Suddenly Rob McClure is Seymour (with a luxury assist from Christian Borle)

In Uncategorized on August 18, 2022 at 3:22 pm

Rob McClure has been a modern-day musical comedy treasure for some time now and I wanted to catch him in the long-running revival of Little Shop of Horrors at the West Side Theater. He did not disappoint, serving up great musical chops, hilarious physical comedy and a special quality he has always had that no amount of stage success or schooling can buy – his innately deep humanity. That is, perhaps his greatest and most essential gift of all to the role of Seymour, the nebbishy florist who finally finds success when he cultivates Audrey 2, a uniquely mammoth specimen of flora which, unbeknownst to all but Seymour, demands human blood for it to thrive. 

The carnivorous weed, impressively gargantuan and every color of the rainbow, becomes a media sensation and suddenly customers are flocking to the once moribund tiny shop owned by crotchety Mr. Mushnick, who adopted the orphan Seymour as a child.  The new star of the store is named after Audrey, his sexy co-worker, and also  the woman Seymour secretly loves, played by  another longtime New York musical favorite Tammy Blanchard, who was so sidesplitting funny as the cluelessly imperious bimbo in How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying, breathes fulsome life into this rather noxiously underwritten part in lyricist Howard Ashman‘s book, based on the Roger Corman 1960 horror potboiler which featured a very young Jack Nicholson in a minor role. Blanchard endows Audrey with her full arsenal of urban moxie and casual voluptuousness, as well as her own distinctive rubber-limbed farcical wizardry, moving across the stage at times with seemingly every arm and leg splayed out in different directions, and then there’s her rousing huge belt of a voice (which puts over her songs, the winsome Somewhere That’s Green and the anthemic Suddenly Seymour, in such a way as to shake the rafters of this intimate theater). There actually exists today a few physically gifted actresses in comedy, in the honorable tradition of Lucy and rangy laugh hunter Rosalind Russell, plus all those silent screen comediennes who soundlessy spoke with their hyperactive Jazz Age flapper bodies like Colleen Moore, Bebe Daniels, Constance Talmadge, Clara Bow and Marion Davies… and then there is Blanchard, whose ANKLES can expressively tell a story. With her own earthy likability, she and McClure have a quirkily convincing chemistry which goes a long way in putting over this show, which has always been half semi-delicious diversion and half too dark and weird, a real bummer by its end, as tragedy after tragedy befalls the cast.  

Blanchard, indeed, has her work cut out for her because if any show tried to promote a heroine like Audrey today, rather than in 1982, the year of its inception, its cancellation would be imminent, provided it even got produced in the first place.. For Audrey has basically one single component to her human makeup – she’s a victim. And, one could surmise, a masochist, the master of her fate being her boyfriend Orin, this creep of a sadistic dentist, who is responsible for the bruises and black eye she tries to conceal at work. Besides that roaring monster Audrey 2, which would have frightened the pee out me as a kid, it’s another aspect of Little Shop which really prevents it from being the adorable, family-friendly show it’s often touted to be by its various producers over the years. To put it bluntly, Audrey is no kind of leading lady I would like to expose my young daughter to – if I had one-and the fanciful musical comedy  context, where anything goes and even bad things can be softened into the dippily unreal, isn’t sufficient cushioning or adequate justification for her upsetting moments of being a human punching bag for Orin, thereby putting the show in the same dubious light as Carousel which, for all its great music, still posits a perpetual -if doomed – wife-beater, Billy Bigelow, as its hero.

As that horrible dentist, Christin Borle, in a bit of luxury casting, finds the perfect showcase for his trademark frenetic energy, amusingy playing a slew of other characters as well. His deadly encounter with McClure’s Seymour is a definite, if grisly, highlight of the show with two physically adept and attuned stage farceurs at the top of their game, performing this nastiness with the perfect skill and aplomb of some legendary comic duo (which, come to think of it, they come mighty close to being here). It becomes delirious, ever more gruesome fun, as they hectically try to outdo/kill each other in song and schtick, until Borle eventually succumbs to an interminable laughing fit on too much nitrous oxide, finally kicking the bucket after a few self-indulgent false alarms, in the most hysterically protracted, over the top death scene I have ever witnessed on any stage. Earlier, in the show,too, he was very funny as a dizzy lady customer, capturing a certain type of NYC deep-pocketed dingbat, forever ostentatiously window shopping or browsing, but rarely ever buying anything, to perfection.  

Aaron Arnell Harrington gives thunderously unnerving voice to the ravenous Audrey 2, here a skillfully manipulated large-scale plant puppet, with the jaws of death snapping shut tightly over her  sundry victims. I did enjoy the more lighthearted first half, but I guess I had forgotten just how dark this show becomes in the second with its nihilistic violence, revengeful plotting and surfeit of death taking over. The book’s dank underbelly dominates the final scenes, as that media interest in Audrey 2 begets financial success for both Seymour and the shop, while the plant’s wacko power and influence over our hapless, helpless hero burgeons, devastatingly claiming almost as many crucial victims by the end of the show as Hamlet, with its corpse-covered finale. The climax is a too facile and edgy nightmare of world domination – reflective of the paranoia of the 1950s over Communists, the atomic bomb, space invaders, you name it, when the original film was made – in the hands, or should I say leaves, of Audrey 2, who never met a man she didn’t like (to eat). The finale feels random and rushed, also quite cold and callous, closing things out on a particularly grim and sour note.  

Stuart Zagnit gives a competent if none too original performance as a stock Mr. Mushnik, and, while the three young ladies (Khalifa White, Cristina Rae and Khadija Sankoh) who form the girl group-like Greek chorus, a notion handily revived for Hairspray, bring a ton of energetic spirit to the proceedings, at this unbridled point in a long run, they often bring it so vigorously and variously, that they sometimes seem to be performing in three different shows.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: