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2nd Star Productions’ Little Shop of Horrors

Little shop; big hit

Seymour (Nathan Bowen) and Audrey (Hannah Thornhill). <<photo by Dean Davis>>

Was it really 30 years ago this week that Little Shop of Horrors made its Broadway debut? How can that be when it still feels fresh as a daisy?
    No matter how many times you’ve seen it, and especially if you’ve never seen it, you must catch 2nd Star Productions’ strain of this outrageous sci-fi tragicomedy inspired by a 1960 cinematic flop. Welcome Halloween with the time-honored struggle between innocence and evil that sprouts when a carnivorous plant is mysteriously beamed to Earth.
    Infused with doo-wop, rock and Motown-style hits, the libretto is kooky genius delivered by four of American fiction’s most unforgettable characters. If you saw Infinity Theater’s professional production two years ago, you will be wowed at how this amateur one thrives. If you saw the 1986 film version starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Vincent Gardenia — forget about it. This is better. But be forewarned: There is no happy ending.
    It all happens on Skid Row, introduced in the Prologue by winos and a Greek chorus of streetwise chicks including lead singer Crystal (Amy Mack, an impressive 2nd Star debutante), Ronnette (Malarie Novotny) and Chiffon (Meghan Taylor). They evoke laughter and shivers while painting a scene of desperation ripe for miracles, as laid out in yet another jaw-dropping 2nd Star set: Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist.
    There, Seymour (Nathan Bowen), an orphaned nerd and all-around schmuck, works for Mr. Mushnik (Gary Seddon), a cross between Blondie’s Mr. Dithers and Fiddler’s Tevye. Mushnik treats Seymour like dirt until the young botanical genius finds a strange and unusual plant that draws customers to the shop like flies to a Venus flytrap.
    Desperate to keep his job, Seymour is dismayed to discover that the ailing plant will grow only on a diet of fresh blood. But the thing is so darn cute and profitable that he goes anemic nursing it. For in addition to the fame and fortune it brings him, the plant, which he names Audrey II, raises his stature in the eyes of his impossibly innocent coworker Audrey (Hannah Thornhill), a girl with a past whom he nevertheless adores.
    The feeling is mutual, as she confesses in her dreamy Somewhere That’s Green. But feeling undeserving of his love, she dates the sadistic Orin Scrivello, DDS (Dean Davis) instead. Orin’s operatic ego and talent for causing things pain make him the perfect dentist, as he explains in his hilarious calling card. But his scurrilous abuse of Audrey marks him as the plant’s first main course. So urges Audrey II (voiced by Jeff Sprague and puppeteered by Steve Hudgins) in the audacious anthem Feed Me.
    Seymour is spared from committing murder when Orin overdoses on nitrous oxide and expires in his bubble-headed joy suit (Now — It’s Just the Gas), a visual and auditory treat for dentophobists. Then Mushnik, who has adopted Seymour (Mushnik and Son) to keep his budding fortune in the family, winds up as the second course when he solves the mystery of Orin’s disappearance.
    After dancing in your seat throughout Act I, you will cower behind it in Act II as Audrey and Seymour find love (Suddenly Seymour) only to lose each other in death Supper Time. The plant dances on their graves, so to speak, on its way to world domination in the Finale (Don’t Feed the Plants).
    There’s nothing green about this all-star cast. Bowen, despite sounding vocally fatigued on opening night, delivers a splendid Seymour.
    Thornhill’s Audrey is a sweet change from the standard, with a divine voice and bearing. Seddon, last seen as King Arthur, has a resonant baritone and genial manner. Davis’s dentist lives and dies with finesse, and Sprague’s plant voice is golden ghetto sass. Even the orchestra is pitch perfect this time out, though they occasionally drown out Bowen’s monologues.
    Packed with animated dancing, eye-popping costumes and stupendous puppets, this show will feed your appetite for spectacle so well you may go back for seconds.

Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. Director and set designer: Jane B. Wingard. Musical director: Joe Biddle. Choreography: Hannah Thornhill. Costumes: Linda Swann. Lights and sound: Garrett R. Hyde.
Playing FSa 8pm, Su 3pm thru Oct. 26 at Bowie Playhouse, Whitemarsh Park Dr. $22 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-757-5700; www.2ndstarproductions.com.