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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jake Gyllenhaal's Suddenly Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors

This morning, The New York Times' Ben Brantley gave the Lincoln Center production of Little Shop of Horrors a glowing review, writing that "show queens, of all persuasions and sexes, will be talking about [this] for as long as there are theater chatrooms on the Internet."

Jake Gyllenhaal was indeed a surprise as a bearded Seymour Krelborn in City Center's semi-staged production of the Ashman/Menken musical version of Little Shop of Horrors. And who knew this hunk can play a total nebbish so well!

The actor is mostly thought of for roles of much gravitas, and has been a gay idol since his starring role in the heartbreaking 2005 melodrama, Brokeback Mountain. Here, he gets to be funny, do a little slapstick and deliver jokes with masterful timing. Also, his singing's actually quite respectable. It was refreshing to see him in this new light.

Ellen Greene's back in the role she originally created at The Orpheum Theater, in the East Village, back in the '80s (that I saw), and then famously brought to the screen in '86. Greene's powerful, dramatic singing is always wonderful, especially live. The whimsical "Somewhere That's Green," in particular, poignantly tugged at the heart. Ms Greene still delivers her lines in Audrey's baby-doll voice but, even onstage, the 64-year-old resembles Mae West aside a love interest 25 years her junior. Which, actually, can be kind of encouraging for the matinee's older crowd.

However, the chemistry between Seymour and Audrey was not very good in this Little Shop. Greene, particularly, seemed to try to steal the limelight during several of their scenes together, largely through her sometimes outlandish hand gesturing. She even stepped on her co-star's line at one point of the performance. However, she virtually owns the Audrey role, damn it, a girl with self-esteem issues, imbuing her with such bittersweet qualities, it's hard to imagine anyone else in the part.

The Lincoln Center production was presented July 1-2 only. I attended today's matinee; a packed house. The show was absolutely ebullient and bouncy and the audience was obviously enraptured and very expressive of its appreciation.

There was a five-piece orchestra and the girl-group Greek chorus (Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks, Ramona Keller as Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon). Saturday Night Live's Taran Killam played the sadist-dentist boyfriend and assayed a few other minor roles. Mr. Mushnik was played by Joe Grifasi with great gusto.

The role of Audrey 2, the monster plant, was engagingly portrayed by Eddie Cooper (and, briefly Anwar Kareem as little Audrey 2), channeling Bootsy Collins. In platform boots and a green, shaggy coat, it was a decidedly, deliciously low-tech representation of that Mean, Green Mother from Outer Space.

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