‘Little Shop’ Both Grows and Wilts at Playhouse

By J.E. Ballantyne Jr.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Mushnik’s Flower Shop is a decrepit little place smack in the middle of Skid Row. With little business, or rather, no business, Mr. Mushnik decides it is time to close for good. That is until one of his employees, Seymour Krelborn, discovers a new and exciting plant that brings the shop instant fame.

That is the basic plot line of the Howard Ashman, Alan Menken musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.” Based on the low-budget Roger Corman film of the same name from 1960, in which Jack Nicholson had his first film role, “Little Shop” has become a staple at community theaters across the country and beyond. It served as the opening of the season at the Youngstown Playhouse on Friday night – the 99th – with the 100th season coming next year.

Directed by Robert Dennick Joki, “Little Shop” is a fun ride via the rock musical genre which pokes some fun at some of the horror movies of the 50s but does it in a much more light-hearted way than its source material.

Lowly Seymour, an orphan from the Skid Row Orphanage is played by Kage Jonas Coven. Coven is a veteran of local theater and is actually cast against type in this role. It took awhile for Coven to convince me that he was actually the character. Usually portrayed as a wimpy little guy, there is nothing wimpy about Coven. An arm full of tattoos in the opening scene didn’t help. Seymour wouldn’t have the inclination or courage to get one tattoo much less more. But I must say, as the show progressed Coven sold the role and did a great job playing a helpless, insecure, not-too-intelligent flower shop employee.

Vocally he’s on top of every musical number thrown Seymour’s way. He soars in numbers like “Mushnik and Son,” “Suddenly Seymour,” and “Now(It’s Just the Gas).” His comedy timing is excellent and before Act I is half over, he owns the role of Seymour.

Opposite Coven is Carolyn Colley in the role of Audrey. If Seymour ranks as a bit lacking in brains, Audrey owns the franchise. Written as a very dizzy blonde character, Colley pulls out all of the stops and wows the audience with both her acting ability and belty voice. From her initial appearance the audience is in her corner right to the end. Powerful renditions of “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour” help to cement her performance as top quality. Her vocal range and control ring from one corner of the theater to the other. If her mic went out she could still be heard out on Glenwood Avenue.

Shop owner Mr. Mushnik is incredibly well played by Nate Beagle. Beagle has become a well known and dependable actor throughout the area. His portrayal of Mushnik has to rate as one of his best stage appearances to date – if not his best. He plays the disgruntled Mushnik with flare and a sense of comedy that makes him a high point in every scene in which he appears.

Orin Scrivello, the dentist, is a role that many people seem to remember more than any other role in the show. Perhaps it is due to the somewhat twisted nature of the character. Frank Carsone takes on this role in the Playhouse production. The role is written very, very broadly and gives an actor the opportunity to take advantage of that acting freedom. Unfortunately, Carsone didn’t play it broad enough and much of the intensity and comedy of the role was lost. Additionally, he seemed stiff and awkward in much of his movement thus adding to his lack of smoothness.

A trio of street urchins played by Wayne Bonner III, Heather Powell, and Sarah Whitlatch act loosely as a sort of Greek Chorus throughout the show popping up here and there. The trio is written as three females. Bonner’s insertion into one of those roles worked sometimes but other times seemed awkward and out of place. Vocally they were all strong but that did not always carry through to their spoken lines. Many of those lines were just that, spoken, not acted.

There are various other walk-on roles played by Caitlyn Murphy, Alicia Wormley, John Weber, Eric McCrea and Shelby Gossick. Again, all of these roles are written with a broad brush to make them comedic stereotypes. None of these were memorable because the actors didn’t take the characters far enough.

The other major character is, of course, Audrey II – the plant. In its first few appearances the plant (all designed by Joki) worked well. The initial appearance plays well as the plant actually grows in the small flower pot. Even to the end of Act I, the plant still holds its own. Act II, however, was a different story. I expected a much larger plant for one thing. Additionally, the plant seemed too disjointed and the mouth worked sometimes with songs and dialogue but didn’t work at all other times. Connor Bezeredi, who voiced the plant, did a good job in creating the evil character but wasn’t supported by a dependable puppet.

Robert Joki has put together a good cast with great vocal quality and an overall good production. No question, people will enjoy it. Music direction by Tyler Stouffer is well done and emphasizes the best of each actor’s vocal capabilities. Choreography by Emelia Sherin is well done and fits in with the time period of the show.

Set design by Isa Foltz is simple but effective with Mushnik’s Flower Shop as the anchor and small outdoor stoops of neighboring buildings flanking right and left. Leslie Brown’s lighting design compliments the set and helps set mood when needed.

But once again, the Playhouse has chosen to cheat their audience out of part of what live theater is all about by using tinny prerecorded music tracks rather than a live band. Also, it is helpful to have musical numbers listed in the program, which doesn’t seem to happen anymore.

With Halloween just around the corner, “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Playhouse is a great way to get in the mood for that scary time of year. It’s a fun show with plenty of laughs. If you have seen it before, you know what to expect. If you haven’t, be sure to get to the Playhouse before the show closes.

“Little Shop of Horrors
will continue Sept. 23, 29, 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Sept. 24, Oct. 1 at 2:30 p.m.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.