It opened last night at Timber Lake Playhouse as a much anticipated comedic event. The‘Shop of Horrors’ is the last main stage of six shows in Season 56. The show follows one of the most successful runs in TLP history with one of the most talented resident companies to date. The closing of show number five, “Carousel,” last week marked a sad milestone as many company members said their goodbyes to this season as well as departing artistic director Jim Beaudry.
So the TLP campus, in theory, should be quieter with a reduced population of actors. Not so, however, when you consider that the remaining singers/actors will blast their way through the “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Book and lyrics of “Little Shop of Horrors” was created and originally directed by the late Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, and musical Staging by Edie Cowan. This play is based on the film by Roger Corman and Screenplay by Charles Griffith. Beaudry calls the show one of the funniest ever written.
The show is directed by special guest Lil-Anne Brown, a frequent TLP flier whose past credits include, “Cabaret,” “Hairspray” and “Sweet Charity.” As a Chicago native, she is award-winning, (Joseph Jefferson Award in 2014 for “Ahrens& Flaherty’s Dessa Rose” and BTA Award in 2011 for “Passing Strange.”) She might hold the title “star of stage and screen,” with her accomplishments in A&E series “The Beast,” Second City and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre to name but a few. With all her additional accolades as director, actor and educator, she clearly exudes a passion of pizzazz that reaches out to whatever cast at hand. This time, a fortunate few got to work with her.
The energetic introduction to this mania are official doo-oppers, Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon who set the pace throughout. They emulate an era of early Motown as they enter and exit costumed by Emma O’Dell in various contrasting sparkles and vibrant hues, contrasting, that is, to the Skid Row blight surrounding them. Their ongoing vibes and vibratos can also be compared to an ancient idea centuries BC, or in the days before we knew how to spell Prometheus or Sophocles. Then, the Greek chorus like ‘Little Shop’s Doo-oppers were often merely observers and commentators apart from the stage action. They warned, they worried, they predicted.
This particular trio, Shayla Brielle, Emilie Kouatchou, and Nissi Shalome Smith step up to the task at hand as a perfect blend of sopranos. Brielle returns to TLP since last season after an enormously successful “Having Our Say” with costar Jenia Head about the Delaney sisters and their century of experiences. Kouatchou has been a viable TLP force throughout this season with her memorable appearances in “Evita” with her glorious piece with the men’s chorus, “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” and as Carrie Pipperidge with Marcus Martin in “Carousel.” She brings her opera-trained voice to any role with accomplished brilliance. Nissi Smith easily blends in the trio as she has performed all summer in the resident company.
Somewhere under, over, or buried in a blob is the wonderful vibes of Marcus Martin portraying the voice of Audrey II. You won’t get to see how he fills the stage with his strong presence, however, nor hear his rich tenor except as an adjunct to the action. He is, in fact, clutching a microphone somewhere else unless you catch a quick glimpse of his near-cameo drunkenness early on.
Audrey is delightfully portrayed by Elya Faye Bottiger, another TLP favorite throughout this season as well as last in “Titanic,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” and “Gyspy.” Her range of roles spans all things funny and sad as her invisible toughness underneath is covered by a sweetness on top, like the icing on a cake.
This season couldn’t be without Grant Alexander Brown as the resident all-around bad guy as Mr. Mushnik in this show. He’s the quintessential shyster, winking wicked, and a whiz at all things nefarious. Yes, he sings and dances on walls and ceilings, wherever the script takes him. If he needs to hold his breath or make a vibrato last umpteen measures, then finish with a Vaudevillian tango, he connives his way through that as in this show. Brown is truly the embodiment of hysteria.
Sam Columbus is a bit of a phenomenon himself as he takes on the role of Seymour Krelborn. The resident actor was almost in the shadows during the previous shows as a squeeze box player and special noise effects here and there. In this show, he emerges downstage as a joyous character and wonderful voice where he has belonged all along with his musical theatre major at Baldwin University.
Kieran McCabe as Orin Scrivello is his usual versatility on steroids. He steps into any role, anytime, anywhere and takes it on as if he has transformed himself into another realm of genius. All leathered and living on the edge as a woman abuser/dentist he manages yet another chapter of frenzied hysteria. MOST impressive was the last scene in Act I when he died a huffing death with dramatic flourish.
Will Hughes was invaluable as ensemble stage coordinator and Ken Singleton was briefly in drag as Audrey II Puppeteer following his masterful “Carousel” lead from which he deserves a rest.
Oh, yes. There’s a story of sorts, but you’ll have to laugh your way through it along with the musical notes of musical director Cindy Blanc.
Don’t miss the madness of the last show, “Little Shop of Horrors,” that continues tonight August 11 and runs through August 20, including four 2 p.m. matinees. Evening shows at 7:30 p.m. (No show Monday July 14.) But if you can’t get enough of Timber Lake Playhouse in Season 56, there’s more to come. Two weekends in September of “Million Dollar Quartet” highlight a long ago Memphis sensation when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley jam some of the best of gospel, R&B and country hits. Relive that as it was on December 4, 1956!
Also, “Felix & Fingers Dueling Pianos perform for one night only Saturday, October 7. More events include Haunted House Saturday Nights in and “Rocky Horror Picture Show Screening in October.
The boonies theatre is a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road, Mount Carroll. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or www.timberlakeplayhouse.org for tickets, group rates and more information. Don’t miss the cash bar before and during the show! Some comedic violence and mild language included in the show. ###