Huntington Beach Independent

On Theater: A 'Little Shop' of merriment

By Tom Titus

June 11, 2014 at 1:23 p.m.

Citizens beware! That bloodthirsty, carnivorous plant has taken root again, this time in Costa Mesa. And it's hungry!

Specifically, the horticultural horror is being housed at the Costa Mesa Playhouse, where a revival of "Little Shop of Horrors" is in full swing and the body count is growing right along with the plant. Opening night attracted a nearly packed house to catch this 54-year-old oddity in murderous action.

"Little Shop" originally was conceived in the fertile mind of movie schlockmeister Roger Corman for a B movie in 1960. Twenty-two years later, composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman set it to music and turned it loose on Broadway. It's been a favorite of community and college theater companies ever since.

For the Costa Mesa production, director Stephen Hulsey -- who also serves as musical director, conductor and keyboardist -- has fashioned an imaginative version around a series of ever-growing, man-eating plants designed by Martin P. Robinson. The result is a furiously funny production anchored by a terrific pair of leading performers.

Jason Holland, a familiar figure at the playhouse, is pitch-perfect as Seymour, an orphaned nebbish working in a skid row flower shop who discovers a new, mysterious growth (during an eclipse of the sun) and nurses it to gigantic health. Holland excels as a young man wrestling with his conscience as he learns what the main ingredients on the plant's diet really are.

As Audrey, the comely young blonde also working in the shop -- and so mesmerizing to Seymour that he names the plant "Audrey II" -- Katie Nicol not only fits the part physically but renders a superb singing voice, primarily on her duet with Holland, "Suddenly Seymour," but also on her plaintive satirical solo "Somewhere That's Green."

Her life -- and physical condition -- are put in jeopardy by her boyfriend, a sadistic dentist who gets off on inflicting pain. Tony Sanchez plays that villainous role to the hilt, along with several other parts in cameo visits after his dentist character meets his, ahem, just deserts.

Rich Wordes, another playhouse regular, splendidly enacts the flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik, who berates Seymour until the potential dollar signs from the plant inspire a more paternal outlook.

Beautifully backing up the musical portions of the show are three 1950s-type rock singers, nicely portrayed by Nyquita Wilson, Andrea Dennison-Laufer and Dalisa Kraus. They're given names of female singing groups from yesteryear -- Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette.

Jenny Moon Shaw's choreography sets the 1950s tone quite nicely, while Roy Davis deftly provides the movement of the plant and Paul-Dean Martin supplies the booming voice ("Feed me!") as the plant assumes the upper hand.

The music -- composed by Menken in the style of late 1950s and early 1960s rock 'n' roll, doo-wop and early Motown -- will ring true to anyone who remembers that era with fondness. The five-piece band backstage (Hulsey, Taylor Stephenson, James Cormier, Nathan Atwater and Carlo Virtucio) renders the show more "live" than would recorded instrumentation.

"Little Shop of Horrors" may be overly familiar to audiences these days, but its sterling performances and imaginative settings (the "dentist's chair" is a discarded carton) will tickle your funny bone at the Costa Mesa Playhouse.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "Little Shop of Horrors"

Where: Costa Mesa Playhouse, 611 Hamilton St., Costa Mesa

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through June 29

Cost: $16 to $20

Information: (949) 650-5269 or