Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” in Kentfield

When Little Shop of Horrors opened in New York in 1982, it was in a small 98-seat Off-Off-Broadway theatre. Its success led to its move Off-Broadway to Manhattan’s 299-seat Orpheum Theatre where it ran for five years. It had a chance to move to the Great White Way, but playwright/lyricist Howard Ashman felt the show might lose its heart and soul on Broadway. A decade after Ashman’s passing, the trustees of his estate licensed a Broadway production. It received mixed reviews and closed in under a year.

The show’s history came to mind as I watched the College of Marin Drama Program production running through Oct. 13 in the 572-seat James Dunn Theatre. Having seen a delightful production last month at Petaluma’s quaint Cinnabar Theater, I was curious as to how a show usually done in smaller spaces would play in a cavernous auditorium. With some difficulty, it turns out.  

Based on the 1960 cult horror quickie directed by Roger Corman, Little Shop is the musical tale of nerdish Seymour Krelborn (Michael Kessel), his unrequited love for co-worker Audrey (Sophie De Morelos), 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.  The show has an infectious rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop and Motown influenced score (music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Ashman), outrageous characters, wickedly dark humor, and a giant man-eating plant.

Michael Kessell as Seymour,  Michael Peters as Mushnik

Director Lisa Morse has a typical (mostly) youthful college cast here, which made me question the lack of energy on stage. This show should bounce and, with a few exceptions, it was flat in pacing and presentation.

Kessel does fine as Seymour, and De Morelos makes for a very sympathetic Audrey. She doesn’t overdo the character voice and shines with “Somewhere That’s Green”. Andrew Pryor-Ramirez as Orin Scrivello, DDS (demented dentist & sadist) brings the energy that’s lacking elsewhere, and while he may not exude a real sense of danger, it’s the cockiest take on the role I’ve seen.

Sound is a real issue with this production. Microphone levels were erratic, with the good vocal work being done by Matt Kizer as Audrey II often lost. A good sound mix could compensate for some of the intimacy lost in the larger space.  

COM brings a fun musical with a stylish set, colorful costumes, wonderful wigs, creative choreography and some plucky performances to the stage. Could they please bring volume to the vocals?

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ runs through October 13 at the College of Marin James Dunn Theatre, 835 College Ave., Kentfield. Friday & Saturday, 7:30pm; Saturday & Sunday, 2pm. $15–$25. 415.485.9385.

Photos by Robin Jackson

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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