Monday, September 24, 2012

Westside Theatre: Broadway Rose

Pictured is Rebecca Teran as Audrey and Bobby Ryan as Seymour. Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer. 

Little Shop of Highlights


Broadway Rose presents a contemporary take on Ashman and Menken’s classic

 By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker

We started writing this review over lunch at one of our old standby Chinese restaurants, where we ordered pretty much the same things we always get. However, the meal took us by surprise – as did Broadway Rose’s ongoing production of another favorite, “Little Shop of Horrors.” In both cases, the comfortable and familiar was enhanced by subtle but unexpected twists in presentation.

For those not familiar with the premise, here it is in a nutshell: Skid Row florist’s apprentice and aspiring botanist Seymour discovers a “strange and unusual plant” that brings much-needed foot traffic to Mushnik’s fading business. Seymour secretly pines for shop assistant Audrey, a ditzy blonde with poor taste in clothes and worse taste in men (in particular, the incredibly sadistic and abusive Orin Scrivello, DDS). The plant needs blood to thrive, and the evil dentist’s accidental demise provides Seymour with an ample initial food source for his beloved plant.  Florist flourishes, Seymour gets the girl, but the plant proves to be insatiable…

We love “Little Shop”; not only have we seen countless productions, but Darrell played the role of Mushnik back in the ‘90s. Our previous exposure had been to a show conceived and delivered in the best satirical, comic-book tradition, peopled largely by two-dimensional characters (in particular the ditzy blond Audrey, and the hapless nebbish Seymour). Director Abe Reybold has embraced a contemporary take on Ashman and Menken’s classic that allows his actors to more fully develop their characters, and the result is amazing.

The first clue that this production has real roots is the opening number – the lights come up on the three “Doo-Wop” girls (Erica Jones as “Crystal”, Lindzay Irving as “Ronnette”, and Beth Sobo as “Chiffon”) and they are a lot like the brash, mouthy blue-collar teens one might actually find in a poor neighborhood. Of course, there might be no blue-collar teens on Skid Row if they could all sing like this trio! Each of the three was a fine actress able to develop a distinctive personality. Likewise, vocal solo spots displayed their powerful individual voices in addition to the expected tight harmonies.
Bobby Ryan’s “Seymour”, while still a loser, is less stereotypically pathetic, clumsy, and hopeless than is usually seen.  His Seymour shows the potential for growth, and he delivers his lines with an eye to character, rather than just playing for laughs. He has a fine musical comedy tenor voice and uses it well throughout, most effectively in the “Suddenly Seymour” duet with Audrey.

Darren Hurley tackles the somewhat thankless role of Mr. Mushnik with the requisite chutzpah. His solid baritone voice blends well with the ensemble, and his Tevye-like take on the “Mushnik and Son” scene is hilariously cantorial.

“And then there’s Audrey, lovely Audrey…” A real standout, even in such a strong cast, Rebecca Teran portrays her character with no trace of the iconic Ellen Greene’s cartoonish approach. Teran’s Audrey is a real woman who dreams of escaping the squalor of her tenement and her life, but who sees no path out of Skid Row until, suddenly, Seymour shows her the way. The highlight of the evening is Teran’s incredibly moving “Somewhere That’s Green.” She takes a classic comic ballad and, with timing and sheer vocal and acting ability, turns it into a work of art.

Many of the evening’s best laughs go to Brian Demar Jones, who plays several cameo roles in addition to the wonderfully psychopathic dentist. Jones’ dentist is so dark that, for the first time, we really worry about the puppies and the BB gun – and yet his rubber-legged fluidity, absurd costuming, and sense of timing keep the character within the realm of comedy. Jones more than delivers in the singing department, as he demonstrates in both “Dentist!” and “Now (It’s Just the Gas)”. He is listed in the program as “Orin and Everyone Else” and his quick-change antics toward the end of Act II bring down the house.

The ever-expanding plant, Audrey II, is superbly brought to life through the teamwork of puppeteer Jeremy Garfinkel and vocalist Jerrod Neal. Between the two of them, they are able to give the plant a frighteningly menacing affect, underscoring the wisdom of “Don’t Feed the Plants.”

The sets, lighting, sound (always tricky for “Little Shop”) and band all combine to create just the right backdrop for yet another wildly entertaining evening at Broadway Rose.  The night we attended, it was clear that about half of the audience knew the show well, and half were Little Shop virgins with little idea of what to expect. Reybold’s success as a director was illustrated by the fact that all of us were given a delightful surprise

“Little Shop of Horrors” is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage in Tigard through October 14th.

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