by Gail M. Burns, May 2006
It is no secret that Little Shop of Horrors is one of my very favorite musicals, a love I share with my son Brandon, who accompanies me to every production within reasonable driving distance. This was how I ended up attending my first ever Dorset Players production, an experience I enjoyed immensely. The Dorset Players are unabashedly a community theatre, which is a fine thing. Their productions provide an outlet for people who love the theatre but who aren’t and won’t ever be “professionals” to kick up their heels and have fun. There are some decidedly amateur moments in this production of Little Shop... notably in the casting of the three “back-up singers” who provide a Greek chorus commentary throughout the play, but there is also a lot to like.
Because the first few minutes of the show belong to the back-up singers – Ronette (Keating Godfrey), Chiffon (Dana Haley), and Crystal (Courtney Lemenuze) – the production gets off to a weak start. While other cast members are miked, these girls are not, and they should be. Lemenuze, unfortunately, is often off-key, but Godfrey and Haley have nice voices and all three make a good effort with tricky melodies and harmonies.
But things pick up as the other actors are introduced (there are only nine in the cast, including the puppeteer). It took me a while to figure out that director Sammi Lemonik had directed the whole show in a larger than life, cartoonish style, and once I settled in to her groove, instead of trying to make her vision agree with mine, I enjoyed myself immensely. There is a certain poignancy to playing this show super-realistically, but playing it broad (but not slapstick) also works well.
Let it be said that Leif Erickson is a fabulous Seymour. While the character is often played as the innocent and righteous hero, Seymour is in fact a mean and grasping little man who needs little encouragement to commit murder to get what he wants. Erickson played those aspects of the character exceptionally well, and his energetic singing and purposefully uncoordinated dancing were the icing on the cake.
He is paired with the impossibly beautiful Krista Cornell as Audrey. I mention Cornell’s physical appearance, which is slender, blonde, cheerleader-style perfection, because it almost works against her here. Sure, Audrey is almost universally played as she was by Ellen Greene in the original off-Broadway production, as a blonde bimbo, but in an exaggerated way, not a natural one. Greene is also a beautiful woman, but she required a wig, lots of make-up, and several alarming foundation garments to transform herself into Audrey. I would have tarted Cornell up a bit, used heavier make-up, a fierce push-up bra, and, yes, a wig, and I would have shortened all her skirts by about six inches. As it was she looked like a real person, albeit a very pretty one, in a cartoon world.
Looks aside, Cornell gives a winsome and delicate performance, and she sings beautifully. I wish Lemonik had not staged the beautiful ballad Suddenly Seymour so close to the almost-off-stage band because Erickson and Cornell’s mikes picked up the sound and became harder to hear above the music. That should be a moment for Seymour and Audrey to shine vocally, and instead it became all about the musicians.
Bob Fry was one of the funniest Mushniks I have ever seen, and I enjoyed hearing his big voice on Mushnik and Son. Percy d’Arcy Langstaff was likewise hilarious as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., and in the variety of walk-on roles assigned to the third male member of the cast. He looks lovely in drag, and is an excellent hip-swiveller.
Audrey II, the people-eating plant, is portrayed by four increasingly large puppets, here operated by a lone puppeteer, Mary Murphy, which is a brave move since operating the two larger puppets is tremendously physically demanding, and one voice artist, Mark McChesney. Most productions I have seen, amateur and professional, use at least two puppeteers, and Murphy is to be commended for her stamina. McChesney goes the plant a powerful vocal presence, and his singing is coordinated well with the on-stage singers. (Its not easy to sing in synch with someone you can’t see!) Kudos to sound designer Seth Frank and his crew.
While the puppets are clearly “homemade” there is no puppet designer credited in the program, which makes me suspect that the Dorset Players borrowed or rented these from another academic or community theatre, a prudent move since constructing them would be costly in terms of time and money. Unfortunately, these are particularly lumpy and amateurish looking puppets. To put it bluntly, they look like giant cauliflower, and I find it hard to feel intimidated by enormous side-dishes. This is especially sad since I recently saw a high school production with the most glorious Audrey II’s I had ever clapped eyes on, designed by local artists and built by students and volunteers, which proves that the task can be accomplished by amateurs on a small budget.
That the Dorset Players would have been up to the challenge is evident from the clever and versatile set designed by Lemonik and Errol Hill, based on an original design by Bill Aupperlee. Lemonik has collaborated with Angie Merwin on the smooth and professional lighting design. Many people are listed as working to create and operate the physical aspects of the show, something in which they should take great pride.
Suzi Dorgeloh designed the costumes, in which the men fare better than the women. I would have loved to have seen a few more costume changes for the back-up singers, and, as mentioned before, Audrey’s look could have been slightly more exaggerated.
Lilia Brown choreographed the fun and not-too-demanding dance numbers, notably Langstff’s Elvis turn on Dentist! and Seymour’s down and dirty moves on Feed Me.
A three piece band - Scott Moore, guitar; Glen Hueckel, woodwinds; and Jeff McRae, drums - is led by Musical Director Linda Hueckel. For my taste they could have picked up the tempo on several numbers, and, although no keyboard is credited, there were times I could have sworn I heard that awful sound of a synthesizer set somewhere between "Soap Opera" and "Roller Rink." I hope it was only my vivid imagination.
The Dorset Players' production of Little Shop of Horrors runs weekends through May 28 with Friday and Saturday night performances at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. at the Dorset Playhouse on Cheney Road in Dorset, VT. The show runs two hours and is suitable for ages 8 and up (younger children will find Audrey II very scarey!) Tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for children 18 and under. For reservations and information please call the box office at 802-867-5777
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2006