OPRF's 'Little Shop' is a hit, not a horror

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By Doug Deuchler

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If you're up for some fun this weekend, go see the Oak Park and River Forest High School Performing Arts Department's production of Little Shop of Horrors. This touching, hilarious musical about a man-eating alien plant has lots of contagious exuberance. The student cast is especially talented and impressive. And the show itself is a good time, not to mention the price is right: tickets are $10 and $8 for students and seniors. 

Despite a couple of quick vulgarities, this production is totally suitable for middle-school kids who might enjoy seeing the performance and tech possibilities available for them at our high school. Directed by Michelle Bayer, this good-time romp has great energy. The lively '60s-style choreography is by Amber Hooper. 

In the original1982 Off-Off Broadway premiere, Little Shop had a small 9-person cast. This production adds a few more — 17 students in the Little Theater, but not the usual 117 or so typically featured in the big spring OPRF musical extravaganzas staged in the Auditorium. This show works perfectly in the more intimate setting. 

The book & lyrics are by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken (the duo responsible for Disney's Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. Perhaps you'll recall this musical was inspired by a low-budget black-and-white 1960 B-movie of the same title shot in two days by schlock-master Roger Corman.

The score is a marvelous melange of rock, pop, doo-wop, Motown, and Broadway styles. The vocals are clear and well-articulated.

The story takes place in the early 1960s in "Skid Row," a rough New York neighborhood celebrated in an all-cast song where everyone yearns for an escape from their lives of poverty and drudgery.

Especially delightful is a streetwise trio, a chorus of dropouts lovingly named for early '60s girl groups: Patricia Meadors is Crystal, Stacy Harris is Chiffon, and Ayanna Sloan is Ronette. These three belt powerhouse vocals with spot-on harmonies.

Clumsy botanist Seymour Krelborn, played by Rory Schrobilgen, captures the nerdy heart of the character while tapping the dark places from his troubled background.

High-pitched, squeaky-voiced Audrey, a ditsy but lovable fellow flower shop worker, and the object of Seymour's affection, is portrayed by Margot Frank. The actress mixes vulnerability with a wonderfully wacky weirdness. Audrey's stuck in a violent relationship with a self-destructive, sadistic dentist. Yet she dreams of becoming a housewife like June Cleaver or Donna Reed, living in a suburban tract house with all the latest kitchen appliances.

There is great chemistry between the two leads, especially when they sing "Suddenly Seymour," his declaration of love for his co-worker.

Seymour is raising an unusual bit of vegetation that seems to have come from outer space, and when he accidentally pricks his finger, he discovers his plant needs human blood to survive. The plant, which Seymour names Audrey II, garners a lot of attention from customers and reporters. There's one catch, however: The cantankerous plant offers Seymour fame and fortune in exchange for constantly feeding its growing appetite for fresh human blood.

For a while Audrey II begins to solve everyone's problems until Seymour loses control of both himself and his strangely overgrown Venus Flytrap-type looking "monster," a giant, man-eating monstrosity.

Grant Reynolds provides the perfect voice for the evil, blood-thirsty plant.

Noah Kitso is appropriately over-the-top as the abusive, nitrous-oxide sucking dentist Orin Scrivello.

Seymour and Audrey's boss, Mr. Mushnik, well played by Aidan Lenehan, is a sour opportunist who punctuates his comments with Yiddish and is willing to exploit Seymour's newfound fame. 

Pierce Boyd Bagby is a manic media man.

Others in the strong cast include: Ian Duignan, Liam Laughron, Sean Lane, Lizzie Maguire, Ellen Puhalovic, Lucia Rodriguez-Nelson, Thomas Weinhemer, and Sophia Zinger.

As the audience files in, there is a laughable compilation of pre-show, black-and-white, '60s-era, B-movie trailers playing on a screen. Lots of these cheapie films were booked together as double features at drive-in theaters where few folks in their cars were watching the screen, so it did not make any difference if the movies were dreadful. 

Little Shop of Horrors bounces from one musical number to the next. David Luzwick is the musical director. The pit musicians are Daniel Fromberg (guitar), Paul Johnson (drums), Owen Frankel (bass), and Luzwick (keyboard).

Jeffrey Kelly designed the fun '60s costumes and Patricia Cheney created the hairstyles and make-up. The scenic and lighting design is by Jacob Fisher and Teslen Sadowski. The scenic artist is student Allison Sorkin. The Skidrow set, a strip of grey storefronts, includes the Mushnik floral shop which revolves to allow us to see what's going on inside as well as on the street.

The opening night audience totally embraced the production and gave the cast a standing ovation, not only for everyone on stage but also the dozens who "performed" behind the scenes on tech, props, and all.

This production may be participating in the Illinois High School Theatre Festival held "downstage" at Illinois State University in January. But for now, the horror spoof musical is the perfect show for "Spooktober."

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Laura Kitsos  

Posted: October 14th, 2015 9:21 AM

The performance is incredible! We are very lucky to live in a town with a high school theatre program that can rival some professional stages. Go see it!

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