The current 2nd Star production of "Little Shop of Horrors" is a neatly timed early Halloween treat for the family that ranks well among the three recent offerings of this play in our area, including Infinity Theatre's professional version two seasons back.
Everything works well for 2nd Star, from the ensemble's strong singing and dancing to fun choreography; from first-rate direction to the skilled work of pit orchestra musicians; from the creative set design to the professional sound and lighting we've come to expect at Bowie Playhouse.
In this durable 1982 Motown-influenced campy musical, director Jane Wingard finds a fresh innocence and charm. She also has found ensemble players who become believable Skid Row inhabitants, some impressively debuting 2nd Star players.
Wingard sensitively directs human actors in addition to a puppet — no run-of-the-mill puppet but a scene-stealing, aggressively loud one cast in the major role of Audrey II, a blood-sucking, ever-growing carnivore who is indeed, "carnivoracious."
Wingard also serves as set designer and set painter, and creates an authentically seedy and drab Skid Row neighborhood and a gloomy, near-barren florist shop for proprietor Mr. Mushnik and his two employees, Seymour and Audrey.
In the shop, orphaned nerdy schlemiel Seymour found a home as a child when Mushnik allowed him to sleep on the floor in return for running errands. Now Mushnik's reliable, accident-prone assistant spends long hours performing menial chores while also becoming a botanical genius, capable of growing rare plants.
Audrey is an appealing bimbo adored by Seymour but involved with sadistic dentist Orin, who regularly abuses her. Although Audrey admires Seymour, her low self-esteem convinces her that she's unworthy of his love — and probably deserves Orin's abuse.
Music director Joe Biddle does full justice to the original score, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics and book by Baltimore native Howard Ashman. From the near-flawless "Prologue" — with an inspired trio's rendition of the title song — through the entire show, Biddle invests the score with freshness and draws vibrant performances from the singing cast. This production is filled with musical highlights, including "Skid Row," "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour," a duet with the leads delivering their finest vocal performances.
The 2nd Star production is graced by performers who seem destined to play leads Seymour and Audrey, investing their characters with unexpected dimension.
In his program notes, Nathan Bowen tells us the Seymour role has long been on his bucket list. The program also muses that with Bowen's "stature and highly nerdy nature, it was going to happen eventually. I mean, come on, he's budget analyst for the State of Maryland, for goodness sake."
Budget analysis aside, Bowen is also a polished song and dance man who has graced a number of Summer Garden and 2nd Star productions. He knows how to deliver a song with feeling and is a skilled actor-comedian who lends greater depth to Seymour than any actor I've seen, and convinces in his relationship with Audrey.
From the moment Hannah Thornhill appears onstage, she is head-to-toe Audrey, seductive in her skimpy skirts and spike heels, with a unique voice and New York accent sounding like a flighty Skid-Row blonde with a past.
Thornhill creates a bimbo who is street-savvy yet naively innocent, abused yet able to bolster Seymour's confidence. Although Thornhill's dance talents are known from past productions, her singing came as a revelation in her spectacular delivery of "Somewhere That's Green" and the strong "Suddenly, Seymour" duet with Bowen.
This phenomenal duo elevates this sci-fi spoof musical to one of self-sacrificing consuming love won and lost, reaching near-operatic heights.
Another standout performance is provided by Dean Davis as the successful, outrageously sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello. Davis accents hilarious comic elements. In a rich baritone he delivers a powerful ode to his character's profession in "Dentist," enumerating all its pain-inducing rewards. No spoilers here, but his demise is equally hilarious.
Excellent support is provided by Gary Seddon as Mushnik, offering gentle Jewish humor and some masterful comic moves as Seymour's dance partner.
Local favorite Jeff Sprague makes an unforgettable 2nd Star debut as the voice of Audrey II, delivering a lusty "Feed Me" that demands startled attention. Audrey II is given animated life by puppeteer Steve Hudgins.
Another exceptionally talented debuting player who knows how to sing harmony and solo is Amy Mack, who plays Crystal, joined by Malarie Novotny as Ronnette and Meghan Taylor as Chiffon.
"Little Shop of Horrors" continues weekends at Bowie Playhouse through Oct. 26. Tickets are $22. Call 410-757-5700 for tickets or go to 2ndstarproductions.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun