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.

Americana Theatre Company’s David Friday and Nick Mitchell talk ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’

Over 70 years ago, despair, hardship, hope, and generosity encompassed a holiday tale that quickly became a film classic.  Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story, The Greatest Gift, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life became an annual family tradition for generations and The Americana Theatre Company is bringing back this popular, unique retelling of this beloved story suited to the film’s time period.  With a small cast inhabiting over 40 roles with a Christmas Eve setting, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is performed as a 1940s radio play with a cast of just five actors.  The show runs from Wednesday, December 6 through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.

American Theatre Company cast 2017

A few cast member from Americana Theatre Company’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play’ through December 16 Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

Managing Director of the Americana Theatre Company David Friday and Director Nick Mitchell discuss the inspirational transformation of It’s a Wonderful Life into an interactive, onstage, and in-studio live radio show.

Sleepless Critic:  What I like so much about It’s a Wonderful Life:  A Live Radio Play is the nostalgic 1940s setting fits right in line with the time period of the film.  How did this idea come about?

Nick Mitchell:  Radio plays have taken off and a lot of companies are doing live, mock radio plays by bringing in the effects and the different voices from the actors.  It was only a matter of time before authors got a hold of pieces like It’s a Wonderful Life.  Two different versions of the script are available for It’s a Wonderful Life that is a formatted radio play.  The one we’re using is by Joe Landry who condensed it into anywhere from 40 actors, but five are recommended and five is what we are going with.

SC:  Those five actors will play 40 roles as I understand.

NM:  Yes, indeed.  George Bailey is played by Jesse Sullivan, Emily Turner Marsland as Mary. They play just those roles, but Josh Nicholson, David Friday, and Erin Friday, the Director of Education for Americana Theatre, play everybody else.

SC:  I understand your voices will be enhanced with microphones, sound effects, and there will also be an authentic ‘Applause’ sign.

NM:  The ‘Applause’ sign is funny.  David made this fully working sign.  I kept thinking during the rehearsal process whether it is bright enough for the audience to see it.  However, audiences have responded to it the minute that sign lit up.  It was fun to watch.

It's a Wonderful Life A Live Radio Play

Cast of It’s a Wonderful Life In Studio Photo courtesy of Americana Theatre Company

SC:  It also makes it more interactive for the audience too.

DF:  The opening speech of the show explains to the audience that the broadcast will be in a radio studio.  Other performances of this show have to be done on a large stage and broadcast on the radio to a different venue.  In the opening speech, the announcer says that people at home are going to be able to hear you so laugh, applaud, cry, and it will all be part of the show.  It really tries to get everybody involved including our stage manager.  He can be seen in the production booth window.  We added that nice little twist.

SC:  Have there been any surprises during this show’s run such as unexpected reactions to certain scenes?

DF:  It’s one of my favorite movies of all time.  I see it every year just like most people do and get a little misty when I watch it.  At the end of one evening’s performance, quite a few audience members were crying or very close to it.  It is good for us.  It just tells us we’ve been able to capture the spirit of the original film.

It’s nice and I’ve actually seen a couple of online Facebook comments that people can’t wait to go home and watch it.  They enjoyed the show and want to watch it because the show recaptured something in a way that they have never seen it and want to go back and relate it to what they know.  People even thinking that way is a large victory for us.

SC:  What is the best reason one should come see the production?

NM:  In this digital age, we get entertainment where and when we want it with a push of a button.  I think at this time of year, a show and format like this reminds us to set aside some time with people that mean something to us and be entertained.  In the process, see how many lives we’ve touched in the meantime.

SC:  It’s a live show so anything can happen.

NM:  It will, believe me.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play continues through Saturday, December 16 at Plymouth Center for the Arts, 11 North Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Reserve tickets by clicking here or call 1-508-591-0282. Tickets will also be available at the door.  Follow the Americana Theatre Company of Facebook for more information about this amazing theatre company and future productions.