Infinity Theatre Company continues its first full summer season with "Little Shop of Horrors," a 1982 dark musical comedy with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. With this terrific production, Infinity fulfills its promise to bring New York professionals to the Annapolis theater scene.
The opening notes by the five-piece, onstage live rock band signaled the exciting start of this Broadway-caliber show at Children's Theatre in Annapolis. Every role is perfectly cast from top to bottom, beginning with those sassy Skid Row street urchins, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon — played by Ariana Scoggins, Ardale Shepherd and Martina Sykes — who serve as a grooving Greek chorus.
This trio has plenty of attitude and makes several transitions throughout the show. They begin as ragamuffins on scooters and hula hoops delivering the upbeat prologue title song, and later deliver an Act 2 reprise as three Supremes-like, sequin-gowned divas, complete with green stiletto sandals and matching green bouffants.
The "Little Shop" story began life as a 1960 cult horror movie and became the long-running off-Broadway Ashman and Menken hit musical of 2,000 performances, which spawned a 1986 film starring Rick Moranis. The show is set in Mushnik's Skid Row Florist Shop, where down-on-their-luck floral workers Seymour and Audrey toil each day with little hope of greeting any customers.
When Mushnik decides to close his shop because business is slow, Audrey and amateur horticulturist Seymour persuade Mushnik to display a strange plant Seymour has raised. Customers immediately start arriving to see this strange plant, and Seymour becomes a celebrity. He eventually pays a steep price for fame that starts with his having to feed this ravenous plant that thrives only on blood. Soon the plant, named Audrey 2, requires more nourishment than can be sucked from Seymour's finger cuts. Meanwhile, the human Audrey suffers from such low self-esteem that she is content to continue in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Orin, a sadistic dentist. When Seymour finally confesses his affection for her, Audrey and Seymour become happy but doomed lovers.
This strange story is set to a great score that includes "Da-Doo," "Somewhere That's Green," "Suddenly Seymour," "Skid Row," and "Dentist." Each song gets loving treatment, starting with "Skid Row" and "Da-Doo" flawlessly delivered in harmony and break-out solos by the Scoggins, Shepherd and Sykes trio.
As florist Mushnik, Ira Denmark delivers a performance worthy of multiple bouquets. A master of comic timing, Denmark moves seamlessly from expressing warm concern for Audrey to berating klutzy Seymour. Denmark knows his way around a song, as he proves when imploring Seymour to become his adoptee in "Seymour and Son," delivering Ashman's lines, "I want to be your dad, I want to see you climbing up my family tree. 'Scuse the physical expression, On my pride of sweet paternal mishegas I've held pent-up."
Topher Nuccio is brilliant as Seymour, a lovable nebbish, who might forget to call Mr. Shiva about filling his Shiva Funeral Home order but remembers to tend his rare and strange plants growing in the back room. Seymour has his own high ethical principles, and he is completely devoted to Audrey. Nuccio delivers a stirring "Suddenly Seymour" that ranks among the best performances I've heard anywhere this season.
As ditzy blonde Audrey, Stacie Bono is Nuccio's perfect match. Her longing to flee Skid Row is heartfelt in Bono's singing of Audrey's signature song "Somewhere That's Green," containing Ashman's lines, "A matchbox of our own; a fence of real chain link; A grill out on the patio; Disposal in the sink."
As Audrey's crazed boyfriend, Orin, Eric William Whitehead is hysterically funny, and he also has a chance to shine in several walk-on roles, including a pushy talent agent and a mink-coated dowager he delivers in falsetto.
Finally, the star of the show is voracious Audrey 2 — growing, groaning and singing "Feed Me" — as played by unseen baritone Lamont Whitaker, and puppeteer John Ettinger.
Infinity Theatre founders Anna and Alan Ostroff are enlivening the local performing arts community this summer season. This "Little Shop" production is so good that it honors the memory of Baltimore native Howard Ashman and the music he created during his too-brief life.