Scenery-Chewing Plant Steals the Show

The cult classic ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ brings the laughs at the Central New York Playhouse

Gardeners often battle invasive plants that seem to be trying for world conquest. But at least they don’t yell for a steady diet of human flesh and blood like the monstrous (and chatty) plant in Little Shop of Horrors, the truly funny musical at Shoppingtown’s Central New York Playhouse.

Now a cult favorite, Little Shop started as movie director Roger Corman’s low-budget 1960 horror comedy about a flesh-devouring plant with a huge appetite. In the 1980s, the team of composer Alan Menkin and writer Howard Ashman created songs with witty lyrics to tell about the rise and fall of bespectacled nebbish Seymour Krelborn (played to perfection by Justin Polly). Seymour is an employee in the dilapidated shop of Mr. Mushnik (Jim Magnarelli, managing to sound Jewish), but after all, skid row isn’t exactly a prime location for a flower shop.

As the gigantic plant gains nationwide attention, it becomes the ticket to a better future for Seymour and his adored girlfriend Audrey. She’s played as a delicious blond bimbo by the excellent Korrie Taylor, skittering about on five-inch heels in a skintight mini-dress. Audrey sings of her longing for a tract house where she can serve frozen dinners on furniture covered with plastic: “a fence of real chain link and a disposal in the sink.”

Mushnik, afraid of losing the assistant who has brought him prosperity, does a Tevye-type dance as he invites Seymour to become his son and partner. For this number, music director Abel Searor makes his musicians sound like a klezmer band.

Unfortunately, Audrey is entangled with a hyper-manic, abusive boyfriend, played to the hilt by Jordan Westfall. A sadistic dentist who gets his kicks by inflicting pain, he heightens his pleasure by sniffing nitrous oxide. In what has to be one of the strangest death scenes ever, he laughs himself to death.

Director Dustin Czarny’s greatest coup is his recruitment of J Brazill to sing the voice of Audrey II. In a rumbling basso, the plant shouts, “Cut the crap, baby, and bring on the meat. It’s supper time, bring out the USDA prime. Feed me!”

Three doo-wopping, high-energy girls from the neighborhood (Carleena Manzi, Sami Horner and Ceara Windhausen) give the musical its 1950s feel. The production’s sound design, however, has been amplified to ear-damaging levels. The higher the decibels soar, the more detail gets lost, making it hard to make out the words. Despite those sonic blasts, Little Shop of Horrors is a perfect show for the Halloween season.

Special SALTs on Sunday

The Syracuse New Times’ Syracuse Area Live Theater awards ceremony is slated for Sunday, Oct. 25, 7:30 p.m., at Syracuse Stage, 820 E. Genesee St. SALT director Liam Fitzpatrick has announced a trio of special honors.

Susan Blumer, one of the triumvirate behind the soon-to-end Covey Theatre Company, is receiving the Hall of Fame honor. Blumer and co-Covey conspirators Garrett Heater and Michael Penny produced a batch of acclaimed shows during a five-year run, from provocative musicals such as Rent and Avenue Q  to cerebral original dramas including Playing God and The Romanovs.

Receiving a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award is longtime gay rights activist Earl Colvin, who died May 24 at age 82. Among many accomplishments over the decades, Colvin was also a producer for the local acting troupe Theater a la Carte.

Amelia Beamish, a photographer for several community theaters, will be given a SALT MVP award for her work on Covey’s summer production of Hair. Beamish’s list of credits also include photographs for Central New York Playhouse productions.

A cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m. in the Sutton Pavilion, followed by the awards ceremony at 7:30 p.m. at the Archbold Theater. A gala after-party will take place at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $21 in advance, $25 at the door.

Header photo: Cast members of Central New York Playhouse’s Little Shop of Horrors. Amelia Beamish photo.
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