Remember that total eclipse of the sun we had a few weeks ago? Something was left behind...something big and baaaaaaaad!
Just in time for kicking off your Halloween season, Audrey II and the Tantallon Community Players are here with an exciting new production of the camp classic Little Shop of Horrors now through October 1st at Harmony Hall Regional Center in Fort Washington, MD. With a running time just shy of 2 hours, there's nothing holding you back from catching it this weekend. Trust me, you need the escape from reality!
If you've been to a big theatrical show at the Kennedy Center, Warner Theater or any of the large venues in DC, all their glitz and glam can't hold a candle to this truly wonderful production of one of my all-time favorite shows. Let's start off about why this show is so good and so important: it goes back to the core of every great neighborhood: community theatre.
These are the men and women who act out of love for the art, not for a paycheck. Jonathan Jackson, who not only stars as the venerable Seymour Krelborn, but also serves as director and choreographer. While that sounds like it would distract from the overall production, it actually makes it a much more cohesive and tight performance. Jackson knows this show like the back of his hand, having starred in several productions through his career. Having an expert on the material like this shines through when you realize he's made significant cultural changes to the traditional casting choices such as the absolutely amazing Corisa Myers. The first time I can recall where a female has been cast in a role usually filled by a flamboyantly sassy male. Let me tell you, this show should always be cast with a woman from now on. It's just too good with that extra dash of spice. Myers and her puppeteer Jamie Hamilton truly bring Audrey II, the plant, to life inside of Mushnik's Flower Shop on Skid Row.
Now, again, this is why community theater is so important. In a big, flashy production, Audrey II would have been a near full-animatronic beast of a plant with special effects rivaling that of Hollywood. What the Tantallon Community Players have done beats any mechanical iteration hands down. Audrey II is far more life-like in this production because of the human element.
You've likely seen the film version of Little Shop starring Rick Moranis, perhaps during a sleepover as a kid, but trust me when I tell you...that film doesn't give you the full story. The real Little Shop is darker than you remember, but that's a good thing. It's not sanitized like the film version. Original ending intact, this Little Shop takes you on a fun, enjoyable romp through 1960's America and serves up some social commentary that's still every bit relevant (for better or worse) today.
Jackson's florist-shop-schlep-turned-vigilante-murderer Seymour hits every mark, carries every scene, and most importantly, reflects our own struggles through life. Sure, we're not always fighting a supernatural alien plant-form... but we do have our own demons and Jackson makes Seymour relatable to that scrawny, beat-down nerd inside all of us.
Seymour's love interest, and namesake of the plant, Audrey, is as ditzy and wonderful as you remember. Played by Natasja Handy, Audrey's stereotypical New York whine is perfect here and adds yet another character to cheer for as Audrey II's sinister plans come into focus. One of the absolute standout moments of the show is the epic duet between Audrey and Seymour with "Suddenly, Seymour". Handy and Jackson absolutely blow the audience out of the water during what turns out to be one of the most emotionally-charged performances of the production. Audrey has lots of motivation to be emotional, she's taunted and tormented throughout the show by her badboy boyfriend Orin Scrivello... D.D.S.
Not to be outdone...by anyone...Orin is a force to be reckoned with in a way that only Mark Allen can bring to the role. Having played the role of Orin myself in high school (oh yes, you'll never see that footage)... I know just how demanding and demented this role is. Allen had me worrying for his sanity throughout his breakout performance of "Dentist!" - a visually and mentally twisted production that has you both laughing and cringing (in the best way possible). Allen brings Orin to life in a way that's reminiscent of Steve Martin's own performance in the film version...but it's so much crazier. You see, Orin is a true sadist, and after watching Allen's performance, I would not be shocked to find a stash of chains and nitrous behind his sofa.
The cast is rounded out by the fantastic Kenneth Cline as Mr. Mushnik, the glamorous Doo-Wop Girls played by Andrea Gerald, Maecy Richardson, and Britney Caldwell, plus Mark Allen again as about a half-dozen other various characters.
Of course, I can't fail to mention the splendid performance by the hidden live orchestra conducted by Paul Rossen. The atmosphere the live soundtrack brings to the show really helps to bring everything together and help you get lost in an other-worldly place as the alien plant from outer space tries to take over Earth. Now, if they had only added an orange wig to Audrey II...