Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Little Shop of Joy!

Dear Friends,

After arriving home from watching and tremendously enjoying my friends in a wonderful little offbeat, crazy, heartbreaking musical: "Little Shop of Horrors" at Performance Network, downtown Ann Arbor, I have to share what an amazing experience preparing for and being at the show entailed!

This is a story of good jeans, a great husband, well-timed naps, a compelling park, and one fabulous piece of musical theater....

Before I became a Mommy, I performed in and attended many theater productions. While I have not had the opportunity in the past few years to commit to a 4-6 week rehearsal process and a 4-6 week run of a show as a performer, I figured I could rally the support of my family and head to the theater for one afternoon as an eager audience member.

Several months ago, I learned my dear friend, Jason Richards Smith, would be in town playing the lead in this dark and hilarious musical, affectionately nicknamed by theater folks as "Little Shop." At that time, I set my goal of attending an afternoon matinee performance. I knew how amazing Jason would be in it (he's been rehearsing the role since he was 7), I knew how important this show was for him, and I wanted to show my support to him and my other friends who were performing in and directing the musical.

Now, for those of you who can just whip on a nice outfit, grab your keys, and head out the front door for a solitary adventure, let me explain a few things about how it's done when you're the Center of the Universe for two adoring and adorable toddlers. (And if you are a Mommy with little ones, you can just commiserate and chuckle along knowingly...).

First, I can count on one finger the number of times I have driven away from the house in the past two years without at least one child in tow. Including this past Sunday to go see Little Shop.

In other words, it was unprecedented for me to go out by myself since Paige's birth two years ago. The previous time I went out alone was a few months before her birth. I was quite pregnant, and I attended the premiere of a movie I'd acted in.

So, if you've heard about how it takes an hour to get a whole family out the door together, let me tell you it takes a few weeks to get a Mom out the door alone.

Here's how my organizational and planning skills were put to use, augmented by a good deal of prayers and intentions that all would go off without a hitch. Wishing to feel and look publicly presentable, I made a hair appointment two weeks ago for a trim and fresh highlight. I scheduled a clothes shopping trip for the day before the show, since I didn't think my usual yoga pants or pajamas were appropriate attire (the kids were thrilled to spend an hour and a half with Papa at the toy store). I dusted off my make-up bag. My friend Jason graciously set aside a ticket for me, with an industry discount. I checked the weather forecast, to ensure Mother Nature was cooperating so the kids could go to their favorite park. I washed my most supportive bra (you nursing mothers understand). And, I actually got a fairly decent night's sleep.

And it all came together.  Ben became employed in time for me to afford the ticket. The weather was nice for the kids and Papa to go on their big outing to Timbertown, which is the only place that was going to satisfactorily occupy them without Mama for several hours. (One hazardous set-back: Ben had a migraine that morning, but fortunately recovered in time to take the kids on their outing.) Paige didn't need me to hold her for a two-hour nap at 1p.m. when I was heading out the door. I got a shower and had time to dry my hair. I remembered how to drive the Subaru, rather than the minivan. I actually found jeans that fit and are comfortable, which was nearly the most remarkable accomplishment leading up to getting to the show.

And, joyfully, it was all worth it for an impressive and profoundly entertaining theater experience!

I can't say enough great things about this performance! I've been in shows with Jason, and he is so much fun to work with! But what a treat now to see him onstage, with an amazingly developed voice--he can sing it all. Sweet, pondering, powerful--he was just perfect as Seymour. I would pay a lot of money to listen to him sing and perform all night long. I can't even pick a favorite moment, because he filled every one with such nuance, humor, longing, genuineness, zeal and relish (sounds like it could be a new sandwich at Zingerman's). He owned this role, and I think there should be a caveat with any future theater company wishing to produce the show, that they must hire Jason to play Seymour.

My friend and fellow former Jackson theater buddy, Courtney Riddle-Myers, played Audrey. She was so sweet and tender and terrific! I tearfully held my breath as she gave a personal and heartbreaking rendition of "Somewhere That's Green," envisioning a bettter life for herself and her beloved Seymour. And, she knocked it out of the park on the group number "Suddenly Seymour," but more on that stand-out piece in a moment.

The lovely and talented Naz Edwards was transformed--with the help of visionary designer Monika Essen and brilliant director Carla Milarch--into an eerie, unnerving, ghastly, provocative person-eating plant. Naz skillfully and successfully struck a balance of repulsion and enticement--a perfect and necessary element to the play, so the audience can understand Seymour's internal conflict. And Naz's voice was beautiful, strong, funny and haunting by turns.

Energetic B.J. Love was deliciously blustery as Mushnik. My favorite scene of his was "Mushnik and Sons," in which he entices Seymour to become his son--in Mushnik's own self-interest--to keep Seymour and his revenue-generating plant under his wing.

The show opened with the three-man jammin' band (R. MacKenzie Lewis, Kevin Connery, and Clint Sabon) and crystal clear three-part harmony by singers Sharon L. Brooks, Sharriese Hamilton, and Diviin Huff, letting us know right off the bat that the music and singing was going to be top-notch throughout. Kudos to musical director R. MacKenzie Lewis for all of it.

"Suddenly Seymour" was my favorite show-stoppin' tune. I was ready to stand and cry and give them an ovation right then. Soaring harmonies, soulfully sung discoveries, and tender direction from Carla illustrating the newness of touch and finally satisfied longing between Seymour and Audrey, with immeasurable boost from our three lovely lady urchins, was an exquisite blend. I could have died, satisfied, on the spot.

Hilarious, versatile Aaron T. Moore filled in all of the cracks, with numerous roles. Naturally I loved and hated the dentist; but I also simply adored the energy and posture of the guy Aaron played coming into Mushnik's shop who buys $100 worth of roses. May this be a reminder to all of us performers that no role is too small to be fully committed to and leave a lasting impression!

Exemplary director Carla Milarch put it all together superbly. She also moved all of the action along at an ideal clip. There's a lot of music in this one! Pacing, ingenuity, heartfelt emotions, complex characters and motivations, innovative staging (and clever suspension of disbelief where doors and walls are no longer necessary), wicked humor, an appropriately light touch of horror--Carla elicited the very best from her exceptionally talented cast and designers. I don't just want to pat her on the back, I want to give her a giant squeeze to thank her for this two-hour treat that made me laugh and cry and gasp and finally stand up for at the finale. I joyfully attribute to Carla this huge grin I've had on my face for the past three days.

Thank you, all, for this theatrical treat! This one is definitely going to stay with me.

If you are in the Ann Arbor area--or can get here--come and see Little Shop of Horrors at Performance Network during its extended run through May 30th. Call (734) 663-0681 now for tickets. It will be worth all of the hurdles, planning, strategizing, and prayers to get there. Or, just throw on a nice outfit, grab your keys and head out the door. You will be so glad you did!


  1. Wow! Things are turning around for you nicely, I can tell in your words ... good for you. Isn't it so uplifting to be able to juggle the 'world' on one finger? Chuckle! Glad you had such a lovely day.

    Have a great week.
    TTFN ~ Hugs, Marydon

  2. I'm happy for you that you were able to go to the performance. Just in your review, I can tell how much you love theater. Hopefully, some day you will be able to participate again. Sounds like its a great show. Congratulations on your husband getting a job. I know that's a load off your mind. Things are definitely looking up for your family.

  3. A stunning, beautifully written review, Carrie! I feel like I was right there with you, watching every detail of the story unfold before my very eyes! Kudos all around!