LITTLE SHOP feeds the Halloween Crave

Dayna Jarae Dantzler is the bloodthirsty Audrey II personified, and Michael Linden is the hapless Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors,” now onstage at The Carousel in Asbury Park.  

With Asbury Park fast taking its place as the regional capital of all things Halloween — witness the festering festivities of the upcoming New Jersey Zombie Walk Weekend — it’s become newly traditional, and downright necessary, for ReVision Theatre Company to extend their summer schedule long into the season of the witch, via an annual monster-mash musical inside the iconic Carousel House.

A successful 2010 staging of The Rocky Horror Show at that Off-Boardwalk landmark set the bar high for singing scarefests to follow, and for this month of October the city-based professional troupe has reached for a property that’s instantly familiar from high schools and community playhouses across the land — the Alan MenkenHoward Ashman musical adaptation Little Shop of Horrors.

Inspired by B-movie mogul Roger Corman’s satirical 1960 horror comedy — a film that co-starred a terrifyingly young Jack NicholsonLittle Shop spins the tale of Seymour Krelborn, an orphaned denizen of Skid Row whose employment at Mushnick’s Florist has him in a dither over kind-hearted but bubble-headed blonde co-worker Audrey. It’s an unrequited crush complicated by the fact that Audrey has another suitor — a nasty, abusive, leather-clad, nitrous oxide-huffing dentist named Orin — and the fact that Seymour has an Audrey II, a talking carnivorous plant of unknown origin with an insatiable yen for human hemoglobin.

A surprise smash in its 1980s debut, Little Shop boasts some genuinely offbeat source material, along with a cheerfully doo-woppy jukebox pastiche score (from the team that would bring us Disney’s Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast). Most of all, Little Shop has Audrey II — an ever-growing green gargoyle that’s historically been performed by some crafty puppeteers, and given voice by a succession of big-mouth baritone belters.

Clifton Chadick’s set and production design — a cacophony of cockeyed angles, cobwebs and clutter that uses the quirky Carousel’s vertical aspect to good advantage — offers up the requisite puppet magic for the earliest incarnations of Audrey II — but this being ReVision Theatre, audiences are in for something a bit different by the time they reach the first-act showstopper “Feed Me.” A personification of the alien plant — actress Dayna Jarae Dantzler in cornrows, talons and poison-ivy plastic skirt by costumer Sarah Maiorino — emerges from an oversized flytrap pod to slink about the stage, interact with the other players and take this “Shop” into a dimension hitherto undreamt of. The spectacle of this leafy femme fatale, lending her R&B diva inflections to songs that were once belted out by rubber stage props, adds a seductive dance to the process of Audrey II’s negotiation for new sources of nourishment — although, as played by Dantzler, there’s far more menace than romance to this creature of unwavering appetites.

Another new wrinkle to the production is the (unfortunately not fully developed) recasting of “street urchins” Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette as a team of intergalactic undercover agents sent to smoke out the deadly houseplant. Acting as a Greek chorus of sorts, Aliya Bowles,  Stephany Mora and Chelsea Zeno are onstage for a good deal of the show’s running time, bridging scenes and working in concert with their fellow cast members under the direction of Mary Catherine Burke.

In the more traditionally realized roles of Seymour and Audrey, Michael Linden and Rhiannon Hansen win some well-earned laughs and deliver the goods during goofily earnest solos like “Sudden Changes,” and the paean to plastic-slipcover conformity that is “Somewhere That’s Green.” Alex Michaels has great fun with the show’s funniest and nastiest part (biker dentist Orin) and dials it back just a smidgen for the six or seven additional lawyers, agents, customers and disembodied voices he’s called upon to perform.

A rare middle-aged face within one of ReVision’s accent-on-youth casts, Bradley Mott makes for a perfectly mercurial Mr. Mushnick, mugging it up like the pro he is and winning cheers for his dance duet with Linden on “Mushnick and Son.” Director Burke and choreographer Brad Landers keep things moving admirably on an often crowded stage, particularly in the big company number “Downtown” and the delicate dance of tangled telephone cords on “Call Back in the Morning.”

Little Shop of Horrors continues through October 30 with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. It’s followed for one weekend (December 16-18) at the Paramount Theatre by A Christmas Survival Guide from the creators of last season’s The Bikinis. Tickets range from $18 to $53, and can be reserved right here.


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