Theater

Review: Williams Street Repertory's 'Little Shop of Horrors' in Crystal Lake a Halloween hoot

So when you work at a floral shop, what do you befriend? A plant, naturally. If you’re like me, befriending a plant pretty much signals the death of said plant. Not “Little Shop of Horror’s” plant Audrey II. She does not want to die. She has plans.

Based on a ’60s black comedy re-tooled for the stage by Allan Menken and Howard Ashman, the “Little Shop” musical has been delighting audiences for 35 years. Our main characters, Seymour and Audrey (Seymour names the plant after her – something an introverted shy character would do), work together at the dying Skid Row Florists with Mushnik, the owner.

Audrey II essentially is a gigantic Venus Flytrap with a very particular and peculiar dietary need in order to survive. Seymour gives Audrey II all the blood he can, but as Audrey II gets bigger, it’s not enough … and now Audrey II reveals she can speak: “Feed me!”

A hearty bow to both the puppeteer, Brendan Gaughan, and the voice of Audrey II, Frederick Harris. Both are outstanding and Harris’ voice is one of the best I’ve heard for Audrey II. It’s a key part to the whole musical, so congratulations for excellent casting.

The excellence in casting does not stop there. Performed by Williams Street Repertory – the Crystal Lake Raue’s in-house professional theater company – this version, directed by Joe Lehman, has a bounteous crop of talented actors. Mark Mahallak’s Mushnik is a delicious combination of fear and greed. The central characters of Audrey (Kiersten Frumkin) and Seymour (Neil Stratman) are extremely believable as the down-and-out skid row kids searching for a way out via love and success.

“Little Shop’s” narrators, the Skid Row girls (Sierra White, Brittany Moore and Emily Senkowsky), did bang-up work. A great opening set the stage for a solid production. A small amount of concern crept over me like one of Audrey II’s vines regarding the comic book-feel to part of the production, but it was a nice take on a well-traveled musical.

I particularly enjoyed Chris Davis as Orin, the sadistic dentist and Audrey’s abusive boyfriend. It’s a tough one to do well without too much camp. He aced it, and his adoration for nitrous oxide is quite a sight. Chris’ talent extends well into the rest of this production, but I wish he had fewer minor roles. The other roles could have been taken up with additional actors and wouldn’t have deterred the musical’s momentum.

The band (music direction by Evan Swanson) is stellar. There was only one short period where I felt they were too loud for the outstanding singing, but it was super short so I only can assume that was a minor glitch. Otherwise, the band had excellent compatibility with all voices. However, the off-stage music choices were puzzling. The theme of “outer space invader” was understood, but using well-known music for prelude and interlude was not necessary.

A note about the set design by Adam Liston. The set’s transition from down-and-nearly-dead floral shop to a successful enterprise was well done. The transformation subtly was completed using a perfectly chosen color palette.

Subtle also is an appropriate definition of the choreography. This is not a musical demanding for choreography to command the stage, so good choices were made by Choreographer Jen Cupani.

Overall, “Little Shop of Horrors” is a Halloween hoot, a darkly delicious comedy musical professionally performed to entertain anyone from age 9 to 90. I give it a green thumb up!

• Rick Copper is a writer, photographer, storyteller, part-time actor and comedian with a framed master’s degree from the Northwestern Medill School of Journalism and a loose Certificate of Completion sheet of paper from Second City’s Improv program. Published works include “Crystal Lake: incorporation of a city 1914-2014.”

“LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS”

WHEN: Through Oct. 29

WHERE: Raue Center for the Arts, 26 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake

COST & INFO: Presented by Williams Street Repertory. Schedule: 8 p.m. Oct. 13-14, 20-21, 27-28; 3 p.m. Oct. 15, 21, 27-29. Tickets: $35.50. Tickets and information: 815-356-9212 or www.rauecenter.org.

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