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Arts | Coolture

Fresh ideas help New Village’s ‘Little Shop’ blossom

Sittichai Chaiyahat as Seymour and Cashae Monya as Audrey in New Village Arts’ “Little Shop of Horrors.” At back left are the Doo-Wop ensemble played by Chris Bona, far left, Patricia Jewel and Natasha Baenisch.
Cashae Monya as Audrey and Sittichai Chaiyahat as Seymour in New Village Arts’ “Little Shop of Horrors.”
(Courtesy of Daren Scott)

The musical spoof “Little Shop of Horrors” is approaching middle age, but a freshly imagined production that opened Saturday at New Village Arts theater in Carlsbad has made it ageless.

Since its original off-Broadway production in 1982, “Little Shop” has been presented in largely the same fashion, both onstage and on film. But director AJ Knox’s production at New Village is gender-blind and color-blind, and its alien man-eating plant Audrey II is now entirely untethered. With a strong-singing cast and wildly creative costumes by Amanda Quivey, it’s fun, creative and lighthearted entertainment with a heart.

Set in the 1950s, “Little Shop of Horrors” is the gloriously campy story of a carnivorous plant from outer space that devours several people at a skid-row flower shop; it’s set to a clever and entertaining score by “The Little Mermaid” songwriting team Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. The musical spoofs the cinematic creature features of the 1950s and ‘60s.

Sittichai Chaiyahat is boyish and endearing as Seymour, the timid clerk at a failing flower shop who discovers the strange plant and convinces his boss to display it in the shop’s front window. The plant creates a sensation but at a huge cost, after Seymour discovers the plant will only thrive on a diet of human blood.

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Seymour names the plant Audrey II, after his co-worker, the kewpie-doll blonde Audrey. In this production, Audrey is played by African-American actress Cashae Monya who wears the blond wig but enriches the character with her trademark heart, honesty and powerhouse singing. She delivers her character’s touching “I want” song, “Somewhere That’s Green,” with real tears.

Greedy shop owner Mr. Mushnik is now Mrs. Mushnik, in a freewheeling and comically free-drinking performance by Melissa Fernandes. And the show’s Greek chorus, the street urchins usually played by three African-American women, are played here by the multiracial trio of Chris Bona, a male tenor, and female singers Natasha Baenisch and Patricia Jewel. Bona’s deeper harmonies add a nice texture to the trio’s ear-pleasing doo-wop harmonies.

Philip David Black shows versatility as the sadistic dentist Orin as well as more than a half-dozen other bit characters. And big-voiced soul singer Eboni Muse pretty much steals the second act as the ravenous plant Audrey II, a role usually played by a man.

The show is choreographed by Kevin “Blax” Burroughs, who brings a lot more variety to the doo-wop dance steps than usually seen. He also creates an imaginative “dance” between Seymour and an adolescent potted version of Audrey II — and, with director Knox, brings Audrey II out of her “shell” to move freely around the flower shop in an eye-popping costume that fascinates from blossom headdress to leafy toe.

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Benjamin Goniea is the production’s musical director and conductor Tony Houck leads an offstage five-piece orchestra from the keyboard. The Audrey II puppets were created by Madison Mellon, with lighting by David Romero, scenery by Doug Cumming, sound by Violet Ceja and wigs by Missy Bradstreet. Milena (Sellers) Phillips served as assistant director.

Although the show’s concept is ghoulish, it’s all done for fun, which makes the show appropriate summer entertainment for pretty much all ages.

“Little Shop of Horrors”

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 p.m. Sundays. Through Aug. 4.

Where: New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State St., Carlsbad

Tickets: $25-$47 (discounts available)

Phone: (760) 433-3245

Online: newvillagearts.org


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