New McLean Players Blossom

Seymour, played by Mark Hamberger, shows off his plant, Audrey II, as Doo Wop Girls Christina Sanchez, left, Alexa Yarboro and Janelle Delaney sing.
Seymour, played by Mark Hamberger, shows off his plant, Audrey II, as Doo Wop Girls Christina Sanchez, left, Alexa Yarboro and Janelle Delaney sing. (Courtesy Traci J. Brooks)

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By Michael J. Toscano
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, May 10, 2007

A bloodthirsty houseplant from outer space is rescuing the new McLean Community Players from the nightmarish memory of "Life With Father," their disastrous debut show last winter.

Their current production of the macabre musical "Little Shop of Horrors" is polished, engaging and fun, an artistic leap forward.

"Little Shop of Horrors," the story of a nerdy flower shop assistant who makes a Faustian bargain with a mutant orchid to win fame, fortune and the girl he loves, is based on Roger Corman's low-budget, non-musical flick from 1960 (mostly remembered for a scene-stealing performance by young Jack Nicholson in a bit part).

Transformed into a musical in 1982 and reincarnated on film four years later, the show features a man-eating plant that wants to take over the world and characters who are either amusingly evil or simple-minded. The score is heavily reliant on an upbeat, pre-Beatles rock-and-roll sound. The music strongly evokes the famous beehive girl groups such as the Crystals, Ronettes and Chiffons, and much of it is performed here by a terrific trio called the Doo Wop Girls.

The Players imported longtime professional director Hans Bachmann to put the show together. Bachmann, who brought along several team members, including choreographer Stefan Sittig, whips ensembles into shape and creates smoothly energetic productions blending color and character.

His two lead performers are skilled veterans who are new to McLean. Mark Hamberger is hapless Seymour, the love-struck florist's helper who finds that his mysterious new plant has unusual appetites.

Hamberger goes for the full nerd effect, with the awkward movements and hesitant speech of someone used to rejection. He sings with a strong, clear voice and projects enough character to be a suitable match for pint-size powerhouse Tara Leigh Moore, who plays Audrey, the girl he loves.

Moore is a real star, at home with serious drama or musical comedy, and she propels this show with pizzazz to spare.

Her Audrey is a brassy bottle-blonde with an adenoidal New York squawk. But Moore deftly layers in vulnerability, especially in her heartfelt song of yearning for a better life, "Somewhere That's Green."

Hamberger and Moore are joined by Lanny Slusher as Mushnik, the florist with a cash register instead of a heart. Slusher, who has had two previous non-musical outings on the Alden Stage, proves he can handle light singing and nicely plays off his young co-stars.

Randall Jones steals a few scenes in the supporting role of Orin, the sadistic dentist who abuses Audrey and ends up as meaty Miracle-Gro.

Christina Sanchez's soaring voice leads Janelle Delaney and Alexa Yarboro as the trio of dream girls who keep the music moving, along with Patrick M. Doneghy's soulful bass as Audrey II, the plant.

The show's 1960s fashions and simple settings are appealing visually, but the Players skimped on the music. A small band is tucked behind the set, muffling the sound so only bass guitar and drums are heard. The score sounds thin despite the robust voices onstage. Other technical shortcomings are minor.

Costumer Richard Batistelli neglected to create a pocket for the diminutive Moore's huge microphone transmitter/battery pack, causing it to dangle distractingly off her back. Set designer Dick La Porte forgot to put backdrops behind the large "windows" of the flower shop, allowing the audience to occasionally see backstage clutter or stagehands working.

There is some gore and grating, quite unnecessary coarse language in the show. But several tykes at a matinee seemed to enjoy themselves as much as the adults, especially after mom explained that plants really don't eat people.

"Little Shop of Horrors" by McLean Community Players continues through May 19 at the Alden Theatre of the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave. Showtime is 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or by calling 703-573-7328 or visitinghttp://www.ticketmaster.com. For information, visithttp://www.mcleancommunityplayers.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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