By Charles James
March 28, 2023
Last Sunday afternoon, I watched the popular, very funny Playhouse 395 musical production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Bishop Union High School Auditorium. Honestly, I was happy that I did! The play was great fun and entertaining. Besides, it was past time to move on from the self-imposed Covid Funk that many of us have been experiencing. We need to, once again, enjoy a more normalized life. It was refreshing to be around others in the theater, laughing and enjoying the play together.
The musical play, Little Shop of Horrors, is based on a low-budget, black and white B-movie of the same title released in 1960; a movie that was filmed in just 2 days using the set from another movie that the director had just completed. Its premise is about a man-eating, blood lusting plant that threatens, not just the people in the plant store located on Skid Row, but also the world if it is allowed to “escape” and reproduce in the outside world.
The musical theatrical production created in 1982 based on the original movie is experiencing a resurgence across the country because, frankly, it’s “kinky and weird,” much in the same way the 1975 film musical, The Rocky Horror Show, is also. We apparently really like—if not need— “weirdness” and “kinkiness” in our lives just to stay sane…seriously! The world as we know it could possibly end anytime…and yet, we can laugh about it. It’s a perfect antidote to the Covid Funk that the country is coming out of, finally.
The play uses music, song, and dance inspired early 60’s “Motown” and other kitschy doo-wop tunes of that era. It also has some ingenious puppetry, along with a very talented cast. This funny, entertaining show is not to be missed. It is, in its own way, a “boy meets girl story”. It becomes complicated by the boy meeting a very dangerous plant that eventually eats his girlfriend’s boyfriend…and then her, the shop owner and eventually, the show’s protagonist, which greatly reduces the size of the cast by the end.
Little Shop follows meek, socially inept, and clumsy plant store employee, Seymour, which is well-played by Jesse Steele, who is secretly in love with his shop co-worker Audrey, played by the very lovely and talented Alison Bishop. Unfortunately, Audrey is in a terribly abusive relationship with her sadistic boyfriend, Orin, who is a dentist and frankly, just a real jerk, played by Chase Little. Little also played several peripheral roles which was hilarious as he switched through a series of characters in rapid succession, even coming out at one point dressed as a woman in a blond wig. The owner of the Mushnik’s Plant Shop was ably done by Gerard Harvey. The primary antagonist is a man-eating plant (puppet) called Audrey II, played by Kenji Kawaguchi. The plant is unique and brings in business and publicity to the plant store but, unknown is its penchant for human blood, which Seymour hides.
Steele and Little have a comedic presence that brings laughs from the audience. The humor and the singing seem to come naturally to both, while Bishop absolutely nailed the songs whenever she sang. The trio of actors/singers playing the street-corner singers were delightfully entertaining. Chiffon (Allison Peeler), Crystal (Elizabeth Petra), and Ronnette (Alexandra Morales) did a great job sassily singing and moving to the songs combined with choreographed dance moves.
Rounding out the cast and crew were Assistant Director Martha Reynold, Intern Director Nina Potter, Voice Director Diana Lanane, Producer Jan Hambleton, Choreographer Gigi Dejong, Greeter Melanie Allen, Puppeteer Liam Harvey and Chorus/Puppeteer Karen Keehn.
Directed by Lynn Kawaguchi, “Little Shop” was played on the small stage at the high school which adds to the intimacy of the experience. No one had difficulty seeing or hearing the actors or music.
The play runs for 9 performances from March 24th through April 8th at the Bishop High School Auditorium located at 301 N. Fowler Street in Bishop. For more information and tickets, please visit the Playhouse 395 website at www.playhouse395.com.