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Actor Jon Cunningham as Seymour Tries to Appease the Pleas of Hungry Plant Audrey II in Theatre at the Center's "Little Shop of Horrors"

Actor Jon Cunningham as Seymour tries to appease the pleas of hungry plant Audrey II in Theatre at the Center's "Little Shop of Horrors" now playing until Aug. 19, 2012.

The last time Theatre at the Center audiences in Munster had an encounter with Audrey II, the bloody-thirsty, tricky and convincing botanical carnivore, it was for a run of "Little Shop of Horrors" in 1999.

This is proof that not every theater space has the needed green thumb to produce this hit musical and know just the right amount of fertilizer (ahem, talented cast folk) to assure full-bloom entertainment for audiences.

Director and choreographer Stacey Flaster, at the helm of Theatre at the Center's just opened latest revival, has done this and more, with her "Little Shop of Horrors," now playing until Aug. 19.

Inspired by the original blockbuster 1960 Roger Corman film, it stars the memorable score by the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the latter of whom went on to create Disney's "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

This just over two-hour with one 15-minute intermission production is anything BUT your garden variety cast and staging.

Flaster cast Jon Cunningham as Seymour, the mild-mannered florist who finds himself caving to the cravings of a plant with a life of its own. Cunningham knows how to balance the qualities of hapless with moments of hopeful joy and endearing personality.

And even his eyes, hidden behind specs, represent his acting ability during his moments of infatuation with his blonde and ample-bosomed co-worker Audrey, played by Tiffany Trainer, 100 percent star talent and able to deliver some of the funniest-timed comedy moments and believably funny lines I've had the pleasure to witness in recent memory.

To round out the cast, solid actor Peter Kevoian is top-notch and a true talent as fussy Mushnik, the owner of this infamous shop of secrets, while actor Rod Thomas strikes a nerve and comes through as one of the most versatile stage personalities audiences can hope for, playing (among other roles) the type of dentist we all dread. Even when Thomas is simply walking across stage as a floral customer entranced by "flower power," he shines as a scene stopper that results in an audience sea of smiles.

The vocals that glow for this show include Stan White's pipes bringing Audrey II to life, with seamless vine and mouth movement courtesy of Scott Stratton. And the beautiful trio of lively back-up singers, are the sensational Eva Ruwe as Crystal, Reneisha Jenkins as Ronette, and Chadaé McAlister as Chiffon.

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Of course, it's always the puppet plant that audiences are eager to see. Theatre at the Center's run boasts what Flaster correctly described to me as "glorious refurbishments" of the plant puppets from the original New York production. It was the handiwork of Ann Davis who sprouted the spruced-up look to the toothy bloom.

Bill Bartelt's scenic design for the florist shop "on the bad side of town" is a beaut, and the costumes by Brenda Winstead, combined with wigs by Kevin Barthel and props by Lauren Earnshaw, all under Tim Fandrei's fantastic lighting, seal this deal.

It's nice to know that even during a summer of drought, a great theater memory is thriving for audiences for this quick run through Aug. 19.

Tickets are $38 to $42 with dinner option nights available to include. FYI: (219) 836-3255 or theatreatthecenter.com.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

 

 

 

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