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Theatre Review: Beauty & Horror Downtown at PHAMALY’s ‘Little Shop’


Audrey II changes Seymour’s life and the world in Little Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors is perhaps the finest exemplar of the horror musical comedy genre, and tells the endearing story of the orphaned botanist Seymour Krelborn (whose role in the 1986 movie was played by Rick Moranis). Krelborn is a no-name assistant at a Skid Row florist shop when he unexpectedly encounters a strange an unusual plant. With this unidentified flytrap displayed prominently in the window, life is looking up for Seymour, until he realizes that his bloodthirsty plant can’t bring him fame and fortune without paying a hefty price.

PHAMALY Brings Plant (and Outrageous Musical) To Life

HE SAID: To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this production. I loved PHAMLY’s production of Beauty and the Beast in 2010, but I was unsettled by the many changes the company made to the script in last summer’s production of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I was anxious to see the PHAMALY take, and it was marvelous. Very little is changed, thankfully, as the script is so rich to begin with and each lead actor – including the voice of the plant – really brought that richness to life.

SHE SAID: We both really love this show, so I think every time we see it, we’re secretly hoping that the company producing it will be able to live up to its potential. I was also very impressed with PHAMALY’s take on it — they offered just enough of their own spin to make it a memorable experience, but left the well-crafted piece shine where it is meant to shine! The largest change they made was tripling the number of greek chorus members so that nine women lead the audience through the world of the play. This choice really worked most of the time, creating the feeling of a cohesive community on Skid Row. There were a few other moments where it took away from the intimacy of the show, and the extra voices took away from the impressive tightness of the girl group style harmonies. Ultimately, the change added at least as much as it took away, and gave an opportunity to showcase more actors in this small show, so it was a choice worth exploring.

Leading Performances Stun with Comedy and Heart

HE SAID: While I’ve never seen an actor nail the comedy built into Mushnik the way Mark Dissette did, this show focuses on Seymour and Audrey. Daniel Traylor takes Seymour beyond a silly character role and brings a whole spectrum of personality to him. As he sang about his unclear path forward in the second act, his voice was full of genuine emotion. I just wish the staging for the round stage let him be a bit more stationary to harness the power of his feelings. And then there’s Audrey. Kathi Wood achieved the near impossible during her performance of “Somewhere That’s Green”. She turned off the part of my brain that is analyzing a show and whisked me away into her fantasy life. Throughout the show, her character was so multi-dimensional and so…human…all the time. It was simply stunning.

Little Shop of Horrors, Denver, PHAMALY, THEATRE

Kathi Wood and Daniel Traylor star as Audrey and Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors

SHE SAID: I completely agree that the leading performances in this show are top-notch. Traylor’s take on Seymour was completely heart-warming. His character was so overflowing with optimism that it seemed like he was frequently suppressing a smile, which made his grappling with dark decisions in the second act even more tragic. Dissette as Mushnik found all of the comedy he should have without pushing too hard, and the combination of Mariah Becerra moving the gorgeous plant puppets and Don Mauck filling out the voice was a real treat.

Space Allows Man-Eating Plant to Attack From All Angles

HE SAID: The plant puppets are a key ingredient to making this show work, and PHAMALY has cooked them up deliciously. The largest two plants are huge and beautifully painted for a stage in the round (no bare spots). I do wish the plant puppet in the pot had been kept upright a bit more. Too frequently it was tipped completely horizontally, which decreased the authenticity of the bit. Generally, the set was nice and the staging by Director Steve Wilson was incredibly natural for the space.

SHE SAID: I really appreciated several aspects of the staging. As I mentioned before, the nine girls sometimes broke the intimacy of the moment, and so omitting them as backup for “Suddenly Seymour” made that number incredibly touching. I’ve definitely never seen Little Shop in the round before, but as always, the direction and design was extremely thoughtful with regard to this element, and opened the door for new opportunities. The scene in the dentist’s office was constant movement — not just Jeremy Palmer as Orin, comically gasping for breath, but Traylor as Seymour also had a squirmy, writhing energy that was interesting to watch and perfectly represented his inner conflict. Well-executed gobos provided the lettering on the door to the shop that didn’t have to exist (or block anyone’s sight lines), and the fact that the shop was growing worked to cover the multiple positions of the counter/cash register in the shop. Finally, the unique space made it possible for the plant to invade the audience from all angles, taking over the theater more completely than I have ever experienced!

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PHAMALY’s Little Shop of Horrors is the Whole Package

THEY SAID: When we interviewed Director Steve Wilson, he said “you’ll never see a production of Little Shop like this anywhere else.” And we haven’t – but that has nothing to do with the fact that everyone on that stage is a performer with a disability. Almost every element is at a professional level, including the performances of the lead actors. Their nuanced, thoughtful handling of what are sometimes two-dimensional characters makes this ridiculous musical really work. Nothing about this production is flat,  from the larger-than-life plant to the well-rounded choral sound. We think you’ll find new life in this musical theatre classic, and be tempted to feed the plants just to be able to experience it all again!

For more information on Little Shop of Horrors, see the wikipedia page. Little Shop of Horrors plays through August  5th at the Space Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Click the banner for tickets and more information.




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