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“Little Shop of Horrors” at Providence Day

blumey student critics
T. Ortega Gaines - ogaines@charlotteobserver.com
Sean Breitkreutz

“Little Shop of Horrors” is a rare breed of musical that blends romance, black comedy and elements of horror into one big work of originality, free from many clichés that a wide range of musicals display. Providence Day School grasped the source material with great understanding.

It had a knack for delivering eye candy in “Little Shop,” and no complaints can be made about the decrepit Motown city setting. The basic set consisted of a rotating flower shop/building exterior and the door to a rundown apartment complex. Power lines in the back and lampposts surrounded by trash and graffiti ridden walls gave the set that dark, skid row feel that complemented the eerie story. Small details reflected the crew’s determination and commitment to stay true to the show’s atmosphere.

One set in particular, the dentist’s office (one of the few temporary sets brought onstage) was riddled with horror-comedy elements, such as bloody workman’s tools on a grimy wall covered with X-rays of past victims. An antique dentist’s chair was used in all its gothic glory. Costumes were well designed and fitting for the story, the standouts being the dentist’s oddball gas mask outfit and the colorful dresses of the female cast members.

But what about the actual plant? It was great, especially for a high school performance. Four puppets were used throughout the play, each one cleverly showcasing the growth of the plant. At first, a simple hand puppet extruded from a secret hole in the table; by the end, it was a massive talking puppet that took up almost half of the flower shop. The talking was done through a puppeteer working the plant’s mouth from the back and a cast member speaking directly into the microphone. This worked well, though I noticed the puppet was always a bit late in its syncing of the voice actor.

The audience felt even more enveloped in this world, as actors interacted with them in certain places. During one song, the ensemble came out with green, leaf-like gloves to grab for unsuspecting audience members in aisle seats, which was thrilling and funny. During the show’s last number, vines came down from the ceiling to further incorporate the viewers and provide a fine finale to a great show.

Providence Day had a talented cast of characters and personalities who matched the show’s design. One thing many high school musical performers do wrong is to shift into a character as a song starts. In this show, actors managed to keep in character with their Brooklyn-tinged accents, even as they sang. Gracie Strickert as Audrey was especially gifted in this area.

Music came from a band hidden under the stage, which consistently performed catchy pieces that went well with the performances. Seymour (Thomas Laub) kept the humor and personality of his character alive through song. David Conlin as hilariously sinister dentist Orin Scrivello provided the most over-the-top personality, exaggerating his macho, semi-sadistic act and never failing to grab a laugh. Heather Graci did a good job as the cranky flower shop owner, especially difficult considering that the part was written for a man; she used this obvious gag to her advantage and managed to scoop up laugh after laugh with her personality.

The trio of Barbie-like singing girls (Jess Linnett, Katherine Cherok and Leah Smart) all provided funny moments and catchy songs. The voice of the plant, Audrey II (provided by Malik White) was deep and sinister yet still darkly humorous. The music overpowered the vocals at times, but never enough to fully drown them out.

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