How do you create a near-perfect little musical?
Ask director, music director and costume designer Carol Ballard, who did what needed to be done to create two hours of laughter and fun with the darkly funny musical Little Shop of Horrors, playing through Sunday at Stage West Community Playhouse in Spring Hill.
Start with a terrific cast, topped by five of the Tampa Bay area's best performers filling roles it seems as though they were born to play.
Keith Surplus, a familiar face to regional theatergoers but a first-timer at Stage West, portrays the nebbish nerd Seymour Krelborn, clerk at Skid Row Florists and discoverer of the menacing plant that makes him famous. Surplus plays the quintessential Seymour — shy, unsure, self-effacing, fearful — but a tiger-in-waiting when it comes to his secret love, Audrey, the assistant clerk. Surplus, in owlish spectacles, red baseball cap pulled low over his forehead, shoulders slumped in humility, makes his delightfully unexpected melodramatic moves into show highlights.
The multi-HAMI Award-winning Victoria Primosch proves her versatility again (Fantine in Les Mis, Roxie in Chicago) as Seymour's object of affection, the fashion-challenged Audrey. She turns her gorgeous mezzo-soprano (Somewhere That's Green, Suddenly Seymour) into a squeaky Bronx accent for her spoken lines and shows off Ballard's skin-tight costumes to create an unforgettably adorable Audrey.
Stan Kane plays flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik with a mix of callousness and caring, depending on what ends up in the cash register. Kane's Mushnik isn't too mean, nor is he too soft; he's just right.
And Paul Wade, also a multi-HAMI winner, roars and shrieks as the cruel, heartless, abusive Orin Scrivello, Audrey's dentist boyfriend. His dentist office scene with Seymour is a jewel, as Orin literally laughs himself to death.
All this works because of the outstanding performance by James Muriel, who does the voice for the snide, impertinent Audrey II, the plant that actually roars. Muriel has the intonation, accent and sound of the rapacious plant, and he synchronizes perfectly with Michael Muriel's manipulation of the big plant's big mouth. (Suggestion: The Muriels should be given the final bows at the curtain call; after all, they are the heart and soul of the show.)
All of this is done to the doo-wop and pop of the trio, Chiffon (Jada Crandle), Crystal (Angelena Burrow) and Ronette (Kristen Ballard), three talented young women who add spunk and spark to the proceedings with their Greek chorus-like commentary (Little Shop of Horrors, Da-Doo, Ya Never Know, Dentist!). Brady Lay adds good laughs playing Bernstein and Snip, though microphone glitches on opening night marred some of his best lines.
Carol Ballard's four-piece combo is just the right size for this smallish show; Lynda Dilts-Benson's set works well for the cast and movement of the stage action; Kathy Muriel's choreography and stage management round out a good production; and the ensemble adds heft to the already hefty show.