Friday, April 22, 2011

La Mirada Theatre's Little Shop Of Horrors. Feed Me!


La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts hits a perfect blood-spattered bulls-eye with Little Shop of Horrors, the to-die-for Alan Menken/Howard Ashman spoof of 1950s sci-fi movies playing through May 1st, making it about the best ticket in town right now. If you want to have a really good time, this is the show to see.

The musical is based on B-movie director Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 black comedy that later became a long-running Off-Broadway sensation before it moved to Broadway, although it’s more likely that you know the story from the 1986 film starring Ellen Greene, Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

Seymour Krelbourn, a sweet shlump of a guy, whose low self-esteem pales only in comparison to that of his co-worker, Audrey, discovers a most unusual plant following a total eclipse of the sun. He brings the mysterious new breed of fly trap back to the skid row flower shop where he works and soon “Audrey II” takes on a life of its own, exhibiting an appetite for blood that creates trouble for everyone within its reach.

Brett Ryback, James Royce Edwards and
Lesli Margherita. Photo: Michael Lamont

Fantastic performances from all the actors, a terrific band led by musical director David O. and Brian Kite’s effortless direction make this production light on its feet and a winner in every regard. It’s a very smart take on a crazy story about a talking, singing alien plant with secret plans for world domination. And yes, that’s the one and only Michael A. Shepperd channeling some great B.B. King style blues as Audrey II.

Lesli Margherita has found a near-perfect signature role in Audrey, the platinum haired, lisping, bimbo who will have you in stitches just walking across the stage in her skin-tight dresses, let alone when she tries to get down on the floor and help Seymour clean up. She has impeccable comic timing, and her two big numbers, “Somewhere That’s Green,” (so sweet and endearing) and “Suddenly Seymour,” (played to an almost psychotic high point with Ryback), had the audience screaming. More impressive than that, however, is the honesty and heart she brings to Audrey. She knows her sadistic boyfriend Orin is bad for her but when she justifies their relationship to her friends saying, “he’s the only fella I got” simply, with a slight catch in her throat, you’ll blink back the tears. In less skilled hands the role could, and I bet often does, become mere caricature but Margherita elevates it to something truly special.

Her leading man, Brett Ryback, is a very likeable Seymour, playing against the normal nerdy stereotype and instead bringing a boyish innocence to the role that makes him a nice match for Margherita. He’s adorable, he’s funny, and he gives a thoroughly winning performance all his own, plus he’s also got a lovely voice.

Playing cantankerous flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik, is Broadway veteran Bob Amaral, another genius with comedy (and I loved the "Mushnik and Son" tango), and James Royce Edwards portrayal of Audrey’s nitrous oxide-sniffing dentist boyfriend Orin – that’s Doctor to you – is a pumped up narcissist bordering on the insane. Edwards also gets to showcase a cavalcade of additional characters that get laughs each time the audience realizes it’s the same actor.

Commenting on the action throughout the show is a sassy trio of girl singers named Chiffon (Angela Peel), Crystal (Dominique Paton) and Ronnette (Carey Rebecca Brown) who are a take-off on the girl groups of the 60’s. Fun and fearless, these street smart dreamgirls lay it on thick with attitude as they sing and dance their way in and out of the action to choreographer Dana Solimando’s slick moves.

The 3-D warped comic book feel of Scott Pask’s scenic design combines the grittiness of skid row with the colorful retro feel of the 50’s. William Ivey Long’s costumes add to the fun and Puppeteer Robin Knight operates Audrey, designed by Martin P. Robinson.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 1st at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts. Tickets are available at http://www.lamiradatheatre.com/.  

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