All good things must come to an end, and the five-year run of Slow Burn Theatre at the West Boca Performing Arts Theatre is one of those things. No worries for the troupe’s fans, though: Slow Burn isn’t vanishing, just relocating.
Since its launch in 2010 with Bat Boy, Slow Burn has grown into one of South Florida’s best and most daring musical theater companies. As of this fall, it will be the resident company in the Amaturo Theater at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. (Another professional company, the Marquee Theater Company, will launch its season of musicals with the Elton John-Tim Rice Aida at the Boca Raton facility in the fall.)
Bidding Boca adieu, Slow Burn is doing a start-of-summer production of the 1982 Off-Broadway smash Little Shop of Horrors. Even if that would mean a bit of a road trip for you, the drive is worth it, if only to hear some of the region’s best actors sing the heck out of the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman score.
The stellar vocals aren’t the only thing Little Shop has to offer, though. Patrick Fitzwater’s direction and choreography, Andrew Gilbert’s musical direction, the cast’s acting, and the mad puppet duo of Rick Peña and Geoffrey Short (Peña operates the ravenous Audrey II, Short supplies the booming voice of the man- and woman-eating plant) all live up to the high bar Slow Burn has set for itself.
Based on the low-budget 1960 Roger Corman horror movie, the musical Little Shop of Horrors is a spoof in which a bad ending (all the major characters end up as plant food) doesn’t equal a sad ending.
Set in a withering flower shop on Skid Row, the show begins in despair as crabby Mr. Mushnik (Matthew Korinko) threatens to fire his horticulturally curious assistant Seymour Krelborn (Mike Westrich) and saleslady Audrey (Amy Miller Brennan), a sweet-natured blond whose rock-bottom self esteem has led her to date an abusive dentist, Orin Scrivello (Shane Tanner). Seymour saves the day, the shop and his job when he develops a “strange and interesting plant” he dubs the Audrey II, in honor of the co-worker on whom he has a massive crush.
Looking like a rapidly growing Venus flytrap, Audrey II puts its carnivorous cousin to shame, demanding blood and (soon enough) guts. One by one, the characters make an inevitable journey down Audrey II’s gullet, as the girl-group neighborhood chorus — Crystal (Christina Alexander), Ronette (Nicole Dikun) and Chiffon (Elisa Dannielle) — offers sly musical commentary.
Sean McClelland’s deliberately distressed set, Lance Blank’s sometimes murky-by-choice lighting and Peña’s tongue-in-cheek costumes give Slow Burn’s Little Shop a cartoonish vibe, and the characters could be played that way. But thankfully they’re not, and the production has plenty of heart.
Westrich, Miller Brennan, Korinko and Tanner are powerhouse singers, so much so that when they’re singing together, Fitzwater (who also does the sound) should probably take the volume down a notch or two or three.
Westrich is earnest and adorable as Seymour, the nice guy whose willingness to do anything for Audrey (the human, not the plant) leads to an all-too-short romance. Miller Brennan finds the sweet, yearning-for-normalcy humor and the darker colors in Audrey, infusing Somewhere That’s Green with precisely controlled longing. Tanner, Miller Brennan’s real-life hubby, makes Orin a goofy yet decidedly unsettling bully with a killer voice, and he’s terrific in a variety of other quick-change roles. Korinko is all conniving bluster as Mushnik, and as the sassy “urchin” chorus, Alexander, Dikun and Dannielle add immeasurably to the droll tone and vocal richness of the show.
Peña and Short create the requisite bloodthirsty magic needed to make Audrey II as viable a character as any of the others. Let the finale song, Don’t Feed the Plants, serve as a warning: Unless you want to end up as a human version of Miracle-Gro, stay away from the stage.