When Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park announces a musical, I get excited. Sometimes they are rocking like “Low Down Dirty Blues.” Sometimes they are sweet like “Tenderly.” Sometimes they are bizarre, like “Cabaret.”
And sometimes they are rocking, sweet, and bizarre. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is all three. Add crowd-pleasing, smartly-directed, hilariously-performed, and musically pitch-perfect, too. What a fantastic and fun night of theatre.
For those of you who don’t know the story: Amateur botanist Seymour works at a failing flower shop, owned by Mr. Mushnick. Audrey is the other employee and she’s got chronically low self-esteem, which causes her to date abusive losers like Orin, a sadistic dentist. Seymour discovers an unusual plant, which draws huge crowds, boosting business big time. Unfortunately, the plant needs human blood to survive.
As you might imagine, things take a dark turn once we’re towards the end of Act One.
“Seymour” is played by the magnificent Nick Cearly. Audiences may remember him as the lead character in “Buyer and Cellar” at Ensemble Theatre awhile back. Or you may know him from his unique, racy duo act, “The Skivvies.” He’s an incredible singer, a gifted performer, and a wildly charismatic guy. And he’s perfect. His timing, his physicality, and his overall energy should make the city of Fairfield proud (he’s a native.)
Joining him in the hilarity is the versatile Jamison Stern. Stern plays multiple roles, getting great audience response, and finding enough nuance in each to mine through truth to achieve maximum comedy. Also very good David Meyers as “Mr. Muchnik,” who is authentic and believable as the frustrated and then suspicious shop-owner.
Gina Milo as “Audrey,” has a voice that soars especially on the gospel-infused ballad “Suddenly Seymour.” She is heart-breaking in her vulnerability. You can’t help but root for her and Seymour as they begin to fall in love. The cast is rounded out by a Greek chorus of divas, who bring texture and flavor to the show with their observations and tight vocal harmonies. Ebony Blake, Alexis Tidwell, and Johari Nandi are entertaining. Finally, there’s the voice of the plant, magnificently portrayed by Chaz Rose. His characterization is perhaps one of the most surprising elements of the production.
The band is led by local artist Steve Goers and they sound tight, energetic, and professional. The sets, costumes, and puppets are all top-notch, and the lighting and sound design are as good as you would expect from this quality of theater company.
I went in mildly skeptical that this popular and oft-performed production could meet my expectations. I left smiling, tapping my toes, and thrilled for the fine folks at the Playhouse.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORORS plays through February 19th at the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park. Click here for more information. While it may be tempting to bring your small children, be aware that the show does feature mature themes and dark comedy. That said, there were several young people in the audience on opening night and they seemed to handle things in stride.