COURTESY OF KARIS LO / UH-MANOA
Pedro Haro plays Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors."
'Female' plant joins winsome comic cast
It's a big show squeezed into a small space, but with Pedro Haro as Seymour and Nicole Brilhante as Audrey, student director Jennifer Linstad's ambitious staging of "Little Shop of Horrors" overcomes the challenges.
Linstad's "Little Shop" works as dark comedy, as an offbeat love story and as a solid yet imaginative take on a classic American musical.
"Little Shop of Horrors," presented by the University of Hawaii-Manoa theater department, continues at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Ernst Lab Theatre. Tickets are $10. Call 956-7655.|
Haro gives the show its heart and soul. He deftly balances nerdiness and innocence
in playing a mild-mannered flower shop assistant who falls under the spell of a megalomaniac carnivorous plant. Seymour is a hapless geek at the beginning of the story; Haro makes his slow transition into romantic lead believable. Seymour's gradual moral corruption as he comes under the influence of the malevolent talking plant is developed with similar finesse.
Haro has a strong leading lady in Brilhante, who plays Audrey as much more mature and experienced than her geeky admirer. Girls do grow up faster than boys, and Brilhante builds on that fact of life in her performance. The range of emotions that play across both actors' faces during "Suddenly Seymour" makes the sudden change in their relationship seem a marvelous epiphany.
Brilhante's big solo, "Somewhere That's Green," likewise comes across as poignant, rather than as evidence of Audrey's limited intellect. In short, Brilhante plays Audrey as a woman to sympathize with, not laugh at.
Zachary Stephens looks several years too young to have finished dental school but is a serviceable comic villain as Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist who keeps Audrey in psychological bondage when he doesn't actually have her in handcuffs. Age issues aside, Stephens is perfect as a nasty hood. The only problem is that he isn't nasty enough to keep his final scene from having a peculiar tragic element.
Linstad, who is directing "Little Shop" in partial fulfillment of her Master of Fine Arts degree, makes two significant changes in this popular parody of low-budget horror movies. She adds an extra male voice -- Josh Tucker as Ronnie, the third member of a trio whose numbers give the show most of its early-'60s pop ambience. Ronnie is usually played by a woman, and the trio presented as a caricature of classic "girl groups." Get past the surprise of a masculine Ronnie, and Tucker gives a satisfactory performance alongside Yvette Nii (Chiffon) and Coty Haunani Yoshie Ishiitani (Crystal).
Linstad's other experiment is riskier but successful. Rather than a conventional gender-neutral carnivorous plant, hers is female, played by Danielle Rabinovitch. She emerges in the middle of an elaborate puppet, enacting the plant's seduction of Seymour in eye-catching style.
The plant's victims are incorporated into larger versions of the puppet; those actors join Rabinovitch in animating it.
The show's biggest problem is probably unavoidable. Linstad and her musical director, Allyson Paris, support the cast with live musicians rather than music tracks. Unfortunately, placement of the musicians up in the grid on the mauka side of the theater means that anyone seated to the left of center will find the music drowns out the singers on some numbers. Get a seat on the makai side if possible.
Linstad's decision to graft a political subtext onto "Little Shop" is problematic, but the overall quality of her unpretentious lab theater project shows that the UH-Manoa can stage quality productions of American musical theater as well as big-budget versions of Asian genres.