Last night, we went to the second performance of “Little Shop of Horrors”, presented by “Actors in Action” and the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys High School. Going in I was familiar with the music from Little Shop, but had only seen the screen version of the musical and read the synopsis of the stage version. The translation of this being that I was not in a position to detect the minutae of missed cues: I was looking at the presentation wholistically.
For those unfamilar with the story, Little Shop is a retelling of the “classic” 1960 Roger Corwin film, with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, and book by Howard Ashman. It tells the story of Seymour Krelborn, who works in Mushnik’s Flower Shop, a failing store on Skid Row. The shop is run by Mr. Mushnik, Seymour, and Audrey. Business is off, well, OK, there is no business, and Seymour suggest displaying his new exotic plant, which he has named Audrey II. Of course the strange plant draws customers and business is soon booming. In celebration Mushnik invites Seymour and Audrey out on the town, but Audrey has a date with her boyfriend, the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello. Seymour also declines and stays behind to tend to the suddenly ailing Audrey II. That night, alone in the shop, he discovers the shocking secret to the plant’s health and phenomenal growth: human blood. Seymour encourages the plant’s growth by pricking his fingertips and feeding Audrey II his own blood. This only lasts for a few days, however, and the meager drops of blood aren’t enough for the quickly growing plant. Finally, late one night the plant grows bold and speaks: “feed me.” Eventually, after the nitrous-addicted dentist laughs himself to death, Seymour does. This permits Seymour to confess his love to Audrey. However, Mushnik witnessed Seymour’s crime and threatens to turn him… and so the plant gets fed again. But the ethics of the situation gets to him and he decides to flee. Before Seymour can complete his plan, however, the plant mortally wounds Audrey. Dying, she requests that she be fed to the plant, so she can become a part of it and always be near Seymour. As the music swells, Seymour feeds her to Audrey II, which at last reveals its ultimate plans–nothing less than world domination. Seymour makes one last attempt to kill the plant but fails. In the end, he too is devoured. The singers, joined now by the faces of the dead characters, warn that Audrey II and other alien plants have begun to devour the world one city at a time–starting with Cleveland… (note that the movie wimps out, and Seymour lives).
Van Nuys made one slight change in the story: they cast a woman as Mr. Mushnick, and changed the character to Mrs. Mushnick. Personally, I wish they had made one other change: in the song “Somewhere That’s Green”, they should have changed the word “Levittown” to something that kids today in the San Fernando Valley would understand. I’d suggest “Panorama City”, but it wouldn’t scan.
Anyway, on to the production. The leads in the program were extremely strong in their singing abilities. I really have to give strong kudos to Sean Scott, a 9th grader in his first VNHS show, and Ashlyn Kilham, a 10th grader in her second VNHS show for their songs. I thought their acting was also quite good, although not yet up to professional standard. Give them time–this is only high school. The Rhonettes were a mixed bag: the lead singer Stephanie Hoston (Rhonette) was wonderful, a senior who has performed at venues such as Citywalk and the House of Blues. Lisa Lee (Chiffon), another senior, sang alright, but kept being off on the choreography. Freshman Christina Soldano (Crystal) was a bit weaker on the singing and the choreography. It’s hard to judge this greek chorus on their acting — I’ll look closer when we see the show again next week. [ETA a week later: My original impression was right: the only strong one in the trio was Hoston. Both Lee and Soldano were weak in the choreography, and had trouble with the high notes in the singing.] Also in lead, but unseen roles, were Raymond Adrian as Audrey II’s puppeteer, and Jeffrey Colon as Audrey II’s voice. Both did good jobs.
In the mid-size roles, Senior Mikel Bossette (who is normally excellent) seemed a bit off as Mrs. Mushnick, but I think that was more due to the incongruence of her in the role, microphone problems, and an odd costume. She just doesn’t come off as an older New York Jewish lady. She only gets one song (which is a pity as she is a good singer), and the combination of how she had to adjust her voice as Mushnick and the microphone didn’t permit her to show off her skills (which we have seen and liked before). Mikel would have been better as a Rhonette, but she just didn’t have the tall and thin look the director wanted. [ETA a week later: She would have also been a great Audrey, but again, couldn’t get past the director’s casting biases.] It was the audience’s loss. James C. Gelinas, another Senior, was adequately menacing and maniacal as Orin, the dentist.
In the minor roles, Van Nuys had Janice Ha, John Geronilla, Brandom Thomas, Angelique Gross, April Machado, and Glessida Magaling. For the most part, they were adequate for what little they did, however I found the “Meek Shall Inherit” number a little overplayed and overdone, which detracted from it.
The four-piece orchestra was excellent (VNHS has wonderful musicians, and the music teacher Robert Eisenhart just won a major national award, the Mr. Hollands Opus Award). During the pre-show music, they played Inna Gadda Da Vida, and I found myself wondering how many in the audience actually recognized it.
Technically, there were some problems. I found the lighting design by Shauna Lucas, assisted by Erin Faigin, to be very effective. I particularly liked the use of the Gobos to created a skyline of the city and the chain link fence. Moving light design was by Josh Price assisted by Ryan Hamidi, with spots by Leslie Montano, Nico Reeve, and Slater Lopez. Sound was more problematic, as a number of on-stage mics kept going out. When they worked, it was great. When they didn’t…. Sound design was by Emily Tugwell. I found the costumes and hairstyles problematic: the most obvious problem was Mrs. Mushnick: whoever thought of dressing up what is supposed to be an old 1950s Jewish flower-shop owner, being played by a black girl, in a dress suit and *blond* wig, was beyond me [ETA a week later: Apparently the wig was grey, but from a distance, appeared blond–it was still a problem]. But worse was the time travel: Little Shop obstensibly takes place in the 1950s (certainly by the various song and TV references), and most of the actors just didn’t give off a 1950’s vibe. I’m not trying to say they needed to be dressed as Sock Hoppers from Grease or Happy Days, but adults in that time didn’t wear short slinky dresses or dress suits (they were more mid-length dresses), and even nerds wore ties, albeit thin ones. The set, designed by Mr. Tom Kirkpatrick and his stage class, adequately conveyed the Skid Row environment, but had difficulty with some other environments and might have been helped (if it possible in that space) with a backdrop that could go down in front of the shop for locals like the dentist or generic Skid Row.
In terms of the teaching staff: Mr. Randy Olea was director and runs the drama class. Mr. Olea just lost the drama room to a fire: donations of scripts and other theatrical material would be welcome (send them to Mr. Olea c/o the school). Adam Riggs Designs provided the Audrey II puppet. Mr. Marque Coy coordinated the lighting and sound students. Mr. Robert Eisenhart led the orchestra. Anita Morales and Julia Rachilewski designed the choreography.
There are four more performances of Little Shop: tonight at 7pm, and next Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7pm. Tickets are available at the door. Van Nuys High School is located at 6535 Cedros Avenue, Van Nuys, CA 91411.
Upcoming Theatre: Our next professional production is March 22 @ 1pm, when we see “Frost/Nixon” at the Ahmanson (HotTix became available 2/18). March 28 @ 8pm brings “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” at Rep East. April 4 @ 2pm is “42nd Street” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. We’re planning on going to the Southern California Renaissance Faire on either April 11 or April 12. April 18 @ 8pm, after I take the CISSP exam, will be “Mauritius” at the Pasadena Playhouse. The weekend of April 25/26 is set aside for the OERM Spring Railfestival. May 2 or 3 (pending ticketing) will hopefully be “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Theatre League Thousand Oaks (this is their last weekend). May 10 (pending ticketing) should be “Is He Dead? at ICT Long Beach. May 17 (again, pending ticketing) should be “big” at West Coast Ensemble, to be followed by “The Green Room at Hermosa Beach Playhouse on May 24 (pending ticketing). The end of May (May 28, 29, 30) brings “Fiddler on the Roof” at Nobel Middle School, where nsshere may be involved with the lighting design. Lastly, June 6 @ 8pm is “
The Wedding Singer” “Musical TBA” at Repertory East Playhouse, and June 20 @ 8pm is “The Little Foxes” at The Pasadena Playhouse. Quite an ambitious theatrical spring.