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Theatre Review (LA): Little Shop of Horrors by Ashman and Menken at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts

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Little Shop of Horrors is making the rounds at various theatres in the Southland, most notably Performance Riverside and Cabrillo. Now it is La Mirada’s turn. The sets, costumes, and lights are all very similar but what defines each production is the cast and the direction. La Mirada has assembled a first-rate cast, a great musical director in David O., tight direction by Brian Kite, and serviceable choreography by Dana Solimando.

Little Shop of Horrors is based on a low-budget 1960 black comedy film by director Roger Corman. The musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman featured music in the vein of early rock and roll, doo-wop, and early Motown. Several well-known songs have come from the show, most notably “Suddenly Seymour.” The original off-Broadway show featured Lee Wilkof and Ellen Greene (who went on to star in the movie of the musical and also the West End production) and ran for five years; since then the show has been performed all over the world. It won the New York critics’ Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and the Outer Critics Circle Award. It is one of the most performed shows in high schools throughout the country.

The production at La Mirada is one of the best I have ever seen, and I have seen a lot, including the original off-Broadway show. Leslie Margherita, an Olivier Award-winning actress, plays the dim-witted but gorgeous Audrey. What a range the actress has, as she is also to play the lead in the upcoming Kiss Me Kate at Reprise. Brett Rybeck, a multi-talented performer at home in musicals and straight plays who is also a composer, is the nebbish Seymour who discovers the man-eating plant and becomes its master until the plant masters him. Rybeck and Margherita have great chemistry together. He is the musical director for her cabaret shows.

Bob Amaral, who has made a career of taking over from Nathan Lane, makes a wonderful Mr. Mushnik, Seymour’s boss. Amaral brings just the right mix of compassion and greed to the part. The muscular and talented James Royce Edwards plays Orin the sadistic dentist as well as a variety of other roles. He brings his leading-man good looks and his quirky sense of humor to each role. (I saw him play Tarzan last summer with the same measure of charm, athleticism, and goofiness.)

Little Shop of Horrors played until May 1 at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts.

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