Stroll into the lobby of Playhouse on Park in West Hartford, CT anytime before October 16, and you’ll find yourself in a space transformed to resemble a dilapidated flower shop on a trash-ridden street. Fans of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s cult-classic musical Little Shop of Horrors, now receiving a delightful production at the Playhouse, will know this part of town as Skid Row – home to a rundown flower shop known as Mushnik’s.
Beyond the clever use of the lobby by scenic designer Brian Dudkiewicz, the immersive nature of this presentation of Little Shop continues as the performance begins; in place of a pre-show announcement, director Susan Haefner has the local urchins (a trio of young women who provide narration throughout the show in the style of a 60’s girl group) take to the stage to mingle with the audience in a manner that feels like being welcomed to the neighborhood. The intimacy of Playhouse on Park’s space makes these choices all the more effective in the way they introduce the audience to the world of the play.
And in that world, the majority of the action takes place in the aforementioned flower shop. Much like the store itself, the characters working in Mushnik’s have seen better times. The owner Mr. Mushnik is stuck with a flailing business, the orphaned and gawky clerk Seymour is stuck trying to find his place in the world, and the downtrodden clerk Audrey is stuck in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist. However, their fates are all changed when Seymour introduces a peculiar, venus flytrap-like plant to the shop that he names the Audrey II after his co-worker with whom he is secretly in love.
While Little Shop can be cartoonish in the wrong hands, it has an incredibly human story at the heart of it. This cast and creative team do an excellent job of bringing that to the surface while still honoring the more comedic elements of the show. Much of the piece is about disenfranchisement and the lengths to which we go to escape it to realize our dreams. Emily Kron (Audrey) and Steven Mooney (Seymour) embody their characters in a way that cuts to the core of that idea. As an audience, we see the challenges their characters face; yet, Kron and Mooney beautifully portray the passion that keeps them moving forward despite it all. To speak to the other side of the piece, Aidan Eastwood in particular nails some of the more comedic moments as the sadistic dentist, which is no easy feat given the balancing act with which he is faced; as Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, he must be disliked by the audience for his actions, but he must also have the crowd laughing at who he is as a person. And Eastwood pulls off that dynamic wonderfully.
Tickets for Little Shop of Horrors at Playhouse on Park can be purchased here!
By: Robby Dougher