Sep 1, 2019
by Jeanie K. Smith , San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle
Little Shop of Horrors, the musical that put Howard Ashman and Alan Menken on the musical theatre map in 1982, has been around long enough that chances are you’ve seen it before— but don’t let that stop you from seeing the superb production at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma— a truly refreshing, entertaining and superior production of this zany and lovable show.
Billed as a “doo-wop” musical, Little Shop pays homage to ‘60s girl groups, MoTown, and “B”-movies, and you can hear Menken’s signature style emerging that will lead to mega-hits such as The Little Mermaid andBeauty and the Beast, among others. Ashman’s clever lyrics make references to pop culture icons of the ‘50s and ‘60s, such that the program includes a glossary for the younger folks in the audience who may not recognize them. Based on the 1960 cult classic film by the same name, the musical alters the plot slightly, making it more of a morality tale than a freakishly maudlin sci-fi comedy, but all the wacky elements are still there, and even more of the quirky humor.
The hapless floral shop assistant, Seymour, is inhabited by Michael McGurk, last seen here as the EmCee inC abaret— two roles couldn’t be more different, and he’s just as terrific as the lovable nerd turned murderer as he was as the decadent nightclub ringmaster. He’s in love with his co-worker, Audrey, given skid row beauty and angelic voice bySidney Raey-Gonzales. Mr. Mushnik (a delightfully disagreeableMichael Van Why) is ready to close up shop for lack of business until Seymour finds a most unusual plant that he names Audrey II, triggering a surge in customers and unusual events.
When Seymour discovers the plant only grows when fed human blood, all kinds of mayhem ensues, with hilarious and disastrous results. Ambition, greed, the thorny path to success, sadism, self-esteem, true love and false love— all are thrown in for good measure and good fun. Ashman and Menken had a field day with this one, and no doubt you’ll enjoy it as much as they did.
The small ensemble includes three wonderful singers emulating the girl groups they’re named for— Ronnette (Serena Elize Flores), Crystal (Aja Gianola-Norris), and Chiffon (Olivia Newbold) blend vocals beautifully, dance a mean doo-wop style, and also get to shine in small solos. They appear frequently as backup, but also help move the story along.
Michelle Pagano shows up briefly in “Downtown” as a shopping-cart lady, and you won’t see her again until curtain— but you’ll certainly hear her rockin’ voice once Audrey II starts talking. Traditionally voiced as a male, Audrey II can be either gender, and in fact has been voiced female more than once over recent years— the choice here adds welcome spice and spunk to the role.
While Pagano does the voice, the Audrey II puppetry is mostly up to Zane Walters, onstage briefly as a wino, then busy occupying the plant— I mean that literally. He moves that plant like a “Mean, Green…” uh, monster. Keith Baker milks the fabulous role of Orin Scrivello, the sadistic dentist and Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, for all it’s worth, and could steal the show if the rest of the cast weren’t equally great. His glee and gruffness are exceeded only by his maniacal laugh and marvelous chair-side manner. You’ll also get to see him emerge from the wings as multiple secondary characters— lots of fun trying to recognize him and enjoy his comic character skills.
Kudos to director Nathan Cummings for pulling out all the stops, excellent casting, and nailing the arch comic style, and to music director Mary Chun for great vocals and an awesome small band. The spectacle as a whole is truly inspired, with attractive skid row grunge and multiple staging areas by scenic designer Peter Q. Parish, fabulous lighting byWayne Hovey, pleasing and clever period costumes by Julie O’Dell, and sprightly ‘60s choreography by Bridget Codoni. The amazing puppet package for Audrey II was rented locally, often the case, and deployed effectively.
I’ve seen this show many times, enjoyed many iterations of the story, and had a fantastic time at this exceptional production, a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment.— Jeanie Smith
Little Shop of Horrors
Book by Howard Ashman,
Music by Alan Menken.
Presented by Cinnabar Theater through Sept. 22, 2019
Fri/Sat at 7:30pm, Sun at 2:00pm
Tickets: $30-42; Senior, Under-30, and Under-18 discounts
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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