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LIGHTNING REVIEW: 'Little Shop' is big fun at Playhouse

Jeremiah James stars as the love-struck Seymour in 'Little Shop of Horrors.' Jeremiah James stars as the love-struck Seymour in 'Little Shop of Horrors.'

It’s a plant-eat-human world out there and love might be the only thing to save us. Or not. One thing’s for sure, there is not one of us immune from the temptation to do about anything to impress our crush. Will it be homicide or herbicide? That is Seymour Krelborn’s burning question.

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The Flat Rock Playhouse’s production of Little Shop of Horrors introduces us to the nostalgic seediness of 1950s Skid Row where street urchins know how to con you out of your dollar, an orphan is grateful for a floor to sweep and a counter to sleep under, a young woman puts up with abuse because that’s all she thinks she deserves, and a flower shop owner is ready to call it quits. But then Seymour Krelborn, self-taught exotic plant enthusiast, brings to Mushnik’s Flower Shop an unidentifiable plant of unknown origin. He names it Audrey II after his secret crush, and things suddenly start to pick up.
Jeremiah James plays a convincing nebbish, fleshing out the character of Seymour Krelborn in a way that makes the audience want to both pat him on the head and twist his ear and tell him to stand up straight. Audrey, the shop girl and Seymour’s secret love interest, is played by Ryah Nixon, whom Playhouse patrons may remember as Doralee in last year’s 9 to 5. As Audrey she is damaged goods—a goddess to Seymour, but unable to see her own value. In a cast of talented singers, James and Nixon stand out with powerful vocal performances peaking in their delivery of “Suddenly Seymour.”

Preston Dyar, in a second-straight starring performance at the Playhouse, portrays the ill-tempered character Mr. Mishnikwith such energy that he’s almost loveable, though not so loveable that one minds too much what becomes of him. Mark Warwick dusts off an authentic Elvis vibe last seen 10 years ago in these footlights as Pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. This time we see Warwick's alter-ego in the character of Orin Scrivella, DDS, Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, who thrills in inflicting pain. He is painfully funny in the Dentist Office scene with his nitrous oxide delivery system.
In their Playhouse debuts, the diminutive trio of Dorian McCorey as Chiffon, Gia Asperas as Crystal and Khadijah Rolle as Ronnette provide the doo-wop chorus and commentary throughout the production. There was understandable first night tightness in their opening number, but in no time they were cutting loose with high energy and smooth vocal harmonies that added flavor and texture to every number.
The set and costume designers did a superb job in this play. The costumes supported each character and scene, underscoring the personality and mood with creative color and style choices.
The beautifully constructed alien plant Audrey II is voiced by C.J. Barnwell. Puppeteer is Damian Duke Domingue.
Led by Ethan Andersen (keyboards) and featuring David Gaines (keys), Bill Altman (guitar), Daniel Ianucci (bass), Paul Babelay (drums) and Ryan Guerra (violin, keys 3), the band delivers a lively backup package of fifties doo-wop and stirring ballads and creates the sinister sound effects.

"Little Shop of Horrors" premiered as a musical production Off-Off-Broadway in 1982. In 1986, Frank Oz (the voice of Yoda in “Star Wars” movies) directed a movie version. Without giving anything away, it is notable that the movie has a different ending than the play. The play’s ending was deemed too dark. Also, it’s interesting to note the possible origin of the character Seymour Krelborn’s name. In the 1956 science fiction movie, The Forbidden Planet, there was an extinct race of advanced beings from the planet Altair IV known as the Krell. The play suggests that Audrey II is an alien species. Hence, See-More-Krell-Born. It’s possible, but it’s a theory unproven by any first-hand testimony of the writers.

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Little Shop of Horrors runs through Oct. 21 at the Flat Rock Playhouse Clyde and Nina Allen Mainstage. Tickets are $15 to $50 and can be purchased by calling the Playhouse box office at 828-693-0731, toll-free at 866-732-8008 or online at www.flatrockplayhouse.org.