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REVIEW: "Little Shop of Horrors" - Morgan-Wixson Theatre, Santa Monica

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"I've given you sunshine, I've given you rain…Looks like you're not happy, 'less I open a vein!"

FEEEED ME SEYMOUR!! If you’re looking for a sweet, melodic, funny show…all done in the best possible taste…then Morgan-Wixson Theatre is the place to be! Santa Monica’s oldest, historical theatre is currently presenting the tongue-in-cheek, man-eating-plant musical comedy, “Little Shop of Horrors,” from the fevered minds of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, now playing through April 13th to brimming-over audiences.

In this production, Director D’Shaun A. Brooker has assembled a strong cast with impressive vocal and comic chops that delivers quick-witted wordplay and inventive sketch comedy, complete with doo-wopping, hand-jiving, street-smart urchins, a sadistic dentist, a king-size, alien vege-terrorist, and sort of a “Dream Girls” backup chorus. The show began March 16th, and as of this date has only five performances left!

The 1982 Broadway musical send-up is based on the low-budget 1960 black comedy film by Roger Corman, and produced in the style of early 1960s rock and roll, Tin Pan Alley Pop and Motown, including several well-known tunes, "Skid Row (Downtown)," "Somewhere That's Green," and "Suddenly, Seymour." The musical had a five-year run, with 2,209 performances, which at that time was the highest-grossing show in off-Broadway history.

Four years after the musical debuted, a popular remake of “Little Shop of Horrors” was shot as an American rock musical comedy horror film directed by Frank Oz. The very funny 1986 film stars Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia, Steve Martin, and Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II, along with featured special appearances by Jim Belushi, John Candy, Christopher Guest (“This is Spinal Tap”), and Bill Murray, who plays a patient with a twisted yen for pain.

The story centers around a hapless, nerdy, skid-row flower shop worker named Seymour (Patrick Olsen) who raises his venus fly trap in a freakish, grotesque way, all the while mooning after his lovely, mistreated co-worker, Audrey (Jess LaFever), a vivacious, mousy blonde with serious self-esteem issues.

As the musical begins, we find ourselves on Skid Row at Mushnik's Flower Shop, which has fallen on hard times lately. Mr. Mushnik (Marc Ostroff) is about to lay off his only two employees, but Audrey and Seymour have problems of their own. She's involved in an abusive affair with a bully (Brian O’Sullivan) who has made violence work for him -- he's a perverse dentist, who’s also highly addictive to his own laughing gas whippits. Poor Seymour, on the other hand, is hopelessly in love with Audrey, but doesn't have the courage to tell her.

As Dream Girls members Crystal (Tyra Dennis), Ronnette (FreXinet Johnson) and Chiffon (Brayon Rollison) introduce us to the neighborhood through some uplifting soul sounds, we find our nebbish amateur botanist bringing in an unusual plant which he has christened Audrey II. The plant immediately turns into an exotic customer attraction, bringing sheltered Seymour media attention, wealth and finally a way to secure the love of his life - Audrey. The catch is that the plant craves human blood which Seymour must provide - a Faustian bargain with bone-chilling repercussions.

Audrey II does makes Mushnik's a flourishing hot spot, and Seymour something of a celebrity. But as the plant continues to grow and grow, Audrey II also gets hungrier and hungrier. And unfortunately, its idea of plant food isn't a whit different from Dracula's notion of a one-course meal.

As Seymour grows more and more anemic, the number of bandages adorning his fingertips mount. Meanwhile, the foul-tempered Audrey II inexorably grows, and so does its demand for the life-nourishing liquid it craves, not discriminating between supporting and leading players. Seymour now must discover other, bigger sources for feeding perhaps, the sadistic dentist boyfriend, Dr. “Leader of the Plaque.”

Mr. O’Sullivan’s role as the abusive and soon-to-be eaten boyfriend, Orin, was one of the audience favorites, especially with his show stopping number, Dentist! As he strips off his leather jacket to reveal a white dental smock beneath, Orin’s signature song is definitely one of the high points of the show, snarling, rolling his hips as if they were greased, and careening into his bit like an 18-wheeler on a wet interstate.

Mr. Olsen is endearingly klutzy as Seymour, the beleaguered flower-shop attendant who keeps his carnivorous charge supplied with a steady stream of human plasma. He instantly connects with the audience, imbuing his Seymour with an innocence and purity that makes you root for him to succeed. Ms. LaFever also makes a great scatterbrained innocent in this analogous Broadway mold, and has an authentic New York accent along with a Betty Boop type of appeal. They both seem emotionally invested in their tenuous happiness as they belt out the score’s most familiar number, “Suddenly Seymour,” revealing their unexpected, spontaneous feelings for each other.

Mr. Ostroff wears the role of flower shop owner Mushnick comfortably, particularly in a duet with Mr. Olsen (“Mushnick and Son”), in which they sprint through a variety of ethnic dance steps. Vocals are spot-on, especially those of Ms. LaFever as Audrey, and, not surprisingly, Audrey II, voiced by Steven Flowers, with puppets manipulated by Matthew Artson, along with a hand-held flower pot puppet scene by Patrick Olsen. Audrey II's personality is remarkably gelastic, boffo, campy...but totally accomplished during its musical numbers. Managing to create a love triangle by the end of the first act, Audrey II starts purring to the gullible Seymour about hunger pangs before escalating into the hilarious full-out show-stopper "Feed Me!"

The effective Set values by Tom Brown, the Props, by Hazelette Garner, including the various Audrey II puppets, and the appealing Lighting, Technical/Sound Design, led by William Wilday, and assisted by Cambria Martin and Brian Greene, represents well the gritty streets of Manhattan.

Evelyn Myers is Production stage manager, with assistance by Ruby Lapeyre, Ashley DeFrancesco and Daniel Gaitan. Aric Martin served as Puppet Trainer. Choreography is supervised by Mori Edwards; publicity is by Miriam Billington, and the Producer is Spencer Johnson. Associate Producer/Costume Designer is Chris Tiernan, and the Music Director is Esin Aydingoz.

In just over two hours, Morgan-Wixson Theatre presents a joyous show that causes its sold-out audience to cackle with cachinnation. Both cast and crew picks up "Little Shop of Horrors" and carries the show to seamless artistic heights.

This theatre is a perfect setting for a slice of horticultural horror, and this is one of the best shows of their current season! For ticket information, Limited performances are available, so don’t miss it before it closes on the 13th. But remember: Please don't feed the plants!

Chris Daniels

Arts Reviewer


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