Majestic’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is too tough to digest

Kady Heard, left, as Audrey and Cory Benway as Seymour perform during a dress rehearsal for the Majestic Repertory Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” at Alios, 1217 S Main St., Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. In the background, from left, are Destiny Faith Nelson as Chiffon, Breonna Dobbs as Crystal, and Jillian Austin as Ronette.
Photo: Steve Marcus
Jacob Coakley

Two stars

Little Shop of Horrors Through November 1, Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m.; Monday, October 31 & Tuesday, November 1, 8 p.m.; $25-$28. Alios, 702-423-6366.

The musical Little Shop of Horrors is a cute adaptation of Roger Corman’s B-movie (if that’s not too redundant) about a sentient plant that eats people. Penned by the same team that would go on to score The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast for Disney (Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) it’s full of ridiculously catchy songs and corny jokes. Staged by Troy Heard and his new company Majestic Repertory Theatre, this is the first production in the Alios space, a converted storefront on Main Street in the Arts District. But the space—and the show—felt slapped together and incomplete.

Heard staged the show alley style, with the audience on two sides of the action. This allows him to have two large set pieces on either end of the space, one for the storefront of the florist where the action takes place, the other a rotating set piece that is, alternately, a front stoop of a row house or the back of the flower shop. It gives him a depth if stage he wouldn’t have in faux-proscenium style. On the other hand, it diffused the focus of the actors, who played most of the show to one side, until they remembered there was another, and then came over to sing a few bars there.

The setup seemed to befuddle Heard, too. The staging was sloppy and unfocused, and I consistently found my attention drawn to the wrong part of the stage. Someone’s lines or the lighting or the blocking drew my attention to one spot of the stage, while something important was actually happening somewhere else.

A general feeling of being slapped together pervaded the show. The audio mix was horrible, beyond even the challenges of mixing a live band and singers in a small space full of reflective surfaces. The audio mixer missed cues throughout the evening, and whole sections of songs were unintelligible.

But it wasn’t just the audio. There were problems with props not working right, and at one point an unsecured set piece fell to the floor, shattering glass vases and strewing debris through the audience. Motion was an issue with the puppetry for the people-eating plant, Audrey II. You can’t expect perfect synchronization between plant and vocals, but the mouth’s indiscriminate flapping reminded me of a poorly dubbed Godzilla movie from the ’70s.

Performances were hit and miss. Kady Heard was spot-on in her performance of bubble-headed love interest Audrey, while Cory Benway eventually won me over as Seymour. But Anthony Turchiano as the dentist couldn’t deliver on one of the show’s marquee songs—and missed multiple opportunities for humor in a variety of other roles. Rob Kastil as flower shop proprietor Mushnik was all one note. The Motown-inspired girl group of Destiny Faith, Breonna Dobbs, and Jillian Austin were fabulous as the Greek chorus to the show—but again, persistent audio problems meant it was hard to hear them throughout. Todd+Bryan’s lighting design, perhaps limited by power distribution in the space, was basic, and more distracting than artistic when they tried to do more than present a general wash on the stage.

It’s hard to convert a space into a theater, and I don’t doubt that a lot of the show’s struggles stemmed from that. Hopefully things will be smoother for the next show.

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