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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Paper Mill Playhouse


  Jenny Fellner

If our early heat wave has you feeling droopy, Paper Mill Playhouse's zippy production of Little Shop of Horrors just might give you a much-needed lift. The cast is winning, Mark Waldrop's direction is inventive, and the air-conditioning is as refreshing as Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's catchy tunes.

Ashman wrote the clever book and lyrics, while Menken composed the fifties-inspired music. The team also collaborated on Disney's animated blockbuster Beauty and the Beast before Ashman's death in 1991. Little Shop ran for years Off Broadway, and it's easy to see why. The retro songs are terrific, the broadly funny characters give actors plenty to work with, and there's even a singing, man-eating plant. What's not to like?

There's plenty to like in Waldrop's fast-paced Paper Mill staging. For one thing, the girl-group trio-a kind of Skid Row Greek Chorus-nearly steals the show. Choreographer Vince Pesce gives them nifty moves, and Matthew Hemesath outfits them in snazzy costumes. Most important, Montego Glover as Chiffon, Badia Farha as Crystal, and Angela Grovey as Ronnette sing divinely. The whole company makes the Act One anthem Skid Row (Downtown) sound as good as it ever did Off Broadway or on Broadway (in the solid but slightly overblown 2003 production that starred Kerry Butler and Hunter Foster).

Waldrop's young leads look the parts and show off terrific voices while always staying in character. Jenny Fellner plays Audrey, the platinum-blond cutie with the abusive boyfriend. She makes Audrey sweetly vulnerable but isn't afraid to cut loose vocally during her big songs (Somewhere That's Green and Suddenly Seymour). Jared Gertner is a convincingly nerdy Seymour, the flower-shop employee who discovers a strange and interesting new plant, which he names Audrey II. Stephen Berger does a rather unflattering take on Mushnik, the shop owner who adopts Seymour only after Audrey II turns into a moneymaker. And Asa Somers has fun as sadistic, leather jacket-wearing dentist Orin (dubbed leader of the plaque in one of Ashman's priceless lyrics), as well as a bunch of other characters.

Under Waldrop's tight direction, the smooth production flies by almost too quickly. Paul Wonsek's set shifts scenes efficiently and fills the Paper Mill's large stage. Due to a non-Broadway size budget, however, the show's final moment is a bit of a fizzle. To nitpick a bit more, the puppeteer's limbs are sometimes easy to make out once Audrey II becomes a giant man-trap. Also, the theater's amplification could be better -it shouldn't be hard to hear such strong singers over a five-man orchestra. And lastly, why aren't there bios for Ashman and Menken in the program?

Nevertheless, kids and adults will get a kick out of Paper Mill's fun, breezy Little Shop of Horrors. Parents will leave humming the Doo Wop-inspired tunes, while kids will leave talking about the bloodthirsty plant. In other words, a cool time will be had by all.


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