Times theater review C.B. Goldsmith, who's become a fan of EPCC's theater offerings, checked out its just-opened production of "Little Shop of Horrors." Here's his review.
By C.B. Goldsmith
Back in those days we now call “old school,” if you wanted to learn acting or filmmaking, there was, sadly, no school. Without the Internet and with only three TV stations, which went off the air at midnight, there were few places where aspiring performers could test and hone their skills.
Luckily, there were B movies, so named because they came on the movie screen after the A movie, or, more often, were screened as double features in less fancy theaters. Mostly the masses saw B movies in drive-in theaters.
The aptly nicknamed “King of the B’s” was director, writer and producer Roger Corman. It was in his films that the directors Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard and Jonathan Demme (among others) got their start. It can be argued that Corman invented what today we call indie film. He also gave young actors sanctuary to be wildly inventive, as Jack Nicholson was in Corman’s 1960 film “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Back in the day, as you watched B movies, it was easy to imagine what that unknown actor honing their craft might someday become. More and more, as I watch El Paso Community College’s Theater Ensemble, I find myself sometimes wondering the same thing.
Their production of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” is based on the film, adapted for the stage in 1982 by the brilliant lyricist Howard Ashman and his prolific partner Alan Menken. They too would start here and go on to film glory at Disney.
Their adaptation uses doo-wop music to tell the story of a ghetto flower shop where a nebbish clerk named Seymour nurtures a plant, possibly from another planet, to grow wildly and in doing so wins both fame and the love of the shop’s damaged cashier, Audrey.
Seymour is portrayed wonderfully by the charismatic Juan Apodaca. He carries the show effortlessly and to have watched him grow in five previous EPCC productions has been great.
As fine as Apodaca is, this production’s revelation is Camille Acosta as Audrey. Alternating between tragic resiliency and luminous chanteuse, her performance was stunning. Her accent, acting and singing were glorious, but it was her chemistry with Apodaca that created onstage gold.
The multi-talented director Keith Townsend designed another terrific set, but double as a cast member, playing flower shop owner Mushnik. He sings, acts and dances easily, giving a strong center from which this show soars.
In dual roles as Audrey’s abusive, sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin and as smarmy showbiz huckster Bernstein, Christian Murphy is very good. His song “Dentist” (with great choreography by Andrew Duran) was easily a highlight. It's difficult to play a domestic abuser in a comedy, and in his dental office scene with Seymour, Murphy found the same campy notes that earlier emancipated his song.
All the songs were amply aided by the girl group chorus of Rachel Robins (Ronnette), Marilyn Wallace (Crystal) and Erica Sierra (Chiffon). Often alone on stage, they carry a load. Opening night may have tightened their voices sporadically, but they triumphed when they relaxed and let loose.
The enemy of art is complacency and the main reason I often sing the praises of EPCC’s theater company is because they seem to never settle. This production is a sign of continued growth and invention. By extending their modest stage’s proscenium five feet, they allowed the depth demanded to effortlessly create a city street, a large flower shop and a perfectly rendered dentist’s office.
This matters because the plant, Audrey II, grows enormous as Seymour feeds it. The plant is given fine movement by Christian Apodaca and glorious voice by Joel Anguiano. Rather than risk spoiler alerts, I only will say that the stagecraft and special effects are marvelous.
Musical director Cody Ritchey and his band were inventively split in two, placed on opposite sides of the larger stage. This gave the sound design by Andrew Duran a complexity it might have lacked with a traditional band location.
This Halloween season, EPCC’s Theater Ensemble has chosen a wildly inventive musical, presented a production that's inventively audacious and filled it with actors who are becoming very good.
Live theater is that safe place where growth happens and magic can occur. Do not miss this chance to allow “Little Shop of Horrors” to feed you all night long.