REVIEW: Somewhere That’s Green – Fire Hall Closes Season With Perennial Favorite, LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

Published on May 23, 2017 by   ·   No Comments

LSOH 02If you don’t already know what Little Shop is about, then no spoiler alert will help you with your poor life choices.  But here it is anyway.  Happy? – XOXO Miss Jaye

LSOH 03Everyone has some dream or aspiration that they’ll probably never achieve; no matter how high or how far you go, there is that one “next thing” that always appears just out of your reach.  When you come from a poor background and live in the slums, those dreams can seem even more unattainable.  That’s where we find the protagonist in the Fire Hall Theatre’s season closer, Little Shop of Horrors: in a failing flower shop on urban skid row, quietly pining after his flashy coworker and putting up with the barbed insults of his overstressed employer while dreaming that there must be something better.

Little Shop is a musical about desire and ambition, and it’s a little bit of a love story, and it’s also meant to be a vehicle for some pretty great set pieces.  When I was a kid, we rented the movie version several times and I watched it over and over.  Dorky Rick Moranis was an early ember in my love for sexy nerds, and I was captivated by Ellen Green’s breathy voice and ample cleavage – there is certainly more than a sprinkle of her in the “recipe” for Janessa!  But that plant…I was obsessed!

I don’t know who would even need a plot summary of this show (seriously, the original movie with Jack Nicholson has been out for like 50 years, the musical version like 30 years!) but here it is: bumbling Seymour Krellbourn (Chris Feldman) lives and works in a sad little flower shop on skid row with Audrey (Brenna Skallet), a kind-hearted bubblehead who falls for the wrong guys – currently, sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, DDS (Aaron Bye).  The two both dream of leaving skid row, but their fortunes seem about as pessimistic as that of their place of employment, operated by the cantankerous Mr. Mushnik (Frank J. Sikich).  In a last ditch effort to save the shop, Seymour displays a strange plant he bought right after a total eclipse; he’s named it the Audrey II (voiced by CJ Leigh) and the oddity immediately begins to attract attention.  Under the watchful eyes of three local street urchins – Crystal (Kandis Pender), Ronette (Rebekah Brewer), and Chiffon (Stefanie Chmielewski) – who also act as the story’s narrators, the shop begins to blossom as Audrey II grows and grows, but only Seymour knows the plant’s terrible secret: that it feeds on human blood.  Seymour can only sustain it so long with paper cuts and little nicks from the garden shears, and soon he wonders how far he’ll have to go to achieve his dreams of “making it” and escaping skid row for good.

LSOH 04Feldman is almost too conventionally attractive to play Seymour (or maybe seeing him as the latin lover Adolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone is coloring my perspective) but he imbues the role with a certain dopey charm and cluelessness that somehow work; it plays well against Skallet’s Audrey who is a little bit trashy and a little bit beat up (like her neighborhood) but there is an underlying sweetness and tragedy to the portrayal that is definitely reminiscent of Green’s performance but with more self-awareness.  Sikich and Bye are both campy and delightful.  Sikich’s Mushnik is always on the edge of exasperation, but he shows a certain befuddled affection for his charges that is endearing; Bye’s Scrivello is as reprehensible as you’d expect, but he makes it so fun and over the top that you can enjoy his life even as you’re counting down until the moment that you can enjoy his death.  His performance of “Now (It’s Just The Gas)” is absolutely pitch perfect.  Leigh’s Audrey is also very reminiscent of the movie portrayal, but there is enough nuance to give it a personalized flavor and he’s definitely got the pipes for the role.  The urchins did a fine job, but their performance was hampered by microphone issues on the evening I attended, and their choreography was perhaps a little stiff – it was hard to imagine these cute, smiling Midwestern girls as high school dropouts from the inner city.  Their voices were lovely and they harmonized well but they needed a little…grit.  Like Ke$ha, peeing in a champagne bottle.

LSOH 06There are also a large number of ensemble and crew parts that help this whole thing come together.  No less than 4 people (Meg McGuire, Kaiya McGuire, Katie Lundeen, and Laura Nelson) were tasked with “manipulation” for the various stages of Audrey II’s growth.  Katie Thomas, Olga Panchuk, Tommy Mikkelson, Brooke Pesch, Katroya Weston, and Walter Lawson rounded out the onstage roles, and they all brought an energy to their stage moments that contributed to the final tableau.  Each played a street person in “Downtown” and then later came back in other roles during “The Meek Shall Inherit,” and I appreciated that they all put development work into the different characters they were playing.  No one treated bluffed their way through and the contributed spirited ensemble performances.

Music Director Katie Thomas coached strong vocal performances out of the cast and, mic issues notwithstanding, the show overall had a fun and campy quality that I very much enjoyed.  Thomas played the keyboard and was supported by Don Craig on reeds and flute, Mitch Geiger on drums, and Spencer Black on guitar.

LSOH 05And those plants.  The smallest Audrey was a rather basic puppet with a fun little growth feature, but it was amazingly detailed and very effective on stage.  The second stage Audrey 2, a larger hand puppet that Feldman wore as part of his costume during “Don’t It Go To Show You Never Know” had a couple of strange features (the floppy fake hand needed some wire to keep it stiff!) but Feldman manipulated it expertly without missing a beat of the song.  And the final two plants are absolute showstoppers.  In a recent photo shoot (galleries coming soon!) I actually had the chance to go up on stage and take photos with the plants and a lot of the tricks used to make them are actually really simple, but they create these absolutely stunning set pieces.

Now let’s talk about the ending.  This whole thing has been pretty spoiler-y already (hence my passive-aggressive spoiler alert at the beginning!) but we’re about to go there.

I honestly didn’t know the “real” ending of this movie until a couple of years ago when I saw Chris Berg direct the show for East Grand Forks High.  I was raised on the movie, and the movie had a Hollywood happy ending!  So when I saw the stage production, I was blown away, and “Don’t Feed The Plants” quickly became my absolute favorite number in the show.  I was even more tickled when I bought the Bluray last year and found that they had actually filmed the original ending back in ’86, and it was included with the film!  And this is no cheesy “alternate ending” with 2 lines that are different; this is a full almost 20 minutes of additional music and animatronic plants!  It’s really amazing – you should seriously see it if you get the chance!  In addition to the final number, I also really appreciate Audrey’s reprise of “Somewhere That’s Green” as it colors her death with the sort of sweetness and optimism that was lurking all along beneath the leopard print and black eyes.

(I’ve included a low quality recreation I found on YouTube that obviously predates the DVD)

The cast really played up the camp for the ending, and everyone, ensemble included, was decked out in their undead best to remind the audience of the dangers of their local flora…as well as the dangers in their own ambitions!  Casey Paradies, the show’s director, put together a fun and joyful show for this season’s closer.

There are still three performances left to catch this show, and you don’t want to wait for Saturday night – these shows are Wednesday, Thursday, and closing on Friday!  All 3 shows are at 7:30, and final weeks at the Fire Hall have a tendency to sell out, so I’d call ahead for tickets to make sure you get the chance to see this fabulous show.  And whatever you do, don’t feed the plants!

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