The North Fork Community Theatre’s stable of performers is filled to the brim with fine voices, and this season’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” brings many of those fine voices back to the stage for a frightening, funny evening of live theater.
You’ve likely seen either the film or a production of dynamic duo Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s “Little Shop” at some point in your life, so the story of the man-eating plant that takes over the lives of the employees of Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop is likely a familiar one. But it takes a good cast, with excellent singing chops, to pull off a good rendering of this show.
This production, directed by Mary Motto Kalich, is expertly cast.
Michael Hipp is perfect as the bumbling orphan botany hobbyist Seymour, who finds a strange plant among the zinnias in a Chinese vendor’s plant-cuttings after a total eclipse of the sun.
Matthew O’Conner, who last appeared on the NFCT stage in the 2009 production of “The Actor’s Nightmare,” is chilling as the sadist dentist Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.
Rebecca Edana, who wowed audiences in her 2014 role as Nurse Ratchet in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” brings a beautiful voice and a great working-girl attitude to the part of Seymour’s co-worker Audrey, whom he secretly loves.
It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or to cry during her beautiful rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green,” a dreamy song of longing for a tract house with a real chain link fence and plastic on the furniture far from Skid Row.
Rick Peters, who last played the crazy King Pellinore in NFCT’s summer production of “Camelot,” barrels onto the stage with over-the-top bumbling Yiddishisms as the flower shop’s proprietor, Mr. Mushnik. By the time he’s eaten by the plant (sorry for the spolier!), you’ll warm up to his character enough to want to be his son, too.
Christpher D. Fretto has a beautiful, rich, deep voice. You notice it first when he joins the chorus as a wino in the opening number, “Skid Row,” but then offstage, later, as the voice of the plant, he just puts this production over the top.
But it seems the hardest working people on the stage are the chorus girls: Crystal, played by Kelli J. Baumann; Chiffon, played by Raven Janoski; and Ronette, played by Kelsey Cheslock. They boogie and belt out nearly every number, go through elaborate costume changes with nearly every scene, and seem to be having an absolute blast as they pull the plot along by the strength of their finely tuned voices.
Cait Jacobs deserves kudos for spending the entire evening inside the enormous plant as it lip-synchs along to Mr. Fretto’s voice. Seymour’s false hand, which allows him to hold the young potted plant while operating the puppet inside, is also a convincing sleight-of-hand. Literally.
As often happens at the NFCT, the configuration of the live music accompaniment in relation to the stage can make the sound levels throughout somewhat uneven, an issue the theater is working to address in its current renovation campaign. But, regardless of levels, it’s encouraging to see the theater’s devotion to incorporating live music into its productions.
What theater-goers take away from “Little Shop” is akin to 16th Century Irish philosopher Edmund Burke’s assertion that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” This play sends you home both pondering this predicament and humming a catchy tune. Not too many plays can do that to you.
In her notes in the production’s program, Director Mary Motto Kalich ponders just what it is about “Little Shop” that makes it so much more than a “sci-fi musical”:
“The fantastical background that the stories are set in allow the basic human elements like love, community, sadness and hope to shine through,” she writes. “‘Little Shop’ is a great example of this. As you sit back and laugh and enjoy watching a man-eating plant devour your fellow humans, take a look at how real the needs and wants and hopes of our “Little Shop” characters are.”
“Little Shop of Horrors” continues at the NFCT tonight, Nov. 7, at 8 p.m.; tomorrow, Nov. 8 at 2:30 p.m., Nov.12 through 14 at 8 p.m. and closes on Sunday, Nov. 15 with a matinée performance at 2:30 p.m. Free receptions with wine tastings are held every Thursday at 7 p.m.
Tickets are $20 and are available online here. The box office can be reached at 631.298.4500.