Ten years since the Gerding Theater at the Armory opened with West Side Story, an entirely different type of production opens the season for Portland Center Stage–a play that will chill one’s blood and cause one to lock the children in the pump house (should one have children or a pump house). It’s a tale of blood lust, horror, and the evils men doeth, guaranteed to give one sleepless nights…and worse.
Little Shop of Horrors roars onto the stage with a blast of doo-wop as the play opens in a down-and-out floral shop on Skid Row. Shop owner Mr. Mushnik (David Meyers) is complaining to his dim-bulb assistant, Seymour (Nick Cearley) about the desperate situation of his failing shop, while three doo-wop girls (Johari Nandi Mackey as Chiffon, Alexis Tidwell as Crystal, and Ebony Blake as Ronette) provide the introduction, plus the down low on the neighborhood. These three continue to delight throughout the play as they assume the role of Greek chorus. Seymour goes into a back room and emerges carrying a small plant he’s found. It’s a pathetic looking little thing, but its lips are moving! He names it Audrey II after his co-worker, Audrey (Gina Milo), who he’s secretly in love with.
As Audrey II grows, things change at the little shop. The plant is attracting visitors, and even better, customers. But Audrey II, we learn, only grows when it’s fed blood. This creates a huge dilemma.
Audrey II is the star here. From an itsy thing that resembles a Venus fly trap, it grows and becomes more shark-like every time a scene changes. The craftsmanship of the puppets rivals Disney. With manipulator Stephen Kriz Gardner at Audrey II’s helm and the voice of Chaz Rose, Audrey II becomes a believable, living character.
The only one who can upstage Audrey II is Audrey’s abusive boyfriend Orin (Jamison Stern), a sadistic biker/dentist. His role is short but memorable, from his dramatic entrance as Leader of the Pack biker boy, to the dentist chair and the nitrous oxide, Stern performs this part in deliciously staged high camp.
Little Shop of Horrors rocks, thanks to a great cast, music by Alan Menken, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, and a lively screenplay by Charles Griffith. Tight, spot-on directing is by Bill Fennelly, who as a child fell in love with the idea of “the allegorical power of theatrical satire” when he saw a television ad for the black comedy off-Broadway play.
The musical is based on a horror movie of the same name, made in 1960 on a tiny budget and directed by an indie filmmaker named Roger Corman. It became a cult hit, and later inspired the 1982 smash off-Broadway musical. The movie released in 1986 featured Rick Moranis as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, Steve Martin as Orin, and Vincent Gardenia as Mr. Mushnik.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through October 16 on the US Bank Main Stage in the Gerding Theater. Despite prior warnings, get the kids out of the pump house and bring them to the show. If they are eight or older, they’ll probably love it.