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Tasteful quirkiness in Playhouse's 'Little Shop of Horrors'

Tasteful quirkiness in Playhouse's 'Little Shop of Horrors'
Cam Sammartano, as flower shop worker Seymour, encounters his blood-thirsty plant named Audrey II, controlled by puppeter and actress Julie Rogers. (Photo by John Cholod)

A skid row florist shop has beamed to Main Street for the Laurel Mill Playhouse's spring production of "Little Shop of Horrors," a black comedy rock musical starring an epic flesh-eating plant from outer space.

Based on the 1960 B movie written by Charles B. Griffith that featured Jack Nicholson, the musical (with book by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken) debuted off-Broadway in 1982.

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After winning several awards and grossing more than any other musical in off-Broadway history, "Little Shop of Horrors" was adapted to a more recent film starring Steve Martin and Bill Murray in 1986 and subsequently made its way to Broadway in 2003.

Directed and produced here by Laurel residents Michael V. Hartsfield and Maureen Rogers, with musical direction by Billy Georg (who plays drums with Elaine Beckman on piano, Chris Sisson on guitar and Jeff Eckert on bass), the show's music is styled after rock and roll, doo-wop and Motown.

From the moment audience members enter and see the proscenium curtain — beautifully painted by assistant scenic designer Lindsay Maiorano — the presence of Audrey II dominates.

And while the show will touch lightly on themes of domestic violence, greed and morality, veteran director Hartsfield's production steps up to vibrant musical performances, colorful characterizations and inventive staging.

Watching the growth of Audrey II — on loan from Red Branch Theater in Columbia and brought to magnificent life by puppeteers and Laurel residents Julie Rogers and Paul Grodt — is a show in itself.

As the curtain opens to Laurel resident James Raymond's exceptional set, the painted upstage exteriors of Mr. Mushnik's flower shop scream quirky horror.

As the Voice, Alex Pecas (who also vocalizes Audrey II) delicately sets the locale to an ominous time when the very existence of the human race is threatened.

Enter vivacious street urchins Crystal, Ronnie and Chiffon (played by Melissa Volkert, Aaron Hancock and Attey Harper) for a well-performed rendition of "Little Shop of Horrors" (Volkert shines in this number) and the tale begins.

Seymour (Cam Sammartano) and Audrey (Miranda Snyder) work for Mushnik (Andrew Acevedo) at the failing flower shop, and Seymour secretly adores Audrey.

When Seymour adopts a weird little plant after a solar eclipse and lovingly names it Audrey II, the creature begins wildly attracting customers and reversing the shop's (and Seymour's) ill fortunes.

And when he discovers that Audrey II thrives on human blood, Seymour furtively begins feeding it his own.

Meanwhile, Audrey dates a sadistic dentist, Orin, played by Michael McGoogan Mackay. Seymour witnesses Orin hurting Audrey and plots to feed him to the insatiable beast.

Unable to commit murder when it comes down to it, Seymour passively allows Orin to asphyxiate on laughing gas and then feeds him to Audrey II at the end of Act 1.

Hartsfield has assembled an inspired cast of 15 "misfits" to enact the dysfunctional boy-meets-girl story that culminates (most likely) in doom.

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As the meek Seymour, Sammartano (also credited as choreographer) makes an impressive geek, although he risks being handsome beneath wimpy clothes and horn-rimmed glasses. The character may not belt his vocals, but Sammartano delivers them clearly and in tune.

Snyder embraces Audrey's ditsy character and tacky costumes, projecting an innocence that explains why Seymour loves her, especially in a lovely vocal rendition of "Somewhere Green."

And Acevedo (Mr. Mushnik) also sings well and strikes a convincing balance between being abusive and sucking up to Seymour.

Mackay delivers a delightful, swaggering performance as Orin in black leather jacket, evil-Elvis style. His vocals are a standout.

Raymond appears in multiple roles in the ensemble cast, joined by Cory Neely (who could easily do an Anderson Cooper impersonation), as the Interviewer; Hillary Glass, as a customer and Anita Snip; Brianna Mortan, as Luce; and Taylor-Kay Prendergast as a second customer. They all deliver admirable performances.

Expertly cast and directed, smoothly choreographed andoffering pleasing vocals across the board, Hartsfield's production plays more sincere than cultish.

Even if Audrey II conquers all, audience members will likely get home without being eaten — still humming the unforgettable "Suddenly Seymour" — and Laurel Mill Playhouse will get in a few more appetizing performances before the end of humanity.

"Little Shop of Horrors" continues through May 17, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with Sunday matinee performances on May 10 and 17 at 2 p.m. General admission is $22. Students 18 and under, active duty military and seniors 65 and over pay $17. For reservations, call 301-617-9906 and press 2, or buy tickets online at laurelmillplayhouse.org.

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