‘Little Shop’ shows power of collaboration

YOUNGSTOWN — Youngstown Playhouse’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” brings together different factions of the Mahoning Valley theater community, and the audience is the beneficiary.

The Playhouse is the grande dame of the local theater world, one of the first attractions to be mentioned when citing the area’s cultural icons and an organization preparing to celebrate its 100th anniversary next season.

Rust Belt Theater Company is the scrappy outsider, a theater group that focuses on original productions and survives on ingenuity more than financial resources. It started more than a decade ago and created at least one show that is a holiday tradition for many — “How the Drag Queen Stole Christmas” — but it’s safe to say many Playhouse regulars never have ventured into one of its productions, either at the Calvin Center or its current home at Club Switch.

Rust Belt founder Robert Dennick Joki makes his Playhouse main stage directing debut with “Little Shop,” and the cast is a talented blend of familiar faces from the different theaters as well as some newcomers.

Kage Jonas Coven, who’s been in nearly as many Rust Belt shows as Joki has directed, may be the first actor with a full beard and a nose ring to ever play Seymour Krelborne, the nebbish flower store employee who discovers the exotic plant with a taste for blood who turns Mushnik’s Flower Shop into a tourist attraction … and a crime scene.

Still, it’s hard to imagine a better marriage of actor and character. “Suddenly Seymour” soars the way it should when a great voice tackles that Alan Menken / Howard Ashman song. The audience can feel the character’s inner turmoil at finally having some notoriety and happiness but knowing that it comes from having blood on his hands (literally). And with the tone of his voice and a half-glance toward the audience, Coven can get a laugh by creating a joke that isn’t on the page.

I’ve seen the band Black Wolf & the Thief enough to not be surprised how well its lead singer, Carolyn Colley, handled the vocals of Audrey, the flower shop employee who is the object of Seymour’s ardor and the punching bag of her dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello (Frank Carsone).

But singing in a rock band and performing musical theater are two different things. She brought emotion and heart to “Somewhere That’s Green,” and her voice stood out in the early ensemble number “Skid Row.”

Nate Beagle worked the crowd like a Borscht Belt comic as Mr Mushnik and maintained that character in vocal numbers like “Ya Never Know” and “Mushnik & Son.” Connor Bezeredi isn’t seen until the curtain call, but his voice gives life and personality to ever-growing Audrey II plants (designed by Joki). Carsone makes the nitrous oxide-huffing dentist a villain the audience will love to hate, and Heather Powell, Wayne Bonner III and Sarah Whitlatch create a sassy Greek chorus that brings tight harmonies and attitude to Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon, respectively.

Joki and music director Tyler Stouffer have the cast gelling in the group numbers, and Joki’s staging gives everyone in the ensemble a moment to stand out.

The technical elements, from Leslie Brown’s lighting to Isa Foltz’s scenic design, all add to the polish of the show. Joki updates the look of some of the costuming, which works fine for the general story; however, it’s a bit jarring when people dressed in ’80s garb are using Jack Paar, Donna Reed and Life magazine as their cultural reference points.

I don’t think this area is worse than any other, but there’s a lot of talk about collaboration among the different arts groups that seldom becomes a reality. Credit to both the Playhouse and Rust Belt for what they’ve created with “Little Shop of Horrors.” This pairing creates a much happier ending than the musical itself.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *


Starting at $4.85/week.

Subscribe Today