Seymour sings, “I keep asking God what I’m for / And He tells me, ‘Gee, I’m not sure.’” Who hasn’t experienced moments of existential angst? Mushnik’s dusty shop is hardly a romantic hot spot, but love blossoms when Seymour becomes smitten with Audrey (Alli Mauzey), his bleach blond co-worker. Underneath her cheap glamour, you’ll find a sweet disposition and heart-breaking vulnerability.
Seymour and Audrey have something in common: a fervent desire to get out of Skid Row. Audrey yearns for “somewhere that’s green”. Her wish literally comes true in a be-careful-what-you-wish-for kind of way.
Seymour implores, “Someone give me my shot or I’ll rot here.” That someone turns out to be a mysterious potted plant lurking amongst the zinnias in the wholesale flower district. Seymour buys it and names it Audrey II. Little does he suspect how dangerous it is. Despite his best efforts to cultivate the new plant, it stubbornly refuses to grow until Seymour discovers the “sticky licky sweets” it craves.
Seymour is often depicted as a total loser, but McClure gives him a bit of gumption. This lends credibility to the character and his struggles. McClure’s articulation allows us to fully appreciate Howard Ashman’s clever, intricately rhymed lyrics. (Only Ashman would rhyme “shang-a-lang” with “sturm and drang”.) McClure’s musicality makes the melodies of composer Alan Menken soar, especially the climactic love duet, “Suddenly Seymour”.
Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein gave us “a bright golden haze on the meadow”. Cole Porter offered “a trip to the moon on gossamer wings”. Howard Ashman delivered “Downtown, where the hopheads flop in the snow”.
Ken Page is the veteran actor who voices Audrey II, the blood-lusting plant that grows ever larger and more villainous. Page imbues his leafy character with a sinister personality that fascinates and repulses me. I have the same mixed reaction to Orin Scrivello (Clarke Thorell), Audrey’s violent boyfriend. The guy sure looks like plant food to me. He is a sadist who found a way “to make [his] natural tendencies pay” in the career of dentistry. The role of Orin Scrivello is idiosyncratically demanding and Thorell gets a B+.
As Audrey, Alli Mauzey has a lovely voice, but her acting is ho-hum and her less than outrageous costuming (Kansas City Costume) contributes to a lack of distinction. Even when Seymour’s anemia slows him down, Audrey pales by comparison. Seymour’s boss, Mr. Mushnik (Raye Birk) is credible until the actor lapses into shtick, which yanks attention away from the drama.
The book of Little Shop of Horrors was adapted by Howard Ashman from Roger Corman’s 1960 shlock horror film of the same title. (Ashman also wrote the screenplay for the movie musical adaptation.) The librettist preserved that 60’s spirit, adding a rock ‘n roll girl trio to the cast. Individually, the girls function as minor characters, collectively, as a shing-a-ling Greek chorus. It’s a clever device, but the Wow Factor is missing from this production because backup chorus members are thrown into the mix. The visual impact of the trio also suffers from a conspicuous scarcity of look-at-me matching costumes. Without that finery, the trio often fades into the crowd. Deficiencies in the show’s costume design reinforce the crucial role that costuming plays in illuminating a character.
The animatronics and other technical demands of this show are staggering. The designers, director and crew ensure that everything runs smoothly. Although the Muny production is less than dazzling, it entertains. Don’t let the puppetry fool you. This isn’t a show for impressionable children under eight years old. There are terrifying scenes, some of which evoked audible anguished cries from youngsters in the audience. I should also mention that Audrey II has a real gutter mouth. After all, she thrives in the gutters of Skid Row.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through JULY 31, 2011 at The Muny Opera in Forest Park. Information available at http://muny.org or by calling , 314- 361-1900