“Feed Me.” With just two simple words, a villain is born. Or sprouted, in this case, under curious circumstances during a solar eclipse of the sun. With an immensely talented cast, superb direction, spot-on vocals and expert puppeteering, Players by the Sea’s staging of Little Shop of Horrors is a riotous good time that is out of this world.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is staged through November 18 at PBTS, 106 6th Street N. in Jacksonville Beach (www.playersbythesea.org).
This delightfully campy musical directed by Jocelyn Geronimo is based on the sci-fi Broadway play by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. It stars James Webb III as Seymour Krelborn, the awkward shopkeeper and exotic plant enthusiast at Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop, and Jen Mercer as Audrey, his co-worker and the object of his affection.
Webb’s Seymour is nerdy and endearing, loveable even as he stammers and stumbles his way through his days at the flower shop. But once he discovers a “strange and interesting” new plant species he names the “Audrey II” tucked between the zinnias of a flower market, it sets off a series of events that changes his life forever.
Seymour attempts to nourish Audrey II at the shop fail until a freak accident reveals the plant’s bizarre appetite for blood. People soon flock to the shop for a glimpse of Audrey II that grows from an unassuming little plant into a towering, man-eater with a foul-mouth, a taste for R&B – and human flesh.
A veteran of such Tony Award-winning shows as The Drowsy Chaperone, Fences and The Wiz, his vocal abilities prove an equal match for Mercer’s powerhouse range. She moves effortlessly between the delicately vulnerable “Somewhere That’s Green” to the triumphant understanding that someone could actually care for her in the couple’s duet “Suddenly Seymour.”
Mercer’s Audrey is a dead ringer for the character made famous by Ellen Greene without being a carbon copy. Her mannerisms, hair, wardrobe and even her petite figure fill Greene’s shoes while still managing to cast her own shadow. Mercer is as authentic, believable and a delight to watch.
Matt Barnes is the owner of Mushnik’s Florist on Skid Row, not the most suitable location to peddle flowers and business is in the crapper. Barnes nails the role of Mr. Mushnik with a quiet deference to the original. He’s not as hell bent on selling Seymour up the river for the mysterious disappearance of Audrey’s abusive, nitrous-huffing boyfriend, Dr. Orrin Scrivello, DDS. He does, however, meet a similar fate.
Rodney Holmes, a member of the PBTS education team last seen on stage as Tunny in American Idiot, is deliciously awful in the role of the sadistic dentist. The shiner he leaves on Audrey is nothing compared to the pain he inflicts on his patients. In a role made famous by Steve Martin in the film version, Holmes’ over-the-top in his delivery doesn’t have to steal the scenes. The audience gives them over to him willingly.
Skid Row is also home to a sassy quartet of musical street urchins that provide a doo wop soundtrack to the show’s action. While the film version featured the trio of Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon, Brandon Hines fills the role of the fourth singing sister Shonnelle with sassy aplomb. Hines also serves as the show’s costume designer.
And then there is Audrey II, voiced to perfection by Jazz Zamor, who offers a fresh take on the traditional male role (Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops voiced the blood-thirsty plant in the film version). She effortlessly crosses gender boundaries without losing any of the attitude that make this carnivorous plant such fun to watch.
Puppeteers bring Audrey II to life in the best way possible. When the skillful maneuvering makes you stop looking for the “strings” and regard the puppet as an extension of the cast, the job is done. Choreographed by Ashley Penrod, the overall production quality that PBTS brings to this show is extraordinary.
Fans of the film version are in for a surprise but no spoilers will be revealed here. There is a reason why Little Shop of Horrors is one of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows but there are many reasons why audiences should see this production at Players by the Sea. But whatever you do, DON’T FEED THE PLANT!