Monday, July 13, 2009

Little Shop of Horrors, Beck Center

(Timothy Allen as Seymour, holding the not-yet-gigantic Audrey II, along with the Urchins, left to right: Katrice Monee Headd, Taresa Willingham, and Tonya Broach.)

It's no surprise that Little Shop of Horrors, now at the Beck Center for the Arts keeps showing up on stages here and there, since it features a man-eating plant, a sadistic dentist, and a nerd who finds success by becoming the meat-procurer for said botanical fiend. Hey, what else do you need for a successful theatrical evening?

Even though the book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and the music by Alan Menken is uneven, with some songs like “Da-Doo” being quite extraneous, the singing in this production is more than passable. Indeed, whether crooning in the style of Motown or presenting their stereotype parts, the Beck players do their jobs well individually. But the evening as a whole lacks comic cohesiveness due to beats being rushed or not adequately shaped. As a result, the fun seems scattershot and, when it happens, a bit threadbare.

Seymour is the nerd who works side-by-side with hot Audrey in Mr. Mushnik’s florist shop. But the dork rises suddenly to local fame when a plant he’s been tending, named Audrey II, starts to draw the attention of passersby, along with the media.

Trouble is, his ferocious fern has a hankering for fresh plasma instead of Miracle-Gro. And once his fingers have been drained, he has to look elsewhere for Audrey II’s dinner. That’s when the (human) Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, leather-clad and pain-freak dentist Orin, enters the picture as a potential entrĂ©e.

Timothy Allen is the very embodiment of a dweeb, looking like a taller Woody Allen and somehow affecting a posture that seems to be in a perpetual cringe. He's in love with Audrey, played by Meg Maley with just the right amount of blonde ditz mixed with tenderness. And as Orin, Connor O’Brien breaks out of his usual bland leading man box to craft a laughing sadist (he sniffs his own nitrous oxide) with a thick overlay of Elvis. O’Brien takes some chances with his over-the-top role, most of which succeed.

Unfortunately, director William Roudebush allows too many scenes to play flat. This kind of comedy demands sharp beat changes, some extended pauses for comic effect, and energetic interchanges. In this production, too many moments—such as the first appearance of Orin and the first cry for food from Audrey II—pass by with little edge.

The centerpiece of the show, literally and figuratively, is Audrey II. And while the puppet created for the role here is (eventually) impressive in size, it lacks enough flexibility to really take advantage of many potentially humorous opportunities. As the voice of the plant, Darryl Lewis could also inject more personality into his songs and patter.

One constant positive are the singing urchins, modeled after The Supremes. Katrice Monee Headd, Tonya Broach and Taresa Willingham sing powerfully and addsome zip to scenes that need it.

In sum, this Little Shop is several well-crafted performances in search of a tighter and more finely honed production.

Little Shop of Horrors
Through August 2 at Beck Center,
17801 Detroit Avenue,
Lakewood, 216-521-2540

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