Houston had better watch out! Bayou City Theatrics is ensuring that audiences will feel the sturm und drang in the air with their production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, which opens tonight at the Frenetic Theatre at 5102 Navigation Boulevard. Last night, I was invited to attend their final dress rehearsal to get an early sneak peak at their magnificent production, which I found to be wholly entertaining and utterly spellbinding. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is possibly my absolute favorite musical of all time. I have really high expectations and standards for every production of this show, and from what I saw last night Bayou City Theatrics is delivering everything our sickly, greasy hearts could desire!
Direction by Colton Berry is simply superb and without flaw. He has great familiarity with the show, and interprets the material in a way that keeps it completely fresh. He has encouraged his cast to really pay attention to the darker elements of the material, and strips away the bright, bubbly, and cartoonish veneer of the caricatures that productions usually go for. That Germanic notion of sturm und drang (storm and drive) sits heavily in the air, which adds palpable heartbreak behind the audience's laughter. If you will, Colton Berry injects a healthy dose of realism into this parable, which surprisingly makes the material that much more accessible and more impactful.
Likewise, Colton Berry has choreographed the show with great wit and attention to detail. The trio of street urchins that serve as a classical Greek Chorus are given fascinating and often hilarious sight gags to accompany Howard Ashman's delicious lyrics.
Jane Volke's Music Direction is spot on perfect for the show. Each number clips along at its intended pace, including the often-slowed "Closed for Renovation" and "Call Back in the Morning." She also conducts her band with grace. In this performance, each of Alan Menken's numbers is lively and altogether fun.
Starring as the show's protagonist, Seymour, Colton Berry is perfectly soft, sensitive, endearing, timid and meek. The audience simply cannot help but adore the character, as we all root for him to succeed and win the girl. Add in Colton Berry's fantastic and richly capable voice, and the audience is handed the performance of a lifetime on a silver platter. Colton Berry was born to play Seymour Krelborn, and he does so with unforgettable and charming gusto and pizzazz.
Erin Wasmund's portrayal of Audrey is devastatingly grounded in all the right ways. Audiences are so used to the over the top ditzy, squeaky blonde that it is strikingly refreshing to see an Audrey that is tangibly from the gutter, a truly cheap and tasteless fallen women with a gritty past. Erin Wasmund delivers a performance with such a believably tormented psyche that audiences easily understand why she would even be with a creep like Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. in the first place. Moreover, she easily rivals the iconic Ellen Green with her illustrious performances of "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour." Erin Wasmund allows the score to powerfully employ her beautiful and crisp singing voice.
The Greek Chorus, Ronette, Chiffon, and Crystal, played respectively by Ronna Mansfield, Miatta Liebile, and Rikki Conner are simply fabulous. They adroitly command attention and deftly dole our large volumes of humor throughout the entire production. During numbers like "Skid Row" and "Be A Dentist" they kept me in stitches with their comedic antics, such as Ronna Mansfield's Ronette taking a swig of the homeless man's Jim Bean in the final moments of "Skid Row." Moreover, each of the girls creates a character that is independent of the trio and unique to both themselves as actress and this production. Most noticeably, Ronna Mansfield's Ronette has a Latin, seemingly Puerto Rican, flair. Miatta Libile's Chiffon is the babe in total control, ringleader type. And Rikki Conner's Crystal is full of attitude. I love that Colton Berry and the actresses have decided that each of these girls would exist independently of each other, while functioning as a cohesive member of the trio. This inspired artistic approach adds more weight to the performances and makes them that much more memorable and stunning as individual characters.
As Mushnik, Skid Row's struggling and near bankrupt florist, Curtis Barber is adroitly austere and almost unscrupulous. His Mushnik, despite hard times, still has some remnants of subtle humanity and the milk of human kindness, but his ebb is definitely low. Most impressively, Curtis Barber creates a Mushnik that is a sympathetic character that we are entirely fond of. His clever facial acting elicits laughter and allows the character to find a comfortable place in our hearts. Curtis Barber's vocals are supple and lively, which makes numbers like "Mushnik and Son" the most enjoyable I've ever had the pleasure to experience.