Little Shop of Horrors: Campy fun thought-provoking performance
To the sadists, the naïve, and even the honest people of this world: Watch out, or you could become plant food. Olney Theatre’s production of the musical and cult classic “Little Shop of Horrors ,” running through Sept. 9, provides much fun as a Skid Row community navigates the wonders and the horrors of an exotic plant with a thirst for blood.
Meet Seymour (played by James Gardiner). A lonely orphan taken in as a child by the pragmatic owner of a failing floral shop, he appears kind and nerdy, the type of guy who’s never going to get the girl. But he’s in love with his beautiful co-worker, Audrey (Carolyn Agan), who happens to have a dentist boyfriend (Bobby Smith) with an anger management problem. Seymour’s luck appears to change after he purchases an exotic plant that magically appears in a Chinese shop after a lunar eclipse. The beautiful Audrey II (Stephawn Stephens), as the plant is named, brings Seymour fame and fortune as it grows and flourishes. There’s just one tiny problem: Seymour has been feeding the plant his own blood, but its appetites are growing. “Feeeeed me,” Audrey II cries.
Guess who’s the first person to become plant food.
The musical is originally adapted from 1960 black comedy film of the same name, written by Roger Corman. It moved off-Broadway in 1982, in a rock musical comedy production, with a book by Howard Ashman and a score from Alan Menken. Despite winning a Drama Desk Award, it didn’t make it to Broadway until 2003.
The show is known for its good, campy fun, and Director Mark Waldrop’s intent was to heighten the emotional highs and lows of the production and to reveal the show’s depth and insight into human nature. And despite the (pleasant) distraction of a stand-out score and a witty script, there is real meat to this all-time favorite. At its heart, “Little Shop” is a morality play that is utterly anti-Machiavellian – it reminds us that good people are capable of doing despicable things, and choices have consequences. Desperation can drive us to become what we hate, and lose the very thing we were trying to achieve in the process.
There was nothing new in Olney’s production of this modern classic, but it was still an excellent show with a stand-out cast and vivid choreography from Vince Pesce, who made very effective use of the singing ensemble to capture the emotion of each scene. Gardiner’s Seymour was the sympathy-drawing underdog, eliciting pity even as he fell deeper and deeper into Audrey II’s madness. But it was Bobby Smith who ultimately stole the show, with his excellent comedic timing, first as the laughing-gas-addicted sadist boyfriend and later as the many people offering Seymour fame and fortune if he can just continue to make the Audrey II flourish.
Olney Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” is good for a few laughs, and for a few thoughts.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is playing at Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Md., through Sept.9. Performances are 8 p.m. Wednesday to Saturday; 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday;7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19. Audio-described performance is 8 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15. Sign interpreted performance is 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16. Tickets start at $26. 301.924.3400; olneytheatre.org
Stephanie Taylor moved to the Washington/Baltimore area straight out of journalism school more than a decade ago. Originally drawn to the bright lights and murky glamor of politics, she quickly discovered she’d rather be writing about stage lights. Theater became her first and most beloved beat. Throughout her career, she’s covered everything from international affairs to pop culture for outlets such as The Washington Times, the Online NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the Scotsman.com, the DCist, the LAist, and more.