3:43 PM CDT, July 16, 2012
Few shows at Northwest Indiana's Theatre at the Center — venerable Equity house though it may be — feature a member of the original New York cast, and certainly not a performer willing and able to reprise her original role 30 years later without her appearance having changed one bit.
But that's the case with one pivotal cast member of director Stacey Flaster's lively new production of the well-loved Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musical, "Little Shop of Horrors." After this campy musical (based on the 1960 Roger Corman movie of the same name) closed down at New York's Orpheum Theatre after a whopping 2,209 performances, the man-eating plant known as Audrey II found itself out of work. It was bought by the Candlelight Theatre of Summit, which was planning its own production of the darkly satirical show, well known for its killer score including the likes of "Suddenly Seymour," "Downtown" and, best of all, "Somewhere That's Green."
The man who ran that theater, Bill Pullinsi, is now the artistic director of Theatre at the Center. And although Candlelight went bust, the avaricious creditors apparently missed the original Audrey II, presumably languishing in some warehouse. So there the old girl was again Sunday night, gussied up and moving her huge jaws to "Feed Me" (performer Stan White now helps her talk) and generally dominating the stage and the show.
You need a good plant to do this show, but you also need a decent Audrey. If you don't know the show, the original, human Audrey is the florist's assistant with a thing for sadistic dentists, and the love interest of one Seymour, a nerd from the time before nerds had computers, and the guy who nurtures the killer plant and sells his soul in the process.
In Flaster's production, Jonathan Lee Cunningham is solid as very much a standard-issue Seymour. But Tiffany Trainer, who plays Audrey, is way, way out there when it comes to Audreys, and is a total blast to watch in all her rehab-ready wackiness.
The other main pleasures here are Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette (Chadae McAlister, Eva Ruwe and Reneisha Jenkins) the narrating urchins who mostly sing back-up vocals in the doo-wop style. All three of these women have great voices and Flaster, who does her own choreography and is very strong at specialty numbers, stages their doings with great zest and imagination.
Some of the comedy in "Little Shop" is creaking by now (although Rod Thomas is certainly a big personality as the nasty Orin Scrivello, DDS, as is Peter Kevoian, who has fun with Mushnik) and you would not call this a radical reinterpretation. Although, frankly, with that darn plant eating up center stage within Bill Bartelt's set (a design that struggles some with the shape of this theater), there's only so much you can or would want to do. By now, there's a whole new audience for the blood-sucking plant and the show's takedown of celebrity culture is only more apt.
Plus, "Little Shop" has one of the most entertaining scores of the last 30 years. Trainer is truly a formidable singer and actress, and Flaster is smart enough to kill the lights, hit her with a spotlight, and let her nail "Somewhere That's Green" right into the suburban floor. It's a fabulous rendition of one of the best satirical numbers in Broadway history and, for die-hard fans of this show, worth the drive alone.
When: Through Aug. 19
Where: Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes
Tickets: $38-$42 at 800-511-1552 or theatreatthecenter.com