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Director bring comedy to the Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors

MIT Musical Theater Guild.

Directed by Sean P. White '96.

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman.

Music by Alan Menken.

Starring Bruce Applegate '94, Cathy Conley '96, Bob Amini '92, and John de Guzman '97.

By Adam Lindsay
Staff Reporter

The Musical Theatre Guild seems to have gotten it right this time with its entertaining production of Little Shop of Horrors. Despite slight deficits apparent in most areas of the production, all of the pieces are present for a fun evening.

The musical is by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the same team that produced the music from Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. It is a dark comedy with horror elements; the songs and much of the humor both parody and romanticize the 1950s backdrop to the horror film plot.

A loser working at a florist's, Seymour (Bruce Applegate '94) is gradually seduced into evil deeds by an animate plant's promises of fame and fortune. He allows himself to be manipulated by his talking plant until the climactic finale, when he gains enough confidence from his success to make a stand and question both his actions and the motives of the plant. Surrounding him are brightly painted characters who both unknowingly encourage his moral descent and stand as obstacles to his evil acts.

These characters are all wonderfully played caricatures. Audrey (Cathy Conley '96) acts as sweet Seymour's romantic ideal, and as such is the catalyst for his descent; the boy seeks success for the sake of her approval. Conley played the bleached blond with archetypical airheadedness. With toes turned in and vacuous expression, she was the most consistent on stage. The simplicity of her performance allowed her character's tragedy to come through. Audrey's solo number, "Somewhere That's Green," lays out her silly vision of an ideal life in suburbia, and Conley's use of a simple, straight singing tone perfectly illustrates the character's nave hopes.

Seymour's chief foils are the greedy shopkeeper (Bob Amini '92), who is the boy's father figure, and Audrey's boyfriend (John de Guzman '97), a sadistic dentist. Amini provided his usual spark and presence in his portrayal of Mushnik, the shop-owner. His Yiddish accent, though generally convincing, sometimes slipped into Russian or otherwise unknown territory. De Guzmn played Orin the dentist with orgasmic glee. His energetic performance was over the top with puttyish facial expressions and prancing about in his character number, "(Son, Be a) Dentist!" In addition, Guzmn was cast as all the other outside agents tempting Seymour with success, providing an interesting statement about the insulated world which we examine for two hours.

Applegate acted Seymour with sufficient charm to make him the object of the audience's sympathies. Like Conley, he provided the requisite innocence of his role, and sang with a similarly plaintive tone. Surprisingly, he was most plagued by balance problems with the orchestra (a perennial issue with MTG) while he was upstage. This problem did not detract much from the overall presentation. Other than the problem of balance, the orchestra was well-led by Co-Music Director Carson Schtze G. The tight combo handled the variety of fifties-style tunes well.

The singing, especially by the female trio (who acted as the chorus, minor characters, and narrators), was solid throughout the small cast. There were very few pitch slips, and they were nearly imperceptible. The efforts of Co-Music Director, Beth Siers '95 are to be thanked for this vocal strength seldom seen in the entire ensemble of an MTG show. The ensemble was a little less accomplished in other areas of the performance. Although the choreography was excellent, there was often a lack of crispness to the movement that brought attention to the amateur nature of the production.

Although first-time director Sean P. White '96 had a good grasp of the basics of the show, and made most moments work, he faltered at key points in the show. Seymour's change into a confident force is weakly realized, and the following dramatic climax when Audrey is attacked by the plant and Seymour comes to her rescue is utterly unconvincing. Fortunately, White makes amends with the astute direction of the plant during the epilogue, threatening the audience by coming directly downstage, a strong move. Although he perceives "Little Shop of Horrors" as a musical tragedy in his director's note, he treats it primarily as a comedy. It is very strong and entertaining as such, but the horror and tragic elements, while prominent in the script and apparently understood by White, are much weaker in this production. The dramatic changes, tragic descent, and desperation that could be richly tapped are not explored in a way that moves the audience. It's not necessary, however, because the show is strong enough in its comedic material.

The technical aspects of the production are also above average for an MTG production. The lights are excellent despite, and perhaps because of, their lack of subtlety, adding caricatured drama when needed. The set was similarly approached, with Mushnik's Flower Shop painted in depressingly gaudy colors.

The real technical hurdle in this show lies in the animated plant. Unlike MTG's still-remembered last production of Little Shop of Horrors, the plant used here was rented from a New Hampshire firm. Thus, professionally made, it is certainly convincing as the alien sort of creature it depicts. The synchronization between the animation and the voice is generally satisfactory, though sometimes spotty. The voice of the plant (Jake Yara '93) is excellently performed, but very poorly reproduced: the singing is often distorted beyond easy recognition because of the quality of the amplification.

Many small imperfections mar MTG's production, though. In a particularly memorable one, a technician was visible during an attempt to control the plant. If one is inclined to ignore these flaws (and with the overall charm of the production, one is indeed so inclined), the show is very satisfying. The Guild wisely chose to do a relatively small, well-written musical, and with an excellent cast the result is a rewarding experience.