“I’ve loved Little Shop ever since I saw it for the first time in high school,” writes Liz Laywine in the playbill of her directorial debut, Little Shop of Horrors. “I never once questioned the supposedly ridiculous nature of a singing, talking plant—it seemed totally natural to me.” It’s this passion and willingness to tackle the absurd that Laywine and the UC Follies Theatre Company brought to the stage in the horror/comedy musical Little Shop of Horrors at the Randolph Theatre.
Based on the original musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of Seymour Krelborn, a timid young man who works in Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop on the wrong side of town, known as Skid Row. His life changes when he discovers a strange plant, which he brings into the store and names “Audrey Two”—after his crush Audrey, the girl he’s infatuated with and who works with him in the flower shop. The plant’s strange origin and large size bring popularity to him and the store, but it’s only after Seymour learns the plant craves the taste of human blood that he realizes the price of the fame he’s been given.
The effort and engagement of the actors brought the production together. In the roles of Seymour and Audrey, Mark Ferrari and Madeline Foley had great coworker chemistry, especially during their performances of “Call Back in the Morning” and “Closed for Renovations”. Foley also shone on her own with her delicate rendition of “Somewhere that’s Green”.
In his short time on stage as Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s abusive dentist boyfriend, James King stole each scene, presenting his over-the-top character with enough slapstick energy to make the audience appreciate his commitment.
Special consideration should also go to Jaymie Sampa, who played Audrey Two. Wrapped in vines and floral ornaments throughout her time on stage, Sampa channelled the plant’s character with her raspy singing voice. Sampa sang her lines with the aggression and dedication needed to successfully present Audrey Two’s control over meek little Seymour. Sampa was also capable of swiftly shifting to a honeyed voice when she needs to present herself as sweet and innocent. She did all of this while evoking the right amount of melodrama for the show.
The performers worked hard to realize Little Shop, but the set design failed to bring the audience into the world of 1960s Skid Row. I noted the effort to create a kitschy, even adorably garish stage design, but it was ultimately distracting, falling apart at moments in the play and lacking attention to detail in a few places.
Whether it was the cardboard piece that fell from the doorframe of Mr. Mushnik’s Florists, or the open/closed sign that looked like it was created minutes before the curtains opened, the set design felt rushed. Even in the opening prologue by the three singing street urchins, Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette, the safety of the three girls was questionable as they cooed and danced on a platform that looked ready to topple forward before Act I could even start.
It may have been the intention for the set to evoke the dilapidated nature of a run-down urban area like Skid Row, or it may have just been poor production, but in either case, a set needs to function and work with the actors to move the story along. In this case, the set distracted more than helped; I would even say it hindered the excellent performances on stage.
Overall, the apparent fun the cast was having distracted from the minor flaws, and the production succeeded in the raw energy and commitment to the absurdity of each character.
The UC Follies will put on several sketch comedies, two musicals, and a Shakespeare play this season. They are preparing Girl in the Goldfish Bowl for early December. For more information about future productions and tickets, visit uofttix.com.