CLIFTON — So you’ve heard about unsung heroes? Well, “Little Shop of Horrors,” the fiendishly freaky rock and roll musical presented by the Theater League of Clifton, which opened Nov. 6 at the Aprea Theater, was packed with a heroic cast of dazzling singers, and they all sang magnificently.Director Bill Kaufman, musical director Jalmari Vanamo, and choreographer Judi Layne Niebuhr must be applauded for putting together a top-flight ensemble of vocalists and dancers. The show flowed smoothly, shaking, rattling and rolling every step of the way. The players, quite obviously, were having a blast on stage.The Theater League of Clifton’s cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” on opening night at the Aprea Theater. The show continues on Nov. 13, Nov. 14 and a matinee on Nov. 15.
There were impressive solo numbers on display, but even more impressive was how the cast functioned as a synchronized team, complementing each other in song, dance and humorous situations. When a cast like this makes it look easy, that’s a clear indication of the long hours and hard work that went into the show prior to opening night — a credit shared by the leadership of Kaufman, Vanamo and Niebuhr.The fun started right from the prologue, which was performed by Victoria Webb, Nadiya Braham and Amaya White. This trio was on target in every number as they appeared throughout the show and set the bar high, in terms of singing quality. The rest of the cast rose to the occasion and followed suit. White, a freshman at Old Bridge High School, the winner of the 2015 Perry Award for Outstanding Youth Actress in the Main Street Theater Company’s production of “The Wiz,” was especially delightful. The cast names of the trio — Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette — are an homage to the “wall of sound” girl groups from the 1960s.
Eden Casalino in the role of the slinky, sultry Audrey demonstrated her impressive range as a singer. Casalino belted out tunes with a beautiful, soaring voice that, no doubt, rattled windows in the Delawanna section of town last Friday night, but then she had the artistic skill to flip a switch and change the mood to an intimate, sweet ballad. The “moment” in the performance came in Act 1 when Casalino sang “Somewhere That’s Green.” She was absolutely sensational.
George Adamo as Seymour
George Adamo may have looked nerdy and awkward as Seymour Krelborn, but there was no hiding the fact that he too was a superior vocalist. Adamo breathed life into the character of the tormented, love-sick Seymour, right down to his crooked bow tie and goofy baseball cap. Adamo’s exuberant singing, acting and quirky comedic charm powered the production. All of his talents were on display in Seymour’s “father and son” number with Mr. Mushnik (Frank Favata) — a wacky duet that tickled the audience. Patrons may have noticed that, in this scene, Favata cleverly drew inspiration from his successful role as Tevye in the Theater League’s 2014 production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”
Who was the most macabre, diabolical performer of the night? That’s easy: Michael Smith-Gallo as the sinister Orin. Smith-Gallo, clad in a black leather jacket, relished every minute of his role as the demented dentist, with an evil laugh — just as haunting as The Shadow — that gave everyone the creeps.
Audrey II, designed by artist Julie Chrobak
And then there was “the elephant in the room,” otherwise known as Audrey II, the monstrous, bloodthirsty plant in Mushnik’s little florist shop of horrors. This wonderful contraption, a most terrifying work of art, was the handiwork of puppet designer and builder Julie Chrobak and Kurt Irizarry. There were actually four versions of Audrey II, as the plant became larger and more menacing. Chrobak was in the audience last Friday night, keeping a low profile, but watching every detail of Audrey II’s mechanics and features like a nervous stage mom.
Interviewed prior to opening night of the show, Chrobak used her creative talents to design and fabricate the iterations of Audrey II, following cues from the script and using visual references from past productions of the show. The final version of the plant was a grand puppet manufactured with an aluminum skeleton, which was welded by Irizarry. As a puppet designer, she confessed to being an “old school” engineer, with no fancy 3D computer models. Instead, she used good old-fashioned pencil and paper, scissors and adhesive, and made many trips to Home Depot to procure plant pots, fabric, foam, tubing and wire.
A graduate of Montclair State University, with a master’s degree in Art Education, Chrobak worked as a scenic artist on Broadway for 20 years. She’s now an art teacher at Clifton High School. Irizarry not only served as the welder, he also was the Audrey II puppeteer. His partner in crime was Craig Ernest Woodward, who was the solid, off-stage singing voice of the monster plant. Other ensemble members of the cast included Kenneth Fowler, Gregory Gwyn, Erin Pach and Rebecca Shuster.
As for the show’s impressive technical elements, Kurt and Maryann Irizarry get rave reviews for set design, construction and decoration, along with build assistants Joe Cisneros, Ayana Ayscue and Michael Purdy. Maryann Irizarry also served as the show’s producer and was in charge of costumes. Two thumbs up go to Tom Vigilante for his artistic lighting design, especially the illumination of the background city skyline. Tara Freifeld was the stage manager, assisted by Devin Sogluizzo. Kyle Parkin was the sound designer and technical director, assisted by Ryan Sogluizzo. Bravo to the show’s rockin’ pit band quartet of Paul Liberti, Steve Bell, Eric Borghi and Vanamo.