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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
Little Shop of Horrors


Hold you hat and hang on to your soul.
Something's coming to eat the world whole.
If we fight it we've still got a chance.
But whatever they offer you,
Though they're slopping the trough for you,
Please, whatever they offer you,
Don't feed the plants! Hold you hat and hang on to your soul. Something's coming to eat the world whole. If we fight it we've still got a chance. But whatever they offer you, Though they're slopping the trough for you, Please, whatever they offer you, Don't feed the plants!

— from the Company Finale: "Don't Feed the Plants"

It has only been five years (2003) since everyone's favorite mutating carnivorous plant bloomed on Broadway. That modestly successful production of the musical was a tad glitzier than the one that opened Off-Broadway in 1982 and played for 2,209 performances. Another production has now taken root at the Paper Mill Playhouse. The musical version of schlock film-maker Roger Corman's comically tacky 1960 black comedy remains a mildly amusing and vaguely politicized entertainment with a moral: that society is doomed in the face of commercialized imperialism. (But who is willing to think about it that way?)

Currently in charge of the horrific mayhem is Mark Waldrop, who directed Gypsy at this theater in 1998 with Betty Buckley as the equally horrifying human-devouring Momma Rose. Waldrop and his production collaborators resourcefully exploit the musical's horticultural doings. And thanks to designers Ben Stanton's lighting and Paul Wonsek's squalid-looking skid row shop and street setting, the atmosphere is just right for encouraging the plant's fearsome growth in laugh-inducing stages.

Howard Ashman's book and lyrics and Alan Menken's music has always been one of the best pop rock and roll theater scores. Certainly the bouncy title song and the humorously plaintive "Suddenly Seymour," are classics of the genre. The cast is relatively small: just four principal roles, a trio of street urchins, various denizens, and the basso voice of the insatiable plant Audrey II (Michael James Leslie). But their collectively endearing qualities easily fill up the stage.

Jared Gertner, who played the chubby William Barfee (replacement) in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee on Broadway and on tour, fulfills the nebbish(y) demands of Seymour, the timid, withdrawn employee in a skid row flower shop who takes great pains to care for a hybrid plant of his own creation, and also nurture his affection for Audrey (Jenny Fellner). Fellner, who was praiseworthy as Judith Anderson in the recent revival of The Devil's Disciple at the Irish Rep., is terrific as the pretty but cheaply flashy Audrey whose masochistic bent keeps her in emotional bondage to Orin, the sadistic laughing gas-addicted dentist. Orin is played with a silly enough swagger by Asa Somers, who also appears in a parade of caricatured roles of both sexes.

Stephen Berger fills the bill as the suddenly entrepreneurial Skid Row shop keeper Mushnik, whose is delighted when business picks up as the plant grows and draws attention from the public. But what price fame and fortune when Seymour discovers that the plant needs blood to survive? As the plant's victims are gobbled up, we find ourselves suddenly caring and concerned for the characters, silly and one-dimensional as they are. Badia Farha, Montego Glover and Angela Grovey are precociously perky as the girl-group/urchins that sing and swing in Matthew Hemesath's kicky costumes.

I'm happy to report that music director Bruce W. Coyle and the three other musicians in the pit survive Audrey II's ravenous appetite. Bon appetite.

Editor's Note: For a list of the show's song, see our review of the Broadway production — click here.

Little Shop of Horrors
By Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Directed by Mark Waldrop

Cast: Stephen Berger, Darin DePaul, Badia Farha, Jenny Fellner, Jared Gertner, Montego Glover, Angela Grovey, Stacey Harris, Michael Latini, Michael James Leslie, Tally Sessions, Asa Somers.
Musicians: Bruce W. Coyle (music director; keyboards); David Strauss (guitar); Dennis Masuzzo (bass); Bill Strauss (Percussion)
Set Design: Paul Wonsek
Set Coordination and Additional Design: Adam Koch
Costumes: Matthew Hemesath
Lighting: Ben Stanton
Sound: Randy Hansen
Running Time: 2 hours one intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ. (973) 376 - 4343
Tickets ($25 - $92)
Performances: 06/04 07/06/08; Opening Night 06/08/08
Wednesday at 7:30 PM, Thursday at 2 PM & 7:30 PM, Fridays at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM and Sundays at 2 PM & 7:30 PM
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 06/07/08


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