"Little Shop of Horrors," the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken smash about the nebbishy florist tempted into a Faustian bargain by a man-eating plant bent on world domination, is a wonderfully inventive show thoroughly dependent on a colorful rendering of its distinctively ditsy cast of characters if it is to charm.
And therein lies the problem with the "Little Shop" currently open for business at the Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Musically and theatrically, it possesses far too little of the color and kick necessary to get this delightful vehicle off the stage and running.
The main ingredient to a successful ensemble number is -- you guessed it -- an ensemble, which this show sorely lacks. With only the seven leads participating, the great "Skid Row" sequence is bereft of the colorful complement of hookers, winos, bums and urchins it needs. The big finale, "Don't Feed the Plants," also is nothing more than a septet, so the show begins and ends with whimpers, not bangs.
Charley Rogers is a funny, quintessentially nerdy Seymour. But Christine Asero needs to turn up the juice considerably as Audrey, the masochistic bleached blond whose love turns the florist's life around, for both better and worse. Miss Asero, whom I've always admired by the way, delivers her lines with only a hint of Audrey's gum-popping angst and sings her songs almost totally out of character with only a fraction of the comedic force they must have. Let's face it: When your Audrey isn't funny, your shop is in need of some major renovations.
Larry Hagood handles most of his multiple roles well, but as the all-important sadistic dentist, he's not quite the menacing rock 'n' roller he should be.
Also disappointing is the plant itself which, after all, is supposed to speak and sing in a macho black male voice, but here belts out those great lines with all the soulful resonance of Vic Damone. Mushnik, the dyspeptic Jewish shop owner, sounds a little too much like Big Julie from Chicago, the "Guys and Dolls" character Ray Fulton just finished playing on this same stage.
I did enjoy Diana Wolf, Nicole Hill and Debbie Barber as the "urchins" who make up the Greek chorus. They moved beautifully to Patrick Wenning's attractive choreography and sang well enough, too, though frequently the melody line was lost to an overabundance of harmony.
Yes, there are talented people on this stage and, to be sure, it's early in the run. But as these actors search for the nuances of character that could get this "Little Shop" out of the doldrums, they should take to heart Audrey 2's pleas for food: "Must be blood! Must be fresh!"
"Little Shop of Horrors" is playing now through Sept. 3. Performances will be at 8:45 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are $9 Thursdays through Sundays and $10 Fridays and Saturdays. Information: 268-0809.