'Little Shop' retains its freshness


The camp musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," is getting to be as much of a cult classic as the low-budget 1960 Roger Corman movie thriller on which it is based.

The show about a man-eating Venus' flytrap bent on universal conquest is making the rounds in the Baltimore-Metropolitan area. The work, with lyrics and book by the late Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken (creators of lyrics and music for "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast"), is running at the Burn Brae Dinner Theatre through Sept. 13.

Another production is being staged at the White Marsh Dinner Theatre where it will play through Sept. 27. This is the fifth time we have seen this brilliantly conceived take-off on man's eternal struggle with the demons of avarice and materialistic gain.

Unlike most of the more traditional musicals which wear thin with time, the Ashman and Menken musical neatly maintains its special quality of dark, offbeat humor. It opened in New York at the Orpheum Theatre on July 27, 1982, and ran for over 2000 performances. An excellent film adaptation came out in 1986.

The White Marsh version does not disappoint. It has been nicely coordinated by director John Desmone, and Edward J. Peters has created some nifty choreography. The performances (with a few exceptions) are quite good. Chuck Graham and Eileen Keenan in the lead roles are outstanding.

The entire action takes place in a failing florist shop in New York's Skid Row where the dregs of humanity slurp cheap wine and riffle through the overflowing garbage cans.

Within the confines of the shabby little flower shop (owned by the tight-fisted Mushnik), mild-mannered clerk Seymour Krelbourn dreams of a grand life outside his miserable neighborhood. His opportunity arises when he discovers a different breed of plant, which he calls Audrey II, after the shop's salesclerk (whom he adores).

Audrey is the pathetic victim of her sadistic dentist boyfriend, who loves to inflict pain on his patients. Audrey II has to have human blood to grow and flourish and Seymour agrees to supply this gruesome need in return for fame and fortune.

In this way Seymour is able to rid himself of anyone standing in his way. This includes the hateful dentist and a myriad of other unfortunate souls. Soon the enormous plant consumes all on stage and then looks hungrily at the audience.

Richard W. Lloyd as the vicious voice of the voracious plant is wildly amusing especially in his "Feed Me" and "Suppertime" numbers.

The narrative songs are lustily sung by the talented trio of "Connies" -- Alexsandra Auty, Kimberly Catherine Auty and Tiffany Walker. "Skid Row -- Downtown" is an especially sharp number.

Other fun numbers include: "Grow For Me," "Mushnik and Son," "Suddenly, Seymour." Eileen Keenan as the battered Audrey imbues her role with sweet poignancy. She shines in a plaintive number in which she longs for a little house and a chain link fence located "Somewhere That's Green." (Ms. Keenan will continue as Audrey through Aug. 23. Holly Pasciullo will take over the role on Aug. 27 for the rest of the run).

Chuck Graham as Seymour is a very funny clown with excellent timing that is remindful of the classic old film comedians. His Seymour is desperate, impish and bashful. Mr. Graham combines all these qualities with a frightening innocence. His songs are sung with charming relish.

Edward J. Peters is deliciously wicked as Orin the dentist. But Jerome D. Potter as the greedy Mushnik is too plodding. Mr. Potter lacks the energy and greedy cunning of this character.

Dori Armor-Watson does well as the plant manipulator and a bag lady. But Thomas C. Hesenauer in six cameo roles is acting overkill.

The plant structure by Beth Phelps is not ghoulish enough. Although this giant prop has teeth it often looks like a monstrous satin quilt about to devour the world.


Meanwhile at the Towsontowne Dinner Theatre, the musical revue, "Eubie" (a local tribute to the songs of the late Eubie Blake) is playing tonight through Sunday. Featured are: Liz Boyer, James Hunnicutt, Sheila Ford, Curtis Isaiah, Joseph Wormley, Tiffini Barbour, Latrisa Harper, Debbie Rosensteel, Andrew Cesewski. K. J. Davis leads the live band. ("Jekyll and Hyde -- the Musical," will return the following weekend to play through Aug. 23).

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