There is nothing new in "Little Shop of Horrors," the story that has been a Broadway play and a hit movie starring Rick Moranis.
Nothing, that is, unless you are lucky enough to see the third production in the season by the exuberant kids at All In Productions, a show that opened Thursday night at Next Act Theatre.
This is a very funny and ghoulish story about Seymour, a hapless flower shop worker who creates a plant that is a cross between a Venus Flytrap and an avocado. Nobody knows what kind of creation he’s made, but they call it Audrey Two, named after Audrey (one) the girl who works in the flower shop and whom Seymour secretly and hopelessly desires.
The plant, which will only eat blood and flesh, grows and grows until it’s very existence has turned Skid row Flower Shop into a raging success. Everybody is happy, until they all begin to find that wanting something too much can lead to trouble.
It’s the old axiom, "be careful what you wish for."
As you might expect, Audrey Two takes over the world of all who surround her (it?). Her voracious hunger spare snobody as the gaping jaw swallows hopes and dreams without a pause.
The book and lyrics were written by Howard Ashman and the music by Alan Menken, music that harkens back to doo-wop, some Motown sounds and the early days of rock and roll.
Under the thoughtful and magic direction of Mara McGhee, this evening of theater is one that starts out crazy and goes on from there.
Before the play even starts five shabbily dressed beggars and scavengers take the stage and mingle with the audience, begging for food or money or friendship. The opening goes on impossibly long but it serves as a tantalizing aperitif to the meal upon which we are about to feast.
It’s difficult to find words to express the admiration for this three-production old company of young actors and directors who have created something special.
They opened their career with a magnificent "The Last Five Years," and followed that with a great production of the Neil LaBute classic "The Shape of Things." And now "Little Shop."
This is a big show, with nearly 20 players, including actors and an orchestra. Managing a cast that size is a challenge for experienced companies, but this production went off without a stumble, except for microphone failure for Seymour in the second act.
But there was such joy in this performance that you barely noticed that James Carrington’s mic was off. This is a laugh-filled mesmerizing evening.
Carrington is a star and he is joined by the magnetic Erica Brown who plays the store clerk he loves. Carrington has a wonderful voice and acts like he’s been on stage all his life. Brown is a silken singer who creates evocative emotion with every note.
This cast, short on experience but long on theatrical lust, must have been a challenge to mold into this kind of performance.
Colleen Schmitt was the music director and conductor of the orchestra. She is rapidly building a reputation as a kind of musical genius who brings a fresh and fearsome creativity to all she touches.
Veteran choreographer Karl Miller took this cast, several of whom had never danced before, and cast them in delightful and meaningful moments. Dance is a big part of this show and Miller took a bunch of kids and turned them into a memorable dance company.
When this show opened with the beggars gliding through the audience, I was approached by Becky Cofta, asking me achingly for alms. She broke my heart and now she owes me a dollar.
But I’ll let her off the hook if she and her mates continued to put on plays like this.
Perhaps the greatest theater company in Wisconsin is the American Players Theater in Spring Green. They are known simply by their initials, APT.
If these kids keep on putting on shows at this level, it may well be that before too long when we talk about All In Productions, all we have to say is AIP.
"Little Shop of Horrors" runs through June 20 and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
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