Tidings Reviewer

The beguilingly preposterous cult musical "Little Shop of Horrors," based on the 1960 film by Roger Corman, with music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, is now being presented by Ashland High School Performing Arts in its Mountain Theatre. The teenage thespians give it all they've got - and then some. They make it unflaggingly funny. On opening night they won the plaudits of a full and enthusiastic audience.

There are so many good things to note. For starters, Doug Ham's "accommodating" Skid Row set of the florist shop of Gravis Mushnik (Daniel Burt), where all the trouble starts and ends. The outside wall is whisked away to reveal the inside of the shop, and, besides, he incorporates a crummy stoop befitting the area. He has tricks up his sleeve, too.

Things get off with a lively interpretation of "Skid Row" and "Da-Doo" by the Doo-Wops, a seven sizzling girl ensemble (note their flaming red costumes at play's end) of excellent voice, with neat choreography by Suzanne Seiber. These street urchins comprise Ronnette (Molly Murphy), Tracy (Azalea Micketti), Shirelle (Sophie Javna), Trisquette (Hali Aspach), Chemise (Savannah Julian), Gina (Genevieve Harding), andChiffon (Ally Backus). Don't you just love these names!

The musical direction by Jennifer Schloming is tops throughout, and in the band she plays the keyboard, Chris Matthews is on synthesizer, Jim Calhoun on bass, Kyles Barnes on drums, Robert DeCosta on electric guitar, and Meagan Iverson on substitute keyboard.

The story concerns Seymour Krelborn (Josh Houghton), a florist's assistant, who acquires a carnivorous plant that develops an insatiable appetite and constantly whines, "Feed me, Seymour." Carnivorous, according to Webster's, is one that subsists on nutrients obtained from the breakdown of animal protoplasm. It's blood that Seymour's plant craves.

Seymour quixotically names the plant Audrey II in tribute to Audrey (Isabella Pribyl), a young lady assistant. However, she is the girl friend of Orin Scrivello (Tanner Arndt), a macho motor-cyclist and sadistic dentist. At one point he slaps Audrey's face; the sound is like a crack of thunder. In a nice touch, Seymour gets himself a leather jacket, but it doesn't become his personality. It's a charming scene, amplified by an attempt to ape Orin's slap, but resulting in a love-pat. Bespectacled and bumbling, he's so gawky and gentle. Later in the play they perform the love duet "Suddenly Seymour." She is wearing a very fetching pristine white gown and they have a sort of Romeo- and- Juliet moment. These young actors hold the audience in their hands.

The puppets are hilarious, from the flower-pot size through the growth into a ravenous monster that will chomp on whoever approaches. And one by one it grasps its prey. Puppeteer Tessa Williams is superb in the early stages as Audrey II and Troy DeMent equally effective in the final one. A special commendation to Erika Perkinson who is the voice of Audrey II. Tanner Arndt plays other roles than Orin, the acutely captured dentist - a wino, Bernstein, Snip, and especially Mrs. Luce. There is nice work, too, by Jeffrey Star in several capacities. Daniel Burt scores as Mushnik, and his number with Seymour - "Mushnik and Son" - is one of the song-and-dance gems in the show. Later, he cuts a very droll figure in a long overcoat.

Emily Ehrlich Inget's costumes complement both the action and characters, and she was the lady who drove down to collect the much needed puppets from California.

Christine Williams has tightly directed this production. In her program notes she observes, '''Little Shop of Horrors' does what musical comedy does best: takes us all for a romp with great tunes and a good yarn, with charming characters we really care about."

Don't miss out on this show. It plays on Thursday-Saturday at 7.30 p.m. on Nov. 8, 9, 10 and 17, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. on Nov. 11 and 18.Tickets from AHS main office, Paddington Station, Tree House Books, and the Music Coop. Call 482-8771