Play review — ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

The Gwinn Drama Club’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” opened Thursday and it is an absolute blast! David Dagenais and his cast and crew should be very proud of their production.

For those unfamiliar with the show, Little Shop is set in and around Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist in 1958. It is the story of a struggling shop that sometimes goes days without a customer coming in. Mr. Mushnik is ready to close the doors forever until his assistants, Seymour and Audrey suggest that they put a new and interesting plant in the window.

This plant, which Seymour cannot identify from any of the books he has, is assumed to be a type of flytrap. He affectionately names it Audrey 2 after the woman of his dreams. People indeed flock to see Audrey 2 and the shop is saved, but at what price? It turns out that this incredible plant has a dark side: the power to make all your dreams come true and a taste for human blood.

The lights come up on a fantastic set designed by Pete Redlon and painted by Lynn Deloughary. It perfectly captures the time and setting on Skid Row and the shop is as desolate and spare as it needs to be to set the mood. The small ensemble led by Sarah Parks starts to crank out the ’50s style rock score and further sets the mood and tone of the show. Hooray to the “costume moms” for making the kids look great and capturing the period dress. Street bums, missionaries, and other Skid Row characters appear on the street, as well as the “Greek chorus” of the show. Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette, played by Naria Ford-Thompson, Cheyanne Njust, and Ann Taylor appear in almost every scene narrating and guiding the story as well as serving as doo-wop style backup in some of the musical numbers. They are quite good and effective in their roles, with special mention going to the vocal chops of Naria.

Mr. Mushnik is played by Cody Wendt. He has a great time with the character and you can feel his energy and love for what he is doing pour off the stage. It is sometimes hard for a high schooler to get into the head of a cranky old man, but Cody is up to the task. Ben Hafer channels his inner Seymour Krelborn delightfully.

A nerdy drop out taken off the streets and raised by Mushnik, he has a way with plants, but the shining star of his universe is Audrey. He raises Audrey 2, fights with his inner conflicts about how to provide sustenance for the plant, and always remains loyal and true to his seemingly unattainable ideal, Audrey. Mara Westman plays Audrey beautifully.

She captures the essence of the character, the accent and high tones of her speech, and her vocals really shine. A fine young actress. Her duets with Seymour are all highlights of the show. They have a chemistry together on stage and their voices blend beautifully. Bobby Proulx is properly menacing as Audrey’s sadistic motorcycle riding boyfriend. He lights up the stage and is hilarious in the song “Dentist.” Great fun. And I would be remiss if I did not take time to talk about an unseen character who truly owns the stage when he speaks.

I’m referring to Stephen Simpler, who voices the demonic Audrey 2. Where does a high school kid get this kind of voice and character and panache? Levi Stubbs, the leader of the Four Tops, set the bar very high when he voiced Audrey 2 in the 1986 film version of Little Shop. And here, in little Gwinn, we find a high school kid who steps up to the plate, accepts that challenge, and blasts a home run. Nicely done.

The Plant. Audrey 2. So. Much. Fun. Most people elect to rent Audrey 2 from one of the many theater companies offering it. In this production, the various Audreys were produced by Jacqueline Hegmegee, Vic Holliday, Emily Kinne, and John Ventline at Northern Michigan University.

The plants in increasing sizes are all fully functional puppets operated by Autumn Hedlund. The largest is capable of swallowing an adult human. The plant is the centerpiece of this show technically and the crew at NMU has nailed it. Hats off, my friends!

There are a lot of musical highlights in the show. The song “Skid Row” really sets the tone and mood and introduces us to the characters and our “Greek chorus”. “Somewhere that’s Green” is a touching number about a life in the suburbs away from Skid Row, a wistful look at a future that seems to be completely unobtainable. “Git It” is great menacing fun as Audrey 2 tells Seymour how his life could be, if he will just give the plant the one thing that he needshuman blood.

And Audrey and Seymour’s work in “Suddenly Seymour” is inspiring. Again, special mention to the band for doing a great job accompanying these young vocalists. Kudos to the Music Director Kathy Strazzinski and Conductor Sarah Parks for a fine job here.

David Dagenais has done a great job directing this ensemble of players and making his production of this show shine.

I always enjoy seeing his work. He has the unenviable task of trying to do theater in one of those ill-conceived “do everything” cafetoriums. In a room that is probably no better as a cafeteria than it is an auditorium, Mr. Dagenais makes magic happen. Not an easy feat.

You owe it to yourself to see this show. There are performances Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. as well as a matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. These kids deserve an audience. And you should have yourself a good time at the theater. You will come away singing the songs and laughing at the fun times.