Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Little Shop of Horrors (Musical version) by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

Last time a local theater did Little Shop of Horrors, we wanted to attend, but even the extra performances sold out before we could get a block of tickets large enough for our tribe. Thus, when Stars decided to include this musical in their season, certain of my kids were insistent that we had to go see it.

The plot is simple: Seymour is an awkward orphan working at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists, pining after his tacky blonde co-worker, Audrey. While shopping the wholesale flower district during a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers an unusual plant - a kind of fly trap - which he brings back to the shop and names “Audrey II.” The plant appears sickly, until an accidental thorn prick leads Seymour to discover that the plant needs blood to survive.

Audrey II brings attention to the shop, which prospers. But there is a cost. As Audrey II grows, it starts to talk - and demand fresh human meat. Seymour starts with the sadistic dentist, Orin (also Audrey’s abusive boyfriend), after he accidentally asphyxiates himself with laughing gas. But Audrey II remains hungry, and the body count grows.

Alan Menken is well known for his music written for animated films during the Disney Renaissance, initially in collaboration with Howard Ashman (before Ashman’s death from AIDS in 1991). The songs from Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast remain popular - with good reason. However, Menken and Ashman wrote together for Broadway before that. Little Shop of Horrors is their best known musical from that period. The musical version was based loosely on the original 1960 film of the same name. Later, Frank Oz would direct a new film version, based on the musical.

The tunes are in the style of the 1960s - specifically early Motown, doo-wop, and pop-rock. Three street urchin girls serve as the chorus, narrating events and commenting on the action. The three vocalists (Lisa Ramos, Lizzy Lake, and Aubrie Calloway) chosen for this production were strong. As the voices of Audrey and Audrey II, respectively, Erica Kimmel and Kenneth Whitchard were excellent. Zachary Gonzalez (Seymour), Nate Logan (Mr. Mushnick), and Peter De Keles (Orin and multiple other parts) filled out the cast. I particularly want to express my appreciation for the live band. I know that cost and space limitations have made live musicians all too rare these days, so it was delightful to experience the magic this time. Brock Christian, Cody Greenwell, Brad Briscoe, Jeff Ardray, and Adam Clements, you guys were great - a really tight group for this show. I’ve played musical theater, and it’s a tough and often thankless job, so here is a thanks from me.

I also should note that the puppetry necessary to bring Audrey II to life was well done. The movements of the plant fit the vocal stylings of Whitchard perfectly.

My kids, in case you wondered, really enjoyed the show. Although Lillian did hide her face a few times during the scary stuff. Cora, who is hard to impress, laughed the whole way through. My kids do have a dark sense of humor.

Alas, this show has run its course. However, I do encourage Bakersfield locals to check out the local arts, theater, and music scene. There are plenty of fun shows planned for this year. 

 Lisa Ramos, Lizzy Lake, Zachary Gonzalez, and Aubrie Calloway
Stars promotional photo.

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