It began 50 years ago in the murkily menacing mind of B-movie mogul Roger Corman. Today, his 1960 black and white (remember?) film “Little Shop of Horrors” is a classic. The movie inspired a 1982 off-Broadway musical (same name) which led to still another (1986) cinematic version (also same name), this time in Technicolor, and, most recently, a 2003 revival on Broadway. ”Little Shop” has become one of the favorites (i.e. solid at the box office) of community theaters around the world. Judging by the production which opened Friday evening in South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Mainstage Auditorium, it shows no signs of fading.
Led by Ted Manier, veteran actor making his directorial debut, the allegorical tale (the wages of greed are deadly) of Seymour Krelborn and his rapid advancement in the field of alien horticulture, this is one of the more successful SBCT musical productions. The music by Disney favorite composer Alan Menken (“The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Princess and The Frog”), with book and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman, sticks in your mind, especially the title song, another appropriately titled “Dentist” and anything assigned to the rapidly-growing plant, Audrey II. As Seymour, employee of Mushnik’s floundering Skid Row flower shop, Justin Williams delivers a solid baritone and works very hard at being nerdy. The love of his lonely life is fellow employee Audrey (Abbey Frick), whose clear soprano more than does justice to her most familiar solo, “Somewhere That’s Green,” a satirical ode obviously inspired by tract housing a la Levittown. The duo’s boss, who gets just too greedy, is played by Allan W. Holody. Seymour suffers in silence watching Audrey’s battered relationship with sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (Josh Griffin), who delights in inflicting pain on his patients and his girlfriend. He more than deserves his hysterical end. Tracking Seymour’s rise from slavish assistant to gardening genius are Chiffon (Sophie Plunkett,) Crystal (Madeline Eastman) and Ronnette (Tabitha Lee) , a trio that dispenses vocals a la Motown, as it moves the action along.
The undeniable star turn in any “Little Shop,” however, belongs to the plant, Audrey II. Discovered by Seymour during “a total eclipse of the sun,” it thrives on a selective diet — human blood. It is solely responsible for the instant stardom of Seymour and the flower shop which can only continue, the young man learns, by feeding Audrey II’s increasingly insatiable appetite. Not surprisingly, this has disastrous consequences for all concerned, proving once again that greed equals trouble for all. The man behind or, in this case, inside the plant is puppeteer David Rozmarynowski, who built and operates the two final incarnations of the carnivorous creature. Combined with the basso profundo of Marty Golob, when Audrey II bares her teeth and demands “Feed Me,” everyone listens. Frick’s face concealing wig and her too-obvious mike pack are only minor flaws, but the difficulty in keeping singers and musicians together remains an unsolved problem for SBCT musicals. The instrumental trio led by Rebecca Wilson is parked off stage right in the hallway (indicated by an arrow during curtain calls). It was almost impossible for us to hear them and must have been even more difficult for the singers. (Note to stage crew members: if you can see the audience, we can see you.)
“Little Shop of Horrors” plays Wednesday through Sunday and March 17-21 in the theater at 403 N. Main St. South Bend. For show times and tickets, call 234-1112 between noon and 6 p.m. weekdays or visit www.sbct.org