REVIEW: With a double dose of vintage flair, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ will make audiences thirsty for more

This sad little flower shop on Skid Rowe holds a secret.

Tattered, lesser known movie posters such as ‘Mothra,’ ‘Planet of the Vampires,’ and ‘Attack of the Puppet People’ strewn fervently on brick, graffiti-covered walls provide is just a hint of the zany, B-movie glory that opens Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s 45th season with retro sci-fi musical comedy, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continuing through Sunday, October 6 at Lyric Stage in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

From the inventive special effects to the fascinating, ‘blooming’ set,’ Lyric Stage makes two things abundantly clear:  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.

‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ based on Jack Cullier’s 1932 story Green Thoughts, went on to become a cult classic, featuring actors such as Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, and John Candy stepping into its various film adaptations.  A remake is in the works as it marks its 60th anniversary in 2020.

It’s a seemingly simple tale about young love on Skid Rowe in a fledgling flower shop that houses a curious, unique breed of plant.  Some critics have compared it to the daring tone of the cult classic, ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show,’ but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

Lyric Stage's Little Shop of Horrors Trio

From L to R: Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Carla Martinez as Ronnette, and Lovely Hoffman as Crystal Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Janie E Howland’s vivid, transformative set is remarkable right down to its carefully timed shop bell.  Not only does it pay homage to vintage films of its time, but ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is packed with 50s and 60s references such as ‘I Love Lucy,’ Howdy Doody, Donna Reed, and Betty Crocker.

Before going any further, let’s start with that Greek Chorus.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, have a catchy, rock n roll vibe including tunes that pay tribute to 60s girl groups.  From casual street garments to flashy glam, these three electrifying vocalists certainly know how to make an entrance.  Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal and Carla Martinez as Ronnette are a tough, humorous, and street-smart trio who unveil the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

Lyric Stage Little Shop Remo Airaldi Dan Prior Katrina Z Pavao and Jeff Marcus

L to R: Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik, Dan Prior as Seymour, Katrina Z Pavao as Audrey, and Jeff Marcus as a customer Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts with a cast that has increasingly complicated motives.  Wearing black-rimmed glasses, a baseball cap, and fervently wiping his brow, Dan Prior gives real heart to Seymour, a sympathetic, yet conflicted botanist.  With an anxious demeanor and a light city accent, Prior emphasizes Seymour’s inherent, inescapable loneliness as he struggles to remain forthright and honest as the show progresses.  He shines in the darkly tender number Grow for Me and in his awkward adoration for trusting and frequently unlucky Audrey, portrayed wonderfully with plucky charm by Katrina Z Pavao.  In a particularly comical moment, Seymour hopes to take Audrey to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”

Pavao’s lovely soprano vocals carry a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in a funny and tender rendition of Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour in a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Lyric Stage 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr Mushnik

Dan Prior as Seymour and Remo Airaldi as Mr. Mushnik Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Disheveled and desperate in an old cardigan, Remo Airaldi takes on the role of frustrated flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik.  Having delivered a deliciously dark comedic turn as Ben in Lyric Stage’s ‘The Little Foxes,’ Airaldi once again delivers a dark and memorable performance.  He is especially clever with Dan Prior as Seymour for the manipulative and comical number, Mushnik and Son.

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Carla Martinez Pier Lamia Porter Lovely Hoffman and Jeff Marcus

From L to R: Carla Martinez as Ronnette, Pier Lamia Porter as Chiffon, Lovely Hoffman as Crystal, and Jeff Marcus as Orin Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

Jeff Marcus brings out his campy, satiric best in several roles including a no-holds-barred performance as Orin, a belligerent, narcissistic biker dentist punctuated with a howling, maniacal laugh.  Marcus and Prior are particularly fun to watch, playing well off each other in the number, Now (It’s Just the Gas). 

Lyric Stage's 'Little Shop of Horrors' Dan Prior as Seymour and Audrey II

Dan Prior as Seymour and Yewande Odetoyinbo as Audrey II Photo credit to Mark S. Howard/Lyric Stage Company of Boston

However, the real spectacle is  Audrey II, the sly, soulful plant that changes everything.  With versatile and grimly wise vocals by Yewande Odetoyinbo, inventively manipulated by Tim Hoover, and skillfully designed by Cameron McEachern, Audrey II is a comical, extraordinary specimen right down to her bright colors and shiny, dangling teeth.  Audrey II is handled in such an innovative, natural, and majestic way, the results are truly mesmerizing.

Directed and choreographed by Rachel Bertone, Lyric Stage’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through October 6 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon Street in Boston, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets and here for what is coming up during Lyric Stage’s 45th season.

Acclaimed producer Sue Gilad talks Tony nominations, girl power, and heartwarming musical, ‘A Taste of Things to Come’

From the award-winning Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 to Angels in America, renowned theatre producer Suzanne Gilad has an eye for the next big show.  Boasting an array of memorable tunes, Sue’s current musical project, A Taste of Things to Come, has been described as Jersey Boys meets Betty Crocker meets the 60s feminist movement.  It takes the stage at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse through April 29.

A Taste of Things to Come poster

Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

Sue discusses getting Tony nominations, bringing A Taste of Things to Come to Chicago, and Turtle Wax.  Click here for more information and tickets to A Taste of Things to Come.

Sleepless Critic:  You are involved in a number of well known projects such as Angels in America, Madame Butterfly, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, and upcoming project, The Other Josh Cohen.  What first brought you into the theatre world?

Sue Gilad:  I was a performer a long time ago and then started doing voice overs, which took me down a completely separate and fun path.  A few years ago, a friend created a show and asked me if I would help shape it.  I discovered being a producer meant that I could be responsible and still have a life. We get to be creative in terms of what kinds of work we bring to the public to see and hopefully open their minds and hearts.  It made sense and there are still relatively few female producers in the business, although that is changing.  There is a lot of growth for that.

I would jump Broadway projects as a co-producer and that is what is happening with the recently opened Angels in America.  People ask me if they can meet Andrew Garfield who delivers a tremendous and transformative performance in the show.  I’ve never seen him like that.

SC:  What was it like for you when Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812 got multiple Tony nominations?

SG:  It was such a big honor that the show received the most Tony nominations of any show last year.  The best part about getting the nominations was The Great Comet was a big creative risk.  I don’t think anyone thought it was going to be on Broadway with its tiny stage and cast.  When it was at the American Repertory Theatre (A.R.T) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Diane Paulus wanted to take the show which was in the round and remount it into proscenium theatre.  She did to great acclaim and it became an immersive production, unlike anything Broadway has ever seen before.

A Taste of Things to Come women

Libby Servais (Broadway: Wicked, Lysistrata Jones), Cortney Wolfson (Broadway: The Addams Family, Les Miserables) Broadway’s Linedy Genao (On Your Feet! Original Broadway Cast), Marissa Rosen (Off-Broadway’s The Marvelous Wonderettes) Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

 

SC:  A Taste of Things to Come has an all female crew.  Was it planned that way?

SG:  Dare I say that the women were the most qualified for the job?  A Taste of Things to Come, written by Hollye Levin and Debra Barsha, is based on Hollye’s experience of her mom and a part of it tells the story of the life her mom had growing up.  Then director Lorin Latarro came onboard when the show debuted at Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania.  Everybody loved her and she brings tremendous things to the show.

The show features four women that age from age 25 in 1957 to age 35 in 1967.  Everything blows open in the beginning of Act 2 when they are 10 years older and wiser with more opportunities for women and delicious secrets about race, religion, and sexuality which is not something you really talked about in the 1950s.  By the 1960s, there was a real space for it.  You get to see these women’s journeys during an incredible moment in history.

SC:  What was it about A Taste of Things to Come that grabbed your attention?

SG:  I saw a rehearsal or reading of this show and loved it.  It gave me the opportunity to articulate my gratitude to the generation before me that broke through so many glass ceilings I didn’t even know existed.

Women of that generation either didn’t work or they became teachers and nurses so my generation can become doctors and superintendents.  Then my kids’ generation can do whatever they want for work or nothing for work.  It’s just extraordinary and gave me a window into the past.  I can share it with my mom and, if I wanted to, bring my teenage daughters to it.  It’s a celebration of friendship, solidarity, and kind of interestingly timed with the advent of the ‘me too’ and ‘times up’ movement that women in their time also had to take a stance for things that were beyond their comfort zone or what was socially acceptable at the time.

A Taste of Things to Come cast

The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  The New York Times has described A Taste of Things to Come as ‘a recipe for catchy musical theatre.’  Please tell me a little about the music and your favorite songs.

SG:  Composer Debra Barsha worked on Jersey Boys on Broadway for ten years so it starts out with the popular tunes of the 1950s.  Ten years later, things become a lot groovier and it had a really distinctive 60s sound.  My favorite song has been shifting as I get to know it better, but today I love the song, Blessings in Disguise.  It’s a testament to the things we think will challenge us which are actually the things that make us stronger and give us unexpected gifts.  My other favorite song is In Time, the final song of the show.  The entire cast sings it and they look back at what they have been through together as individuals and as a group of friends.  The best things happen in time.

SC:  What has it been like putting the show together?

Since the show is set in Winnetka, A Taste of Things to Come is making its home in Chicago.  It’s been fun listening to the audio discs during previews because of the way the audience giggles with any Winnetka or Chicago reference.  We were very lucky to get New York Broadway actresses but we also have an understudy that can swing all four roles.  Madison Kauffman is a Chicago native who just graduated from college.  She came in for the first day of rehearsal completely off book for all four roles.  Her level of excitement and passion is so thrilling.

A Taste of Things to Come Chicago cast

The cast of ‘A Taste of Things to Come’ Photo courtesy of Broadway in Chicago

SC:  What kind of support is the show looking for?

SG:  We have a great sponsor based out of Chicago called Turtle Wax.  It is in the script because it was wax that men were using in 1957 for their cars.  We would be open for Chicago-based companies to sponsor the show because we do have a wonderful, primarily female, well-educated audience.

SC:  What is in store for the future of the show?

SG:  We have wonderful theatres interested in having the show at their theatre so we might take the show on tour.  Then we’re hoping to get it licensed so every school, regional theatre, community, and worldwide theatre can perform it and share the victories of womanhood.

A Taste of Things to Come continues at the Broadway Playhouse in Chicago through April 29.  Click here for more information and for tickets.  Follow A Taste of Things to Come on Facebook and Twitter.

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