Reviewed by Mary Paige Rieffel
A palpable sense of opening night excitement filled the theater Friday evening as people kept rolling in and filling the seats (even with Back to the Bricks causing many audience members to scramble for parking and fight detours) for opening night of Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Company’s production of the classic, quirky, and well loved, Little Shop of Horrors.
Little Shop made its stage debut in 1982 however most people are familiar with this particular musical through its reincarnation as a 1985 movie starring Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and Ellen Greene. It remains well loved and oft produced by theatres of all ilks throughout the decades.
The story is driven by the ambitions of the lovable botanical nerd Seymour (Shane Welch) and the daffy and trusting blonde Audrey (Sarah Falardeau). These two fine young actors display the epitome of the innocence required for the roles of these iconic musical theatre lovers and clearly have the potential and drive to capitalize on roles like these for years to come.
In contrast, two more iconic roles in the piece, Orin, the Dentist (Jessi Jeane Eldridge) and Audrey II, the monstrous man eating plant (Holly Myers), typically cast as men, were fearlessly played by two very committed women. Ms. Eldridge swung effortlessly from frightening abusive boyfriend to fits of nitrous-induced mania while Ms. Myers’ reveal as Audrey II in their final form was a delightful mix of Jessica Rabbit and Poison Ivy. Any doubts and reservations I had going in about these gender-bent roles were quickly quieted by their performances.
Rounding out the main cast are the financially struggling and constantly verklempt Mr. Mushnik (Timothy Patrick Ruwart) and the three Greek Chorus-like street urchins (Aris Joelle Campbell, Alysia Mentula, and Tessa Watson). This trio of ladies, and much of the main cast, harmonized at a professional level. Once the adrenaline of the opening number settled, they sank into a wonderful chemistry that made the whole production easy and fun to watch. Music direction by Rebecca Kotz.
The script only calls officially for about 9 actors, and while I found the full chorus numbers a little clumsy at times, I admire community theatres that are willing to expand a cast (in this case a full cast of about 30) to afford opportunities to as many individuals as possible. One notable feature was the jaw dropping solo at the top of “Skid Row” performed by Kevelin B. Jones III.
The set and costumes, were placed in a non-descript time and smartly kept simple, in monochromatic blacks and whites, allowing the favored theatre device of adding symbolic and strategic additions of color highly effective. Set design by Joshua David Bleau and Stephen Paul Visser; costume design by Janet Chima and Shannon Montgomery.
At times, muddy articulation and poorly leveled orchestrations made it hard to catch many of the clever Howard Ashman written lyrics but, as someone familiar with the pain of body mics and acoustics, I have no doubt many of those problems will iron themselves out during the run.
This was not only opening night for this production, but also the premier production for Light in the Dark Musical Theatre Co. The entire company should be very proud of the piece of theatre they brought to Flint, bringing a welcome reprieve from the theatre drought of summer.
Little Shop of Horrors runs August 18 and 19, 2 & 7:30 pm at the University of Michigan- Flint Theatre.