Make A Day Of It: Little Shop Of Horrors at Portland Center Stage

Audrey, Mr. Mushnik, a young Audrey II, and Seymour in an early scene from Portland Center Stage’s production of Little Shop Of Horrors.

I’ll admit right up front that I haven’t seen the movie version of Little Shop Of Horrors, so it was fun to find out I’d get a chance to attend Opening Night of the Portland Center Stage production of the popular macabre dark comedy musical.  My initial Make A Day Of It feature had some nearby running routes, as well as dates and cost of the play.

Like many popular cultural icons that I haven’t seen, much of the plot and setting of Little Shop Of Horrors had seeped into my consciousness anyway, so I knew a little bit of what to expect, but it was nice to finally experience the play in its entirety, and the Portland Center Stage cast and crew pulled out all the stops to make it a top notch spectacle.

The sets, stagecraft, and special effects were fun and highly creative, with a bleak street scene periodically opening up and giving way to the titular florist shop, symbolically not unlike the structure of the ominous plant that forms the centerpiece of the plot. The constantly growing and evolving Audrey II plant was a marvel of puppetry, costume design, and maybe even robotics.

The other three main characters (in addition to Audrey II), Mr. Mushnik the flower shop owner, Seymour the dweebish botanist, and Audrey the timid shop employee with a heart of gold and a dream of moving to the suburbs were all very good, brought to hilarious life by David Meyers, Nick Cearley, and Gina Milo respectively. The actors’ interplay and timing was terrific, and their singing was excellent, albeit in the usual corny “Broadway Musical” style.

But for me, the supporting cast really carried the show. The three-woman “Greek chorus” made up of women cleverly named for classic girl groups of the ‘60s (Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette with an additional “n”), played by Johari Nandi Mackey, Alexis Tidwell, and Ebony Blake, sang their songs with gusto and panache, and strutted, darted, and gestured around the stage in flawlessly high style. Jamison Stern played multiple roles, most notably Audrey’s boyfriend, the smarmy and sadistic dentist Orin. As he reappeared in different sleazy guises, each character trying to cash in on the Audrey II phenomenon and exploit the conflicted Seymour, the audience’s recognition of the same actor returning to the stage following amazingly quick costume changes became part of the comedy in itself.

Satirizing insatiable appetite, greed, fame, ambition, botany, and the overwhelming and corrupting power of love, and doing for dentistry what Sweeney Todd did for barbers, Portland Center Stage’s production of Little Shop Of Horrors is a darkly comic romp that keeps the audience laughing out loud without the aid of nitrous oxide. The play “runs” through October 16th at The Armory in NW Portland.

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