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Paulanne Simmons

"Little Shop of Horrors" Is Open Again

at the Paper Mill Playhouse

Badia Fahra, Montego Glover and Angela Grovey in "Little Shop of Horrors" by Mark Waldrop. Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

"Little Shop of Horrors"
Directed by Mark Waldrop
Paper Mill Playhouse
22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ
From June 4, 2008
Wed 7:30 p.m., Thurs. 2 & 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 and 8 p.m. Sun. 2 & 7:30 p.m.
$25 - $52 (973) 376-4343 or www.papermill.org
Closes July 6, 2008
Reviewed June 22, 2008

Everyone knows how children and animals can upstage even the best actor. But in Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "Little Shop of Horrors," actors have to beware of Audrey II, the voracious plant that dominates the set and eventually takes over the world.

Fortunately, the cast in Paper Mill Playhouse's revival, under Mark Waldrop's imaginative direction, is never overwhelmed by Audrey II, Martin R. Robinson's fantastic puppet, or the show's many special effects created by set designer Paul Wonsek, lighting designer Ben Stanton and sound designer Randy Hansen.

"Little Shop of Horrors," based on Roger Corman's 1960 sci-fi comedy, is a production team's dream. It features smoke rolling down the isles, projections, strobe lights, a trap door, and of course, that wonderful naughty plant. But the show is also a perfect showcase for a talented cast, with a doo-wop, rock ‘n' roll, Motown and bluesy score that includes the show-stoppers "Skid Row (Downtown)," "Suddenly Seymour" and "Suppertime."

Jared Gertner appears to have been born to play the nebbish Seymour, the lowly clerk in a florist's shop who is catapulted to fame when he becomes a "botanical genius" after bringing the interesting and unusual Audrey II to the little shop owned by the tyrant Mushnik (Stephen Berger, who might have escaped from "The Producers" to play this role). Jenny Fellner, as the young lady, whose name the love-struck Seymour bestows on his plant, gives the dumb blonde "woman with a past" new life with her powerful voice and wide-eyed innocence.

Asa Somers, true to his bad boy image, plays Orin, Audrey's "semi-sadist" boyfriend, the dentist addicted to other people's pain and laughing gas. Somers also plays a host of other male characters after Seymour lets Orin kill himself with laughing gas as Orin sings his tour-de-force, "Now (It's Just the Gas)."

But the three young ladies who really keep the show rocking are Chiffon (Montego Glover), Crystal (Badia Farha) and Ronnette (Angela Grovey), who like a modern Greek chorus, comment on Seymour's rise and fall with the help of his leafy friend, and sing their way into the action. It only takes this marvelous trio to do the work of what often requires a much larger company.

The voice of the notorious plant is Michael James Leslie. Its manipulators are Michael Latini and Paul McGinnis. All three deserve to be the only surviving talent when the show is over. No puppet, animal or vegetable, could ask for more.

No review of "Little Shop of Horrors" would be complete without acknowledging Bruce W. Coyle's dynamite musical direction and his rocking orchestra, which effortlessly swings through Menken's vibrating score.

There are few shows that are as entertainingly outrageous as "Little Shop of Horrors." Paper Mill Playhouse's production certainly makes it delightfully easy to laugh as Audrey II, a venus fly trap on steroids, gobbles up her feckless victims.

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