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.

Go green with Cohasset Dramatic Club’s sci fi horror comedy musical ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Cohasset Dramatic Club’s comedy horror rock sci fi musical, Little Shop of Horrors, offers two very important life lessons.  Don’t feed the plants and everyone’s life should be narrated by a streetwise, Greek chorus.  Punctuated by the sweet, sassy sounds of female Greek chorus trio Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, Cohasset Dramatic Club opened its 98th season with Little Shop of Horrors in all of its zany, outrageous glory on the Cohasset Town Hall stage in Cohasset, Massachusetts continuing through Sunday, November 18.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors cover

Directed by Lisa Pratt, ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ continues through November 18! Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

Little Shop of Horrors, based on John Cullier’s short story Green Thoughts from 1932, has gone on to become a cult classic, with 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 celebrates 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 compare it to the campy tone of the another cult classic, Rocky Horror Picture Show, but Little Shop of Horrors offers a more subtle brand of campy charm.

The show has a gift for funny, ironic contrasts right down to the bright, cheerful set design by Mark Bono with scenic artist Denise Feeney.   An ode to vintage 50s films of its time, Mr. Mushnik’s beautiful and pastel Floral Shop front seems hardly a place that belongs on Skide Row or Gutter as the name of a bar.  With few exceptions, the music, with lyrics by award-winning composer Alan Menken, has a catchy, rock n roll vibe, some tunes an ode to 60s girl groups.  From plaids to shimmering gowns, Colleen Craig as Chiffon, Michelle Margulies as Crystal and Cara Lee Chamberlain as Ronnette form a taut, humorous, street-smart trio, unveiling the real ins and outs of Skid Rowe through harmony, kicking it off with the catchy, signature track, Little Shop of Horrors.

With a distinctive, comedic voice and dark reading glasses, Jonathan Markella is a natural as Mr. Mushnik.  Shrewd, sensible, and a bit dour, Markella’s take on the firm, yet fidgety Mr. Mushnik is a memorable one.  He showcases his comedic chops best with Jordan Reymolds as Seymour in the clever number, Mushnik and Son.

Cohasset Dramatic Club Little Shop of Horrors Seymour

Jordan Reymolds as Seymour and Audrey II Photo courtesy of Cohasset Dramatic Club

With black glasses and a sweater vest, Jordan Reymolds is splendid as Seymour, a sympathetic, conflicted botanist.  With a bit of a crackly speaking voice and a light city accent, he is ever the shy, unassuming nerd that actor Rick Moranis stepped into in the 1986 film adaptation.  He shines in the darkly tender number, Grow for Me and his awkward adoration for Audrey, portrayed with stylish, effervescence by Adina Lunquist, exudes comic charm, at one moment he’s hoping to take her to “a fancy dinner at Howard Johnson’s.”  Linquist is wonderful, her silvery soprano vocals carrying a lullaby or a soulful belt with equal skill.  She shares her simple, 50s domestic dreams in Somewhere That’s Green and with Seymour who deliver a powerful rendition of Suddenly Seymour.

Brendan Smith rises to the occasion playing several roles including the outrageous, narcissistic biker dentist.  Having portrayed The Monster in Young Frankenstein, his pliable, animated features master a multitude of roles in stride.

The real spectacle is Audrey II, the sly soulful plant that changes everything.  With deep, soulful, animated vocals that harness a bit of Elvis and Robin Williams and skillfully manipulated by Mike Nakashima whose theatre history includes a part in Cohasset’s Avenue Q, Audrey II is an impressive specimen right down to its shiny, dangling teeth.

Directed by Lisa Pratt, Cohasset Dramatic Club presents Little Shop of Horrors through Sunday, November 18 at Cohasset Town Hall, 41 Highland Avenue in Cohasset, Massachusetts.  Click here for more information and tickets.  Learn more about Cohasset Dramatic Club by following on their Facebook page.

Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford talks 40th anniversary, ‘Ragtime’, and the theatre’s exciting future

Underneath a tent on a bright summer day, Company Theatre’s co-founder Zoe Bradford, enthusiastic and smiling, has a lot to celebrate.  The award-winning Company Theatre is as busy as ever as they prepare to open their 40th season with beloved musical, Ragtime   July 27.  Click here for more information and tickets.

Zoe reflects on how Company Theatre has evolved over the years and her extraordinary vision for the future which goes well beyond their 2.3 acres in Norwell, Massachusetts.

Sleepless Critic:  Congratulations on Company Theatre’s 40th anniversary. Even in the last five years, so much has happened from the upgraded, painted theatre with new seating to new, original productions.  Please tell me more about that.

Zoe Bradford:  Now that the theatre is beautiful, we’re envisioning the potential of our outdoor property.  We’ve done a lot with Academy of the Company Theatre (A.C.T.) having an expanded outdoor stage and new pavilion.  Our growing summer program is currently at capacity with 200 kids.  Not only do we need more space and with everybody addicted to their screens, I believe in getting kids outside.  We now have a path to the pond front and we’re holding classes there for water coloring and creative writing.

Freedom for creative expression has been the key for me, so I know it is the key for them.  It’s why I desperately wanted my own theatre and thank God it happened.  It’s not stimulating to work in the confines of another person’s building or organization.  That’s one of the draws here.

Company Theatre's Paragon Park cast

The 2012 ‘Paragon Park’ cast, photo courtesy of Company Theatre

SC:  The original musical Paragon Park took place in 2012.  Are there any original shows you are working on?

ZB:  Michael Hammond and I loved working on Paragon Park together and we want to do another one.  We’re bookending our 40th anniversary with the start of Ragtime and ending summer to summer with a revival of Paragon Park in 2019 as opposed to the season running January to December.

Paragon Park will be the pinnacle of our 40th celebration with a wonderful night of dinner and dancing at Nantasket Beach Resort in Hull.  Preceding that will be a VIP cocktail reception where guests can go on the Carousel and ride the ponies if they wish.  Then we’ll trolley to the hotel for celebration and fundraising.

Company Theatre's original production, 'Paragon Park'

TV personality Scott Wahle with ‘Paragon Park’ cast The Company Theatre’s will reprise its original production of Paragon Park the Musical, which premiered in 2012, image by Zoe Bradford

We’ll also have an outdoor VIP cocktail reception before opening Ragtime and featuring the Model T Ford, which is integral to Ragtime’s story.  It looks like the real thing, built exactly to scale.  Bob Grazioso, who has since retired from technical director but is still active at Company Theatre, built the Model T Ford when we did the show in 2003.  The Ford Motor Company wanted to buy it from us, but we kept it because we wanted to do the show again.

Ragtime's Booker T. Washington with the Statue of Liberty

Todd McNeel Jr. of Boston as Booker T. Washington in ‘Ragtime’ Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  When you revive a show like Ragtime, what kind of changes do you make?

ZB:  Life happens.  My thinking has evolved from 2003 to 2018 just from life experience and I have approached Ragtime differently than I did then.  We have three actors reprising their roles and 40 cast members who all feel it is a different experience than last time.

We did Ragtime in 2003 because there are strong, underlying themes of racism in the early 1900s and our attitude was thank God this is all behind us.  Now this show has never been needed more.  Shockingly, things have gone backwards and we have to speak out.  Being a huge sympathizer of Black Lives Matter and having a black adopted daughter puts a lot of things into perspective.

Back then, immigration was sort of in the forefront of the news, but not like it is today.  The show is about immigrants, which is about America and coming to America.

My passion lies in great storytelling.  Ragtime is a prevalent, uplifting show with three beautiful, intertwining stories involving a Jewish immigrant and his daughter, a New Rochelle family, and jazz musician Colehouse Walker Jr. who buys the Model T.  It’s a moving, relatable show about family, choosing family, and acceptance.  It also has a brilliant score and we have a fifteen piece live orchestra.  In my long theatre career, Ragtime is one of my top three shows.  People will leave feeling good.

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(L to R) Finn Clougherty, Jillian Griffin, Cristian Sack, Hannah Dwyer as Little Girl, Michael Hammond as Tateh, Barbara Baumgarten, Brenna Kenney, Melissa Carubia as Emma Goldman (on soapbox), Hilary Goodnow Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Period pieces can be difficult from costuming to the fine details and Ragtime must be a monster to put together.

ZB:  It’s challenging, but we have our costumer Bree Plummer.  We would love to have her as a resident, but she is also a teacher so we get her when we can.  I work with a great team of designers including Ryan Barrow and James Valentin to make the most beautiful show possible.  We love period pieces because we can make it interesting.

I’m trying to let others set design because people have to carry the legacy on just in case.  I probably won’t ever retire, but will let people take over certain aspects.  As I let some things go, I plan to write more.

Company Theatre's  2018 'Ragtime'

(L to R) Hannah Dwyer of Scituate as Little Girl with Michael Hammond of Holbrook as her father Tateh Photo courtesy of Zoe Bradford

SC:  Spring Awakening also took place in the last five years, another daring show.

ZB:  I didn’t cut it, though it was handled carefully.  Though it happened in a different era, the themes are also relevant today and people need things they can relate to.  I also love a good score.  Steve Bass came on in 2016 and we’ve made him our resident Music Director and may keep him on indefinitely.  He’s a young, brilliant pianist and has his PhD from the Conservatory.

Company Theatre's musical, Spring Awakening

Company Theatre’s 2014 musical, ‘Spring Awakening’  Photo courtesy of The Company Theatre

SC:  You once said you chose popular shows that sell, but in the last few years, The Company Theatre has been delving into unchartered waters a bit.  Last year was haunted with Carrie the Musical and Lizzie Borden.

ZB:  It’s financially difficult to do that, but we are trying to give the young people what they want.  Lizzie Borden went well because people love local history and some said they have been to her house.  A gruesome tale, but it was also a nice psychological thriller.

We changed a little how we choose our shows, but we still have to please our general audience and offer something for the family, something mature, and our team knows their demographic well and what will be successful.

I’m passionate about big musicals and there’s nothing like the thrill of a live orchestra.  People in the professional theatre world, mentors, and colleagues say they will put eight pieces in here and do a lot of synthetic and prerecord.  You can make a lot of money that way, but we can’t do that.  Michael Joseph said that is standard while he was here and we’ve maintained it.

SC:  What shows do you still dream of doing?

ZB:  I’d love to do Wicked, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and I’m also waiting to do Mamma Mia!  We’ll get to it.  It’s all about rights and I’m sure there are new shows coming out that I’d love to get my hands on.

As a non-profit, whatever comes in has to support what we are doing and help us be self-sustaining.  Grants, gifts, and tax deductible donations are the key.  We have better opportunities for community support such as new packages for corporate sponsorship due to having higher end computer capabilities, a better website, and a brand new ticketing service that allows people who wish to support us to advertise.

SC:  What has been your most challenging musical?

ZB:  The Wizard of Oz because the movie is a masterpiece and any derivation from the film would be a disappointment for those who truly love it.  People would fight me on that, but if you take on The Wiz, you can do what you want because no one has a preset notion of it.  The Wiz was recently in Boston and the star of Ragtime portrayed the Wizard.

SC: What advice would you give someone taking on a business in theatre or similar?

ZB:  It’s highly competitive.  Know your vision, don’t give up, and try to think of something that someone else hasn’t already thought of.  Be fresh and original when you can and make sure people know of your existence without being obnoxious about it.  We still struggle with it.  Some people say they didn’t know a theatre is here.

The Company Theatre logo

Company Theatre’s logo, a design Zoe Bradford hand drew 40 years ago

SC:  What do you envision for the Company Theatre’s future?

ZB:  We have to keep growing and in our 40th year, we are finally setting up the Legacy Fund.  Our money rolls in and out with the tide as any non-profit would, but we’re actively fundraising to ensure another 40 years and beyond.

For the last ten years, I’ve wanted to design a new logo.  I remember sitting at a little drafting table back in the 70s and hand drew it when we didn’t have any money or resources.

With art being cut in classrooms and attending theatre in Boston can be so expensive, we’re looking to keep this going so it’s accessible for everyone and expand.  I can see us taking on more property and A.C.T. quadrupling over the next ten years.  We’re not a community theatre anymore, but a year round professional and we’ll evolve again.  We provide many jobs for people, but the other part of my vision is to create more jobs for artisans in the area.  The more people that are working and inspiring people, the better.

Click here for tickets or call the box office at 781-871-2787.  Located at 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts, click here on how to support the Company Theatre and be sure to follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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