With Sonoma gardens in full spring bloom, “Little Shop of Horrors”, about a strange and unusual plant, is a fitting season opener for the 2014 season of live theater presented by the Sonoma Theatre Alliance. This Narrow Way Stage Company production, directed by Christopher Ginesi, features a mix of youthful and seasoned local actors in the well-known spoof on 1960s horror movies and musicals with a rock n roll twist. A nerdy floral assistant, Seymour, with not much going for him has been tinkering in the back room when he discovers a remarkable plant with a predilection for human blood. At first a few drops suffice, but then things get out of hand, like a Venus Fly Trap gone mad. Seymour discovers that fame and fortune comes with a price and he struggles to find his equilibrium amid conflicting pressures including pleasing his cantankerous boss and wooing his previously out-of-reach love interest.
The raucous 1960s musical, originally written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken, encompasses rock and roll, doo-wop and Motown and is sure to be a crowd pleaser. The references to symbols of the 60s such as aspirations for plastic-covered furniture and a DisposAll in the kitchen sink, will be amusing to those who remember back that far. The show opens with three, young female doo-wap singers, Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon (played by Regie Padua, Alexis Long and Laura Levin), whose harmonies mostly work, on a set made to evoke a typical skid row with the failing Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists storefront. Seymour, played by Matlock Zumsteg, is so successful at looking nerdy that his powerful and sonorous voice is a complete surprise, and Nora Summers, as Audrey, is equally matched in vocal abilities, while effectively pulling off the look of a slightly tawdry young woman with poor self-esteem and worse taste in men. Dallas Munger, as the sadistic dentist, delivered one of the most compelling performances of the evening, with his nuanced and zany delivery—you’re horrified when he grabs the rusty, oversized drill but you can’t help giggling at the over-the-top absurdity of it all. The sneaker performer, who vies with Munger in threatening to steal the show, is Butch Engle, who lurks in the shadowy balcony above the stage with the Skid Row Band musicians (Justin Pyne, Sean Allen, Isaac Carter, Rod Verette and JB Duff), who, by the way, add tremendous depth to the play. Engle does the voice of the plant, known as Audry II, and once you identify the man behind the voice and see how physical his performance is it’s hard not to be completely captivated. These two robust actors anchor the play with Munger present mostly in the first act while Engle comes into his own in the second act. Michael Hunter rounds out the cast, skillfully filling in for a number of supporting roles.
Speaking of supporting roles, a nice touch was the botanical display of a Venus Fly Trap, forerunner of the Audrey II, in the lobby. Gifted to Zumsteg by Sebastopol’s California Carnivors, the largest retail carnivorous plant nursery in the United States, it brought home the fact that plants can, indeed, be carnivorous, sometime insatiably.
The Sonoma Theatre Alliance, a consortium of North Bay-based theater companies, supports member companies by providing the administrative functions necessary to put on shows, freeing creative minds to do what they do best. The 2014 Festival of Theatre includes eight plays presented by six different companies, generally Thursday through Saturday evenings and a Sunday matinee. In addition, on Monday-Wednesday Sonoma Nights Showcase is presented, a series of intimate performances that includes music, cabaret, readings and more. Jaime Love, a Sonoma theater regular for years, is the Executive Director.
The Narrow Way Stage Company, founded in 2005 by Nick Christenson, Chris Ginesi and Tony Ginesi, is a Cotati-based, non-profit theater group committed to nurturing young actors in local theater productions. They will be presenting two plays during the Festival of Theatre, with the next one being “Alice, The Rebellion of Wonderland” in August.
“Little Shop of Horrors”, playing through May 4 at the Sonoma Community Center, is full of humor, rollicking music and entertainment for the whole family.
“Little Shop of Horrors”, presented by Narrow Way Stage Company in association with Sonoma Theatre Alliance, by special arrangement with Music Theatre International
Rotary Stage, Andrews Hall, Sonoma Community Center
276 East Napa Street
Sonoma, CA 95476
Sonoma Valley Box Office
$20 (Thursdays); $30 (Weekends)
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through May 4, 2014