Two very different comedies are nearing the end of their runs on North Bay stages and both are worth catching if you can. Sebastopol’s Main Stage West is presenting Annie Baker’s Body Awareness while Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater is staging the popular musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors. Both shows run through September 22.
You can’t swing a dead plant around without hitting a production of Little Shop of Horrors somewhere near you. The 1982 Alan Menken and Howard Ashman musical – based on the same-titled low-budget Roger Corman film from 1960 – was a monster Off-Broadway hit and has become a staple of regional and community theatres.
Because it’s simply one of the most entertaining musical comedies of the last half-century.
The story of nebbish Seymour Krelborn (Michael McGurk), his unrequited love for co-worker Audrey (Sidney Raey-Gonzales), and how the arrival of a strange and interesting plant at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist seemingly makes things better for Seymour (until it doesn’t) has an infectious rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop and Motown influenced score, clearly defined characters, wickedly dark humor, and a giant man-eating plant.
Director Nathan Cummings gets just about everything right here, starting with the casting. McGurk is a terrific Seymour, allowing us to see and hear the seething cauldron of repressed anger waiting to explode that comes from years of being stepped on and ignored. McGurk is a fireball and his energy really drives this show. Raey-Gonzalez gives a heart-breaking performance as Audrey, with her delivery of “Somewhere That’s Green” the show’s emotional high-point. (Yes, a show about a man-eating plant can have an emotional high-point.)
Michael Van Why is an appropriately duplicitous Mushnik, while Keith Baker hilariously essays a number of roles including the sadistic Dr. Orin Scrivello, DDS. The maniacal Baker seems to turn into nothing but a set of teeth during his delivery of “Now (It’s Just the Gas”).
The show’s “Greek Chorus” consists of a trio of street urchins named Crystal (Aja Gianola-Norris), Ronnette (Serena Elize Flores) and Chiffon (Olivia Newbold) who take what are in essence “backup” roles and invest them with full characterizations. Oh, and they can sing.
The only blip in the show has to do with Audrey II. With puppetry by Zane Walters and the voice provided by Michelle Pagano, Audrey II’s presence has to be all encompassing by the show’s end. Walters delivers the movement, and Pagano delivers the character, but Cinnabar fails to deliver the sound. Amplification is absolutely necessary for the role, and the equipment utilized was horribly insufficient. Audrey II’s voice sounded like it was coming from an AM radio, and she – and at other times the entire cast – was often drowned out by Mary Chun’s orchestra.
Yes, I found that frustrating (and it’s not uncommon at Cinnabar shows), but the sum of the performances, the vocal work, the choreography, the quality of the music (if not the levels) and the design work done here won me over. It’s an almost perfect show.
Bottom line? I had a great time.
Seats may be scarce for closing weekend, but you can’t go wrong seeing either show.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½
‘Little Shop of Horrors’ runs through September 22 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Fri & Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $30–$45. 707.763.8920. cinnabartheater.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
Click HERE for the review of Body Awareness.