A man-eating plant, a sadistic dentist, and catchy 1950s-style tunes filled the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts during Saturday’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” - a comedy horror musical that spoofs the cheesy science fiction films of the 1950s and ’60s.
Anybody who has seen the 1986 film that this play inspired knows the basic plot. The tale follows the misadventures of Seymour Krelborn (played here by Travis Kuehn) who works at Mushnik’s Flower Shop. One day, during a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour finds an odd plant that he names Audrey II. However, it turns out that Audrey II is not a real plant at all, but an alien with a thirst for human blood and a goal of world domination.
NOVA’s production has several things going for it. The first is the excellent cast that first-time director Chaslee Schweitzer has assembled. While all 10 cast members do a great job, there were at least three standouts.
Recent Rocky graduate Kuehn was great in the role of Seymour. His comic timing was used to great effect during the show’s lighter scenes, but he also handled the dramatic moments well as he let the audience empathize with Seymour as he struggled (and often failed) to make the right decisions.
NOVA newcomer Amanda Pettengill was a standout as the show’s primary narrator, Ronette – a street urchin who commented on the action unfolding throughout the play and who also lent her voice to many of the musical numbers. It’s in this latter function that Pettengill particularly shone as she proved herself to have a diverse vocal range throughout the performance. The audience applauded loudly as she nailed difficult high notes all night.
But the most memorable performance came from Dan Nickerson, the director of NOVA’s Youth Conservatory, in the role as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, who tortured his patients, beat his girlfriend and got high on nitrous oxide. Such a character could easily have become obnoxious, but Nickerson infused him with so much humor that I was honestly a bit sad to see him be eaten by Audrey II before the end of the first act.
His big musical number “Dentist!” was the highlight of the show and filled the entire NOVA auditorium with laughter. His climactic confrontation with Seymour proved to be humorously memorable as well.
One of the more humorous aspects of this production is that it’s sponsored by Broadwater Place Family Dentistry. Dentists may not be liked by some of their customers, but at least they have a sense of humor.
In the end, the biggest star of the show (both literally and figuratively) wasn’t human at all. Audrey II – the foul-mouthed, carnivorous plant – stole the show every time it was on stage. Four fabric and foam Audrey II puppets were used during the performance – all of which had been rented from Billings Studio Theatre, which performed this same show nearly a decade ago. The puppets were impressive works of art: The smallest fit easily into Kuehn’s hands while the largest was so huge that it could swallow actor David Otey (who played flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik).
Audrey II’s three puppeteers (Richard Leeds, Andrew Seeman and Quinten Higbee) all did a fine job. NOVA newcomer Higbee was great as the voice of the plant and made Audrey II’s big musical numbers “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Supper Time” some of the show’s more memorable moments.
The show’s technical aspects, including sound, lighting, costumes and set construction, were well executed. The green and yellow “Mushnik’s Flower Shop” set was particularly well designed and constructed. Longtime NOVA costume designer Gary Treglown and his family made some great 1950s-style outfits for the actors including pedal-pusher pants and leopard-print tops for leading lady Liz Gage.
“Little Shop of Horrors” proved to be an enjoyable night at the theater and a great way to cap off NOVA’s successful freshman season.
“Little Shop of Horrors” will continue through the end of May. Show times are 7:30 p.m. on May 23, 24, 29, 30 and 31, and 2 p.m. on May 25.
NOVA’s second season will begin on Sept. 12 with the Tony-award-winning comedy “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”