low budget horror movie from the ‘60’s, Little Shop plays more like a morality tale with do-wop soundtrack. It talks a lot more about violence than actually showing any and is pretty squeaky clean, you know, for a horror story.

Presented at the ACT, the show features a longer run (now until June 15) in a more intimate theatre where regardless where you sit, you’ll feel like you’re a part of the production. Little Shop features a smaller cast and you’ll leave about an hour earlier than at a show at the 5th. This is not to insinuate that you’ll be treated to a lesser show. Not at all.

Audrey (Jessica Skerrit, center) and the trio
 (l-r) Crystal (Naomi Morgan),
Chiffon (Alexandria Henderson),
and Ronette (Nicole Rashida Prothro)
With music by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, (The same guys who help bring Disney’s The Little Mermaid to life), the musical was inspired by the B-movie of the same name by Roger Corman. Three do-wop girls, Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (Alexandria Henderson, Naomi Morgan and Nicole Rashido Prothro) serve as the musical’s muses. Set in Skid Row in New York, the trio tells the tale about Seymour (Joshua Carter), a wisp of man with no family of his home and his trials working with Mr. Mushnik (Jeff Steitzer) at his flower shop. Working beside the two is Audrey, played by probably my favorite local actress, Jessica Skerrit, a sweet girl who doesn’t know her own value as a person. She’s dating the abusive Orin (David Anthony Lewis) who often leaves her with bruises. I would tell you his profession, but it’s a lot more fun if you don’t know ahead of time.

Business is bad at Mushnik’s, but Seymour has a plan. He has been secretly nursing some strange plant he found during a total eclipse of the sun. It is so strange and unusual looking, that passers-by, stop and shop just to see the little terror. Soon, business is picking up thanks to Audrey II, the name Seymour gives the plant. There is just one thing. Audrey II has a desire for human blood. In exchange for fresh blood, Audrey II promises Seymour fame and fortune. Just like sin, the more you feed it, the more it grows and takes over your life.

If you are only familiar with the 1986 movie version of the musical with Rick Moranis, you will be surprised by this version’s ending. Unlike that film, this story finishes up a lot darker, which remains true to the off-Broadway original. It’s not a big thing, but it did make the production somewhat of a “downer” for me. It’s best to view the play as a metaphor.

Seymour (Joshua Carter) and Mr. Mushnik (Jeff Steitzer)
Other than the ending, I found the Seattle team a delight to watch. Every performance is a strong one. Skerritt and Carter make a great team, Steitzer is his cranky best, Lewis is scary fun and three street kids hold the who thing together. Special kudos go to the team who bring Audrey II to life – Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. (voice) and Eric Esteb (puppeteer). They didn’t miss a beat. Bill Berry’s staging is excellent too.

Little Shop of Horrors is performed every day except Mondays now until June 15. Performances are held at the ACT’s Falls Theatre located at 700 Union Street in Seattle, 98101. Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 206.292.7676.

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