★★★★☆ - Delicious
The new Majestic Repertory Theatre previewed its inaugural production to a full house, in a tiny store front on Main Street. The space is reminiscent of the small Equity theatres you find in New York or Los Angeles. You walk in and wonder how in the world they will pull off the show you’re about to see; especially one as big as “Little Shop of Horrors.”
It’s amazing what can be done with some creative thinking. Artistic Director Troy Heard has some experience in mounting big shows in small spaces, so it should come as no surprise he was able to make it work.
Flanked by the audience, at one end of the space is the store front, the other is the back wall of Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop. Heard used those set pieces and everything in between as his cast and crew rolled small wagons on and off as needed. This is what creating in small spaces is all about.
Corey Benway is a joy to watch as Seymour. There wasn’t a moment when he didn’t wholly embody the off-kilter character who is especially socially inept and shy with the girl who has stolen his affections. His awkwardness came out in voice and phrasing as well as movement. To see the change not only in expression but posture when it dawned on him that those affections are returned wasn’t acting - it was inhabiting the character.
The girl of Seymour’s dreams is Audrey, played stereotypically by Kady Heard. But that’s a good thing. It’s what is needed, it’s what is expected. Anything else would be a disappointment, and Heard played it to a “T.” She donned the sex kitten with downcast eyes and nervous movements, subtle shifts in body language telegraphing she’s the victim of domestic violence. Her interpretation of “Somewhere That’s Green” was hauntingly lovely.
When the two actors came together in “Suddenly Seymour” we could see the changes come about over the course of the song. At the end, Benway stood a bit taller, the shoulders no longer slump, and Heard didn’t flinch from the approach of a man.
Rob Kastil played Mushnik, the owner of the flower shop that has seen better days. The weight of the failure in everything: the tiredness in voice, cadence of speech, and the way he schleps across the stage. When things turn around and he’s afraid of losing the wealth of the shop’s renaissance, Kastil has a wonderful turn in “Mushnik and Son;” his movements within the choreography of Alex Ferdinand and Jayme Haines retained the physicality of an old man.
Audrey’s dentist boyfriend, Orin, is the role that typically steals the show. But Anthony Turchiano played it too rough and over the top. That he’s charged with playing multiple roles in the show may have something to do with it, but he brought a quality to the character that made him completely unlikable and the comedy suffered. Turchiano also presented a pre-show of sorts in the form of a homeless drunkard. He wandered to the inside store window of the flower shop—where he actually wouldn’t be—and proceeded to hang an arm through the opening. When it comes to make-up, his sandal-clad feet and exposed knees were perfectly clean.
Jillian Austin, Breonna Dobbs, and Destiny Faith open the show as Ronnette, Crystal, and Chiffon, respectively. They’re the back-up singers and play, as Muchnik calls them, the neighborhood “urchins.” These three ladies are the find of the century. With their voices blending so perfectly, their dance steps well executed, and the individuality they bring to characters which are written so much the same, they were delightful to watch and hear.
Lighting by Todd+Bryan enhanced the sets and carried the changing moods of the play surprisingly well with such a limited number of instruments. What they managed to do with fluorescent tube shop lights was nothing short of amazing. Wonderful period costumes by Shannon Sheldon Reffner completed the overall look of the show.
One can’t review “Little Shop” without mentioning the puppet, Audrey II, and the people who make the plant come alive. Rebecca Reyes and Cody Angelo manipulated the plant to comic effect, and Joshua McCool did an excellent job with the vocals.
There are some kinks to work out yet, which is to be expected in a new space. One such issue is where to put musicians for musicals. Live music is always preferable, but lyrics are important to the story arc. Drums overpowered other instruments and were especially bothersome. Many lyrics got lost even when the body mics on the cast worked.
Still, this production maintained the fun of the script, and Troy Heard and company should have a hit on their hands.
When: Thursday - Saturday 8pm; Sunday 5pm through October 30
Monday, October 31, 8pm
Tuesday, November 1, 8pm - SOLD OUT
Where: Majestic Repertory Theatre, 1217 South Main St.
Tickets: $25 (www.majesticrepertory.com)
Grade: **** (Delicious)
Producer: Majestic Repertory Theatre; Director: Troy Heard; Musical Director: Susan Williams Easter; Puppet Direction: RuBen Permel; Lighting Design: Todd+Bryan; Costume Design: Shannon Sheldon Reffner; Sound Design: Don Parnall; Prop Design: Armando Macias, Jr.; Vocal Arrangements: Robert Billig; Orchestrations: Robby Merkin; Stage Manager: Corey Covell