For dark comedy to work well, the actors have to be truly committed. And the cast of THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is certifiable at Orange Park Community Theatre. Considering the proliferation of stock and amateur productions of Little Shop (which have spread across the globe more aggressively than the carnivorous plant species at the center of the tale), not to mention the movie versions, there’s a fair chance that many readers have seen the show before.
The duo of composer Alan Menken and librettist Howard Ashman is largely credited with the Disney renaissance, having also written The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Ironically, Menken’s father was a boogie-playing pianist who was also a dentist. Ashman was only 40 when he died, after which Menken went on to collaborate with many other composers on both Disney and non-Disney films and productions.
If you are not familiar with the show, Seymour (Daniel Starling) and Audrey (Jessica Harris) are assistants at a Skid Row flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Bryon Sparks). Business is lousy. But when Seymour discovers an exotic new plant, which he names Audrey II (puppeteered by Trent Kay and voiced by Kurt McCall), customers flock to see it, buying other plants and flowers as they leave. Seymour hopes his success will impress Audrey I enough to convince her to leave her cruel dentist boyfriend, Orin (Jack Bisson). There’s only one problem: The plant thrives on human blood — and Seymour only has so much to give. As Audrey II grows larger, he realizes that the only way to fulfill his dream is to kill.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS opens on Skid Row, with the girl group of Chiffon (Heather Starling), Crystal (Carolyn Yazdiya), and Ronette (Kailey Haddock) in perfect harmony introducing the “Little Shop of Horrors”. This trio acts as narrators throughout the show, and they are in lock-step all the way. The rest of the cast joins as the company sings “Skid Row”, and this company rivals any chorale.
Starling and Harris make an adorable couple as a geek and a dumb-ish blonde. We believe Starling crushing on Harris, while Harris is in love with an abusive dentist. Their “Suddenly Seymour” duet is just beautiful, and they make it easy to forget we’re watching a spoof of the horror genre. McCall, with his deep tones behind the threatening Audrey II, brings that gory backdrop home.
Then there is Orin, the dentist. Bisson plays the character so comedically over-the-top but disturbing (in a good way) that you might want to applaud as he gasses himself and gets fed to Audrey II. As the shop owner, Sparks arcs his character well from a nothing to a successful businessman who makes the mistake of threatening the beleaguered Seymour, sealing his fate as plant food.
The rest of the cast plays a variety of roles, and they lend humor and fun across the board.
THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is at Orange Park Community Theatre June 2nd-25th, 2023. Tickets are $25. For reservations or information, go to opct.info or call (904) 276-2599.
By Cessy Newmon