Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Luke's Reviews: Little Shop of Horrors

It's that time of year once again.  The time when Pebblebrook stuns the world once again with one of their matchless works of theatrical brilliance.  This time, the masters of stagecraft tried their hand at a classic Broadway love/horror story.  This show was kind of bitter-sweet for me because it was four years ago that I began to watch Pebblebrook shows.  This means that the generation I saw begin as freshmen are now graduating...which is sad to say the least.  Nevertheless, they went out with quite a "bang" and should be proud of their wonderful career at Pebblebrook.  So, with that, it is my pleasure to present you with my review of Pebblebrook Highschool's

The Show:
There's actually a really interesting story behind this show.  It started as a joke of a movie: the fastest movie ever made.  Apparently the director had just finished another movie and had 2 days left with the old set.  So he, along with some buddies, wrote, casted, and shot the entire movie (pretty much) in two days and one night.  Of course, instead of being dismissed as a throwaway film, it gave birth to a cult following and eventually inspired what was the highest grossing musical in off-Broadway history.  This show ran for 5 years (That's long for a Broadway show, and UNHEARD of for Off-Broadway, where maybe 2 shows recoup a year) and was eventually turned into a pretty good movie staring Ellen Greene (reprising the role she originated Off-Broadway), Rick Moranis, and Steve Martin with cameo appearances by Christopher Guest,and Bill Murray.  A Broadway production finally happened in 2003 and starred Hunter Foster and Kerry Butler in the leading roles.  The show itself has been a favorite of mine for a while because of it's good blend of comedy and drama, it's wonderful characters and one of Alan Menken's best scores ever.  This was my first time actually seeing the whole musical, and there certainly were some surprises.  Although there are somethings I didn't appreciate too much (I thought they were occasionally funny when they shouldn't have been), I still think the show is a conceptual masterpiece and if you ever get the opportunity, you should go see it.

The Production:
To be perfectly honest, this might have been my least favorite of the Pebblebrook shows I've seen (which still makes it better than most other highschool shows I've seen).  All of the actors did a great job and everything, but I just kind of felt like some things were a bit rushed and it didn't blow me away like Pebblebrook usually does.  Of course, I still loved it, it just wasn't quite as spellbinding as I had kind of hoped.


  • COSTUMING -- For most part the costumes are pretty cut and dry : Seymour's a geek, The narrators are in school uniforms, the bums are in trench coats, the dentist is in...well, a dentist costume.  All in all it's really simple.  However, that's not to say that Pebblebrook didn't add some interesting touches.  I particularly liked the crazy lady who talked to her sock and the guy with a trench coat full of knives.
  • SETS -- The set was also fairly standard.  Nothing ever moved on or off, it was simply half of a shop, a window, a couple of doors, and some stoops outside of the shop.  Once again, this set was perfect for the show, it just wasn't much of a marvel in and of itself.
  • CHOREOGRAPHY -- As is always the case, this show had significantly less choreography than the winter show.  There were really only two songs ("Skid Row" and "Finale Ultimo") and even that was fairly static choreography.  Of course, since the set took up most of the stage, they really didn't have a lot of options, but, once again, it was nothing extraordinary.
  • LIGHTING -- I actually noticed the impressive lighting in this show (which is a rare occurrence).  There were plenty of cool decisions made (such as flooding the stage with green lights during Audrey II's big numbers and letting the spotlight on Orin snap off when he died).  All in all, I get the feeling the lighting designers kind of had fun with this one, and I say good for them!
  • PUPPETRY -- Normally when I review a show I don't mention it's puppetry, but this is a special exception.  Obviously the biggest marvel of the show was the Giant Audrey II of Act II.  By the end of it, I get the feeling that the puppeteer just had a massive lever that he had to pretty much throw his whole weight into.  But I also really enjoyed the smaller puppets.  The growing puppet on the counter was impressive (but I feel bad for the guy who had to hide down there for a whole huge scene), but my favorite was when Seymour was carrying the plant.  It took me a while to figure it out, but I'm pretty sure the jacket he was wearing had a fake arm in the sleeve and he had his right arm in Audrey II the whole time.  The actor really did do an excellent job of looking like there was no correlation to what he was doing and what the plant was doing.  It made for one of my favorite scenes of the show.
  • Hannah S. (Audrey) - I'd actually seen Hannah in several Pebblebrook shows in the past, but she rarely had significant roles, so it was hard to notice her much until her "big break" here in "Little Shop".  For that reason I was anxious to see how she'd do and I must say she absolutely delivered.  The young lady who played Audrey in the movie (Ellen Greene) is the one actress that I really did not like (which is ironic, because she was the only one to transfer from the original Off-Broadway show).  It's actually become a bit of a feud in our house because we are a "house divided" on her (Ellen's) performance, but I think I may be winning now because Hannah just showed old Ellen Greene how the role should be played!  Although Hannah had plenty of talent to carry the character, what impressed me most about her performance was her smart choices.  Most Audreys I've seen (especially the one in the movie) appear to have a tough time blending the way they act and the way they sing, but Hannah was wise enough to tone them both down a bit so that they can blend.  When she spoke, the accent wasn't particularly strong and when she sung she didn't belt it out like no tomorrow, she kept things always controlled.  While you may think this would make the character weaker, I actually really appreciated the fact that the character finally blended into a seamless transition between singing and acting.  Brava Hannah!
  • Alex S. (Seymour) - Frequent readers will remember that I am Alex's biggest fan (I actually tried to send him an "I-just-wanted-you-to-know-that-I've-been-stalking-you-for-the-past-four-years-but-you're-so-awesome-so-please-don't-get-creeped-out" facebook message, but apparently you can't send messages like that to minors).  In fact, my fandom went to a new level when, as soon as I turned learned what show they were doing, I wanted to run to my sister and scream "Alex should be Seymour!" (as it happens she was in class....but as soon as she was out we had our fandom moment). Of course, I was thrilled when I reached the theater and realized that my dream casting had come true and I was going to get to see Alex in this perfect role for him.  And, as always, he didn't disappoint!  I felt like Alex was one of the few characters in the show that didn't overplay his stereotype and he made Seymour very realistic and relatable.  Although this may not have been his best performance (I can't get over how great he was in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), he was the perfect choice for the character and I'm so thrilled that I got to see him in this role!
  • Mason L. & Jennifer G. (The other Seymour and Audrey) - For reasons that I don't completely understand, Pebblebrook decided to double cast the roles of Audrey and Seymour for this production.  This caused a friend of mine who was unfamiliar with the show great confusion when she saw the cast list included two "Audreys" and two Audrey IIs (puppeteer and voice).  My only guess as to why this was done is that they had several talented seniors that they wanted to give leads before they graduated.  I also think it might have something to do with them having less time to put this together than perhaps they had in past years.  In any case, although I regrettably couldn't see Mason or Jennifer perform, I really wish I could've 'cause I'm sure they'd have been excellent!  Jennifer was a stand-out actress in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Crazy For You and I would've been really interested to see her play Audrey.  Additionally, as I said in my Crazy for You post, I've loved watching Mason in the ensemble over the years and I really wish I could've finally seen him play a lead.  I imagine he was utterly fantastic and I'm so glad he got to play the role.
  • Hamilton M. (Mushnik) - Once again, Hamilton was wonderfully cast.  His niche is definitely in the over the top cheesy kind of characters.  Hamilton has a lot of high energy and every line he says (especially the jokes) is quick and well timed.  In fact (and I hope I'm not reaching a new level of creepy here), while rehearsing for a show I'm currently working on where I play a really high energy/bubbly type of character (not my norm), I literally stopped working for a bit and thought to myself: "How would the Pebblebrook guy do this role?" (we'll see in May whether or not it worked).  But I'm getting off topic, the point is, Hamilton has a great stage presence and always throws himself into his roles and that's what makes him so much fun to watch.  He was excellent in this role with every over-exaggerated "subtlety" from his accent to his facial expressions as he was listening through a door.  In addition, he and Alex once again got a great song together ("Mushnik and Son") which was, as usual, one of the funniest parts of the show.  It saddens me greatly that this will likely be Hamilton's last show that I see him in (I might make it to one more Pebblebrook show this school year, we'll see) but I definitely think he has a lot to be proud of as far as his Pebblebrook career.
  • Kristian H. (Orin) - Let me begin by saying, if you don't know who "Orin" is (like I did), he's the dentist (who knew he had a name?).  Although I didn't expect to see Kristian in this role, he was absolutely perfect for it!  I'm afraid he may be being typecast as the comedic villain (which isn't a bad type at all) because he speaks with such intensity, but he also has some perfect comedic timing.  You could genuinely feel terrified by him at several moments and then be laughing your head off at him the very next.  I wasn't sure if I was going to like him at first because his first big number of the show ("I Am Your Dentist") didn't do much for me.  However, his strength shone through in his "straight acting" scenes and he nailed his final song ("Do it Now") and all in all I feel he was perfectly casted.   Seeing as he's only a Sophomore, I'm very excited to see all the talent that Kristian brings to Pebblebrook in these next few years.
  • King J. & Austyn R. (Audrey II voice & Puppeteer) - I must say that I really enjoyed these guys performance.  I know the roles weren't necessarily very gratifying, and it's hard to feel happy with yourself when you're never actually seen, but they really did a great job.  The sync wasn't perfect (especially as Audrey II grew) but I imagine they didn't get a lot of time to practice with the actual puppet, so when you consider that it's actually pretty impressive.  The voice was also really good.  As is often the case, I had the voice from the movie in my head, and this guy didn't beat it, but came pretty darn close for a highschooler.  He definitely made the best of a tough situation by keeping his voice full of inflection and emotion.  Although I wouldn't call them the "stand out" performers of the show, this dynamic duo certainly did the role proud.
  • Domineek M., AnnEliza C., & Sabria W. (Chiffon, Ronnette, & Crystal) - I feel bad for putting these three ladies together because they really did have individuality, but I couldn't remember which name went with which face.  I can say that they were each outstanding.  The first to blow us away was "The short one" (Chiffon maybe?) who just let it all out in the opening "Skid Row" solo.  They all certainly had moments like that where they really shone, but most of the time they had to sing and move as one.  This is where things fell apart a little bit.  Some of their choreography wasn't in perfect sync and it's tough because, in a normal dance number, nobody would notice.  But the way these characters are set up, their timing had to be spot on.  This is one more reason I think perhaps they didn't have as much time as they wanted to, or else these details might have been better ironed out.  Once again, they were great, but one could see the glimmer of room for improvement (which is rare for Pebblebrook).
  • Rex G.  (Customer, Mr. Bernstein, Ms. Luce, Skip Snip) - I know what you're thinking, dang, this guy has a lot of roles.  And the answer is, you're right, but it could've been worse.  The original Off-Broadway cast had this actor playing 5 more (including Orin).  Although this goes against the highschool theater creed ("hand out as many parts as physically possible"), it really made for an awesome effect and Rex looked like he was having an awesome time with it.  He nailed the EXACT right character for the Customer, and then threw in some surprises with his other characters.  He was absolutely hilarious in "The Meek Shall Inherit" and really threw himself into the character(s).  More than anyone else in the cast I got the feeling that he was just enjoying himself and that was really fun to see.  Of course, he was wonderfully talented too and it was great to finally see him as a significant character, but mostly I just liked watching him have a ball on stage.
  • Ensemble - Of course the Ensemble was great as they always are.  They really didn't do very much at all (pretty much only appeared in "Skid Row" and "Finale Ultimo") but they were of course perfect. I did enjoy seeing some familiar faces in the Ensemble including Taylor-Kate E. (Penny in Hairspray) and Commodore P. (Moose in Crazy for You) and I kind of liked that they could still be a part of the show even if they weren't huge characters.
The Audience:
Ok, I know this usually isn't a section in my reviews because it's not a part of the show, but I had an abnormally high number of interesting audience encounters, so I thought I'd share them here.
  • Mason L. & Jennifer G. - I thought it was cool that the day they didn't perform, these two sat in the back together and watched the show.  I almost wish I could've been sitting next to them so that I could hear whatever commentary they might have had, because it's a really unique experience to get to see a show live that you were also a part of.
  • Zach T. - I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Zach in Pebblebrook's production of Ragtime a few years ago.  He played "Edgar" and, although he wasn't a show stealler (you'd have to be pretty amazing to steal a show from Pebblebrook kids) he did really well for a fifth grader.  Anyway,  I had noticed that this kid behind us said "hi" to Mason as he walked past and I began to wonder how they knew each other.  Lucky for me, another person behind me was thinking the same thing, only he had the courage to ask about it.  Before I even took a good luck at Zach, I heard that he was, in fact, the very same boy who had been in Ragtime years before, just back from performing in the Mary Poppins National tour!  I told my sister about it and with one look she confirmed that this was in fact the same kid.  We didn't get an autograph or anything, but it was a bit of a "startstruck fanboy" moment nonetheless.
  • Guy who recognized my outfit - Ok, so last Christmas was possibly the fist time in my life that the coolest gift I got was clothes.  My amazing grandmother found the EXACT same style sweater and scarf that Mark Cohen wears in RENT.  AMAZING, RIGHT!?!  Anyway, I like to wear the whole ensemble (sometimes I wear glasses just for the heck of it) to theatrical events just to see if people will catch it.  Up until now, only one person has noticed it and said something (a cast member of Zombie Prom who had been in a production of RENT the previous year).  But this time while we were in our seats  and were commenting on seeing Zach behind us, the guy in front of me turned around and said, "excuse me, are you supposed to be Mark from RENT?"  LIFE WAS SUDDENLY BEAUTIFUL!  After telling him that the best I'd seen is both movies and a highschool production a few years back, he informed me that he'd seen it on Broadway 7 times!!  We reminisced for a while about how it's so incredibly awesome and he assured me that if there were ever a revival (one that was better than the recent Off-Broadway version) then I should do everything in my power to get myself to New York and see it.  We parted ways (not really, we stayed sitting down) contented in our mutual Broadway bond and proud of ourselves for finding fellow RENTheads to obsess with.
  • Mrs. S. - I suppose I should've seen this coming, but after the show I ran into an old drama teacher of mine.  Apparently she'd trained some of the Pebblebrook seniors (including Hamilton M.) and she came to see their final performance.  It shouldn't surprise me to have seen her there because she is definitely one of the best theater coaches in the area.  She's certainly very tough on her students and, at times, quite intimidating, but she expects excellence and, quite often, succeeds to produce it.
So, as I said earlier, although this wasn't my favorite of Pebblebrook's shows, it was really very delightful and I don't regret going for a second.  I now feel like I have a better understanding of the show and I understand it's message and depth much more now (the moral was kind of cut from the movie).  I'd recommend anyone go see "Little Shop" if they get a chance, but I'd INSIST that everyone go see a Pebblebrook show if they ever have such a wonderful opportunity.

I might not be posting again until the TONY nominations (seeing as this is the most busy time of year for me).  So, worst, case, I'll see you then.  Thanks for reading!

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