“Don’t feed the plant.”
For weeks, I’ve heard and seen this phrase everywhere. Facebook pictures and campus-wide posters flaunted it. Theater kids parroted it as if it’s the new craze. The words did not seem particularly engaging to me because of my previous unfamiliarity with Little Shop of Horrors (affectionately known as Little Shop). Apparently, I have been missing out, because, over the course of a single night, Little Shop became one of my favorite musicals. Call it an exaggeration, but Risley Theatre’s performance was nothing short of fantastic.
Little Shop originally came to prominence off-Broadway in the 1980s. Composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman turned Roger Corman’s 1960 low-budget comedy film into a hit musical. Seymour (played here by Ben Elling ’13) is a quirky orphan in urban Skid Row, scraping by with a job at the local flower shop. Working alongside him is the beautiful and troubled Audrey (Emily Walker ’14), whom Seymour secretly loves. Constantly reprimanded by his bitter boss, Mr. Mushnik (Steve Jenks, Risley’s current Residence Hall Director), Seymour adopts a plant he names Audrey II. The mutant plant brings success to the struggling flower shop, but quickly reveals itself to be a man-eating monster when fed blood.
The show kicked off with an impressive performance by the glitzy street girl trio — Chiffon (Ashley George ’16), Crystal (Kaiya Provost ’14) and Ronnette (Lili Aguirre ’14) — who sang the introductory “Little Shop of Horrors.” Their energy was infectious, and the ’60s vocal vibe was a pleasant surprise to those of us not completely sure what we were getting ourselves into. The trio made cameos throughout the musical, particularly in moments of distress and disaster. Their non sequitur appearances became something of a running joke and kept the audience amused.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Little Shop is its humor. The musical playfully ridicules ’60s B-movie horror with blatant black comedy. Audrey II eats about half of the already-small cast throughout the 90-minute duration, yet in a manner so ridiculous that one cannot grieve even for a second. The deaths are so frequent that it seems the writer used their abundance as his primary tool to entertain the audience. The cast nailed this, intentionally overacting the death scenes to make them hilarious. The consistent satire also kept the audience laughing throughout the show. Audrey’s heartfelt solo, “Somewhere That’s Green,” sounded sincere, but in reality it criticizes America’s mid-century obsession with suburban life and its monotonous commonalities.
The acting was solid throughout the musical, with the cast mostly made up of Risleyites. Walker was particularly a delight to listen to with her quasi-’60s accent, and Elling successfully won our hearts as the charming Seymour. Although the entire cast did an excellent job, it was Chandler Waggoner ’15 who took the acting to another level. With Seymour and Audrey caught up in romance and drama, it was Waggoner who brought most of the comedy to the show. His most significant role was a supporting one, as the maniacal dentist Orin, yet Waggoner could not keep himself off stage. Within the second act, he came out in several different roles, all of them delightfully comical. His portrayal of a wealthy, middle-aged blonde woman had the audience especially roaring with laughter.
If there is any criticism of the show (and there isn’t much), it is with the casting of Audrey II (Danielle Warren). Her booming first words, “feed me,” felt out of character and pushed the level of overacting necessitated by this campy musical to an irksome extreme. In spite of this, Warren’s performance improved with the progression of the musical, and her acting became more convincing. It is interesting, however, to consider the director’s choice in casting a woman as Audrey II, as typically the plant is voiced by a male.
I’m trying to think of anything else worthy of criticism, but the show was so solid that I’m short of anything bad to say. Well, except for the fact that a couple of the songs, particularly “Somewhere That’s Green,” were surprisingly reminiscent to The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World,” though that’s no one’s fault. Tori Dahl ’14 chose an excellent musical to direct, and her direction made for an impressive show. Overall, the performance entertained as a hilarious rendition of a beloved musical.
Original Author: Yana Lysenko