REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors (La Costa Theatre)

My, What a Strange and Interesting Play!

 

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La Costa Theatre presents
   
Little Shop of Horrors
 
Book/Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by
Alan Menken
directed by
Dan Sanders-Joyce
Music direction by Ryan Brewster
at
La Costa Theatre, 3931 N. Elston (map)
through July 11th  |  tickets: $25   |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker

I have a confession. Little Shop of Horrors is my favorite musical of all time.

I have loved the play ever since I saw the movie version as a child. I own a VHS copy of the director’s cut of the film, which features an alternate ending that falls more in line with the play, and I have the Little Shop of Horrors Broadway revival cast recording, which for three months straight was the background music for my workout DSC_0494 routine at the gym. So it was with great excitement that I sat down at the La Costa Theatre, which sits above an auto shop, to see Chicago’s most recent rendition of this contemporary classic.

Overall, I can’t say I was disappointed. I think La Costa has planted the seed for an amazing production. But it hasn’t quite blossomed just yet. And if that’s not enough plant metaphors for you, I believe after a few more shows, this production has the possibility of growing into a four-star play.

Little Shop of Horrors takes place in skid row, a dilapidated, impoverished city slum. Mr. Mushnik (Peter Verdico) is the proprietor of an eponymous flower shop that, like most businesses in the neighborhood, is failing.

Mr. Mushnik employs the fragile Audrey (Ashley Bush) and the nebbish Seymour (Jonathan Hymen). Audrey dates a sadomasochistic dentist (Tom Moore) whose pastimes include riding motorcycles and domestic abuse.

Everyone’s life is pretty miserable until Seymour comes upon a strange and mysterious plant that he dubs the Audrey II (voiced by Brian-Alwyn Newland and controlled by puppeteer Paul Glickman). The plant’s mere presence creates a boon for Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop, and Seymour becomes a highly sought after celebrity.

However, Seymour harbors a terrible secret. The plant hungers, and the only thing that can satisfy its ever-growing appetite is human blood. And it demands that Seymour feeds it.

The acting is spot on. Hymen’s Seymour is the quintessential underdog nerd. He’s slouchy, he’s disheveled and he’s meek. Still, Seymour is a very passionate character, especially when it comes to matters of the heart and of ethical decisions, and Hymen transmits this with the required restraint.

Bush’s Audrey isn’t as much of a bimbo as other incarnations that I’ve seen, which is completely acceptable as Audrey isn’t stupid so much as she is incredibly insecure and self-effacing. This is a girl who honestly believes she deserves to be abused. But despite being damaged goods, Audrey is also a hopeless romantic, dreaming of one day living in a suburban home where the furniture is wrapped in plastic. Bush captures this hopefulness and hopelessness. It also doesn’t hurt that she has one of the strongest voices in the cast.

 

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I’m sure it must be very difficult to create a giant, man-eating puppet for the stage. But Glickman, who has years of experience as a puppeteer, has created a remarkable Audrey II. I was blown away by how a small independent theatre company managed to create such an amazing special effect for the stage.

There was a technical downside to the production. The sound quality throughout the play was at best adequate and at worst terrible. The balance of the vocals and the live music was completely off. Often the thump of the bass would drown out all of the singers. Even when no music played, the volume of the actors’ mics varied widely. I had hoped this would have been fixed by the second act, but, to my surprise, it was not.

Also, director Dan Sanders-Joyce didn’t do a very good job of spreading the action throughout the theater. The space is rather large, but much of the actors’ movements are relegated to a small part of the stage. This often leads to poor views for half the audience.

La Costa desperately needs to fix Little Shop of Horrorstechnical glitches. (I suppose you could say they need to nip them in the bud.) Otherwise, the company has well-crafted and entertaining production.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
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REVIEW: Yeomen of the Guard (Light Opera Works)

Delightful singers highlight of sensational ‘Yeomen’

 

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Light Opera Works presents
  
Yeomen of the Guard
 
Words by W.S. Gilbert, music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed and choreographed by
Rudy Hogenmiller
Music direction by
Roger L. Bingaman
Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston (map)
Through June 13 |
Tickets: $32–$98 (under 21, half-price) | more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Gorgeous voices, thrilling music, a terrific 29-piece orchestra and a poignant plot — Light Opera Works’ Yeomen of the Guard has it all.

YEOMEN PHOTO 4Perhaps the most moving of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, Yeomen takes place at the Tower of London, where the dashing Col. Fairfax is imprisoned, due to be beheaded on a trumped-up charge of sorcery. Phoebe Meryll has never met him but is as distraught over his fate as she is disdainful of the attentions of the lovesick jailer Wilbert Shadbolt. Her father, Sgt. Merryll, vows to save the colonel, who twice saved  his life, and with the help of Phoebe and her brother, Leonard, plots to secret Fairfax from the Tower by disguising him as Leonard, an arriving guardsman.

Meanwhile, Fairfax vows to thwart the greedy kinsmen whose false accusation landed him in jail and do him out of an inheritance by marrying before his death. His friend, the lieutenant of the Tower, agrees to find him a bride. When the strolling players Jack Point and Elsie Maynard appear, he tempts them with an offer of 100 crowns if Elsie will wed the doomed man. Jack and Elsie are sweethearts, but since the groom will be beheaded in an hour, they agree.

Then Fairfax escapes, leaving Jack and Elsie aghast that she is now the wife of a fugitive.

Though less whimsical than most of the G&S canon, Yeomen features plenty of wit and humor and one of Sullivan’s loveliest scores. Rudy Hogenmiller directs a strongly traditional interpretation with a cast of stupendous singers.

Company newcomer Sahara Glasener-Boles brings a divine soprano and a saucy demeanor to Phoebe, particularly delicious as she taunts Shadbolt in "Were I Thy Bride." Soprano Alicia Berneche gives us a plaint ive and lyrical Elsie.

Mezzo-soprano Yvonne Strumecki makes a majestic Dame Carruthers, the Tower housekeeper, a patriotic spinster with her eye on Sgt. Meryll.

 

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Alex Honzen creates a hilarious Wilfred Shadbolt, head jailer and assistant tormentor, sardonic and smitten with Phoebe. He mournfully pours out his situation, with a fine baritone, in "When Jealous Torments Rack My Soul," a song Gilbert and Sullivan cut from the original score but which has been restored in this production:

When jealous torments rack my soul,
My agonies I can’t control,
Oh, better sit on red hot coal
Than love a heartless jade.

Dennis Kelly as Sergeant Meryll, Colm Fitzmaurice as Col. Fairfax, Michael Reckling as Leonard and Robert Brady as the lieutenant are also strong.

George Andrew Wolff‘s interpretation of the disappointed Jack Point misses the target a bit. In the early scenes, he seems too stolid, and at the finish he goes overboard into exaggerated bawling. Still, he has a gorgeous voice, and turns out delightful renditions of "I Have A Song To Sing, O!" with Elsie, his solos "I’ve Jibe and Joke" and "Oh! A Private Buffoon is a Light-Hearted Loon," and "Hereupon We’re Both Agreed" with Shadbolt.

While the choreography and staging could be livelier, the brilliant vocals make this a don’t-miss production. If you’re a G&S fan, you’ll love it, and if you’re not, you should be.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
  

 

Note: Free pre-show discussion at selected performances. Photos by Rich Foreman.

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