'Little Shop' Is Big Fun

Friday July 16, 04
by David Cuthbert, Times-Picayune Lagniappe

'Little Shop' is big fun

Friday, July 16, 2004

By David Cuthbert

Theater writer  / The Times Picayune

If you could harness the energy and talent on display in "Little Shop of Horrors" at Rivertown Repertory Theatre, we'd have a major new power source. And if director Brandt Blocker could bottle the polish and effervescence he brings to the stage, it would sell like Vienna sausage during hurricane season.

In his first independent production, Blocker and a prodigiously gifted cast bring an exuberance to the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical comedy, based on Roger Corman's 1961 movie, that makes you understand why audiences continue falling in love with this quirky show about a man-eating plant. Blocker's version is exhilarating, giving full value to the pop-rock-doo-wop score and jokey book, sporting first-rate talent with voices to match, faultless comic timing, sight and sound gags and flashy lighting effects.

It deserves to run all summer, but is scheduled for only four more performances.

As Seymour Krelborn, the Skid Row florist's assistant who discovers a strange new plant, we have a major new talent in Keith Claverie, an assured and appealing 20-year-old who brings real acting values to a cartoon role and comedic savvy that belies his years. He can sing, too, as he proves in "Grow for Me."

Emily Antrainer's Audrey, his sweetly dim blond co-worker with serious self-esteem problems, is visually and vocally stunning, unleashing a plaintive, powerhouse belt of a voice on "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly, Seymour."

Luis Q. Barroso, as Skid Row florist Mr. Mushnik, enriches the proceedings every moment he's on stage. He gives us a multilayered Mushnik: grumbling, concerned, greedy and giddy as he throws himself into the number "Mushnik and Son" with Claverie, a klezmer tango that drew cheers.

The girl group Greek chorus -- Gabrielle Porter, Gina Porter and Kallie Miller -- are in perfect sync as an ensemble, create individual characters and sing like mini-Motown divas.

Kenneth Thompson, as Audrey's abusive, black leather-jacketed dentist beau Orin, is the young, "Jailhouse Rock" Elvis in his big number and projects an era-specific, androgynous sexuality.

Rendell DuBose is the commanding voice of ever-growing plant Audrey II, Bernie Prat its puppeteer. Also of note: Jeremy Reese as a pimp and Clare Booth Luce (!); Anna Toujas as Mrs. Chang and Eric Bond as an eager agent. Jaune Buisson's choreography -- particularly her girl group staging -- is amusingly and dependably on-the-money. The setting and sensational lighting are by Jonathan Foucheaux.

This is a "Shop" one never tires of visiting, especially when the merchandise is of this quality.