Out of Town

D.C. Plays Host to the Devilishly Adorable Little Shop of Horror

D.C. Plays Host to the Devilishly Adorable Little Shop of Horror

On the twenty-fourth day of the month of October (until the 28th)
In an early year of a decade not too long before our own
The human race suddenly encountered a deadly
Threat to its very existence
And this terrifying enemy surfaced
As such enemies often do
In the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places

Washington, D.C. and for this one moment, it’s a carnivorous plant that we have to be on the lookout for, and not an #OrangeMonster.

Lookout, lookout, lookout, lookout!

You better – Tellin’ you, you better – Tell your mama somethin’s gonna – Get her
She better. Ev’rybody better – Beware!”  Why?  Because Megan Hilty (‘Smash‘) is stealing your heart, realizing one of her big dreams. She’s coming for you at the Broadway Center Stage‘s infectious and fun Little Shop of Horrors which is playing at the Eisenhower Theater at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and although there are far more scary things in D.C. these days than a man-eating plant from outer space, this production, helmed by Mark Brokaw (MTC’s Heisenberg), is a joy to behold.  It’s not a completely slick piece of Broadway theatre ready to hit the main stage, but a paired down semi-staged reading, with the actors holding their script binders, but giving us their all. It reminded me of the fantastic production Hilty starred in with the handsome and wonderful Andy Karlat the NYCC Encores!, Annie Get Your Gun a few years back (2015). And just like that rambunctiously fun production, this rendering of Howard Ashman (book/lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) deliciously camp musical grows and grows, towering up big and strong with each defining moment and unforgettable song, overtaking the theatre with it’s pleasurable acts of world domination.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Josh Radnor, Megan Hilty. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Hilty (RTC’s Noises Off) seems destined by the theatrical gods to play the part made famous by Ellen Greene when she starred in the original production Off-Off Broadway in 1982, before Greene and the show moved to the Orpheum Theatre Off-Broadway, where it had a five-year run. It closed on November 1, 1987, after 2,209 performances making it the third-longest running musical and the highest-grossing production in Off-Broadway history.  Greene further cemented her imprint on the part of the shopgirl with a dream, Audrey, in the celebrated cult-like film directed by Frank Oz in 1988, bringing her squeaky strong voice to the masses world wide. Hilty does her proud, finding that same essence of sweet naiveté in tightly fitted low cut dresses and stiletto heels, while also not sounding like a carbon copy. In act one, she starts the much loved “Somewhere That’s Green” quietly and earnestly, teasing the enraptured audience with what we all know resides within her voluptuous frame. With each beat and line, she grows the song up powerfully making us all want to stand and cheer. And that’s only the beginning of her conquering us all.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Megan Hilty, James Monroe Iglehart. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Music director, Joey Chancey (Broadway’s An American In Paris) brings an original feeling to the classic tunes, especially with the chorus of three street urchins/do-wop ladies giving us 1960’s girl-group sass and spark. The trio, in the talented frames of Crystal, played by Amber Iman (Broadway’s Shuffle Along..), Chiffon, by Allison Semmes (Broadway’s Motown), and Ronette by Amma Osei (Broadway’s Rock of Ages), lift us up from the first warnings of “Lookout?”. Choreographed smoothly by Spencer Liff (Broadway’s Head Over Heels), my only dream with these ladies resides in seeing them get a heightened and more glorious presence on the streets of Skid Row.

I know Seymour’s the greatest,” Hilty sings, “But I’m dating a semi-sadist”, and with Josh Radnor (LCT’s The Babylon Line) in the role of Seymour, we get to bask in all our memories of other Seymours. He does a swell job, rising to the occasion with a greater sense of assurance with each moment of stage.  He couldn’t put to rest my wishful thoughts of having the chance to see Jake Gyllenhaal do the part as he did a few summers back at Encores! (with the magnificent Ellen Greene), but I guess I’ll have to set this thought aside and embrace what Radnor does bring to the role.  It’s a funny piece, the Little Shop, run by Lee Wilkof, Off Broadway’s original Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, now inhabiting the role of Mr. Mushnik. He, with Radnor deliver a clever recreation of what we all are expecting. It’s not the most original portrayal but I’m not so sure we all want that.

Josh Radnor and Nick Cordero_LittleShop_Photo by Jeremy Daniel
Josh Radnor, Nick Cordero. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

Originality in this production, comes most strongly in the creation of the blood-hungry plant, Audrey II, wheeled out in the grand green clad form of James Monroe Iglehart (Broadway’s Genie in Disney’s Aladdin). There is no puppetry this time around, just a smartly transformative costume design by Jen Caprio (Broadway’s Falsettos) that beautifully lets Iglehart’s plant life grow before our very eyes in ways we weren’t expecting. I only wish Caprio’s designs branched out a bit more to the cast, especially the three young girl group members, giving them a bit more snap a little earlier on. The well orchestrated but slightly clumsy set design by Donyale Werle (Broadway’s In Transit), with simple but workable lighting by Cory Pattak (BCS’s In the Heights) crowds the stage, making it feel awkward, keeping us a bit at arms length from the comings and goings. But for a semi-staged production, the inventiveness of all involved is obvious and on well display even in its most chunky of parts. Nick Cordero (Broadway’s A Bronx Tale) heroically plays Orin Scrivello, the demented dentist, and all others in a never ending conveyor belt of creations that must of had the talented man running wild backstage. I wanted more from the ending, a twist on what is expected or known, even if we only have seen the film (I saw a production of Little Shop decades ago when it opened in Toronto at a perfect little theatre on Yonge Street, sometime in the 1908-‘s).

Photo: Jeremy Daniel
Lee Wilkof, Josh Radnor. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

As act two begins, we all can’t help but hold our breath, waiting for the moment that the true star of the evening, Megan Hilty will perform the song of the night.  It’s “Suddenly Seymour” that we really want to see, not so much the campy bloody digestive habits of a plant trying to take over the world, but the show stopping gloriousness of the perfect song done by the perfectly cast singer. It is her voice that is to be remembered, and rightly so, even if it’s a voice from “the gutter. It’s a night spot, I worked there on my night’s off when we weren’t making much money. I’d put on cheap and tasteless outfits, not nice ones like this“. Hilty has nothing to be ashamed of here. She takes this Little Shop of Horrors far from Skid Row, and hopefully it will land her intergalactic marvel of a voice down on Broadway someday soon, reprising this role in a fully fleshed out production, maybe matched by a Seymour of more dimension.  It’s time, Little Shop, to open your doors once again on Broadway, and to take over the world.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel
James Monroe Iglehart, Megan Hilty. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.

So for more, go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Out of Town

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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