Little Shop of ... surprises

So yeah .. remember last year about this time when I said how great the NHS production of “Beauty & the Beast” was and how you should really go see it? Well you should have gone to see it, of course, but the thing is ... I didn’t. Well, not really.

You see, I’ve just got this aversion to all things Disney. Can’t help it; always have, always will. So, in order to write last year’s review of the annual Norwich High School musical, I stayed only long enough to gauge each of the main player’s performances and then I hightailed it out of there. I’m sure it was brilliant throughout, I’m just not a big fan of all things Mouse.

That said, I had no such aversion to “Little Shop of Horrors,” this year’s offering by director Mark Sands and the kids of the Norwich High School musical club. But still, having mastered the art of writing a review based on 20 minutes of a show, I was tempted to do the same Wednesday night, especially after interviewing 55 kids and not having eaten since noon.



Instead of cutting and running, however, I was so enthralled by the magic of “Little Shop” that I actually stayed through the entire first act of the dress rehearsal. If it wasn’t for my insane hunger and my desire to be home in time for “American Idol” (seriously, why is Sanjaya Malakar still breathing?), I would have stayed through to the end. In fact, that’s exactly what I plan to do tonight, for the “real” performance – and you should, too.

Whenever this amount of time and effort by local high school students goes into anything – play, concert, game – it deserves full community support. But you also want to get what you pay for, of course, and “Little Shop of Horrors” delivers the goods – laughs, frights, singing and dancing – not a bad deal for five bucks.

With a smaller than usual cast for a high school musical, “Little Shop” really gives each actor a chance to shine on stage. First and foremost, there’s lead actor Matt Austin, who plays the nebbish Seymour. Young Mr. Austin was pretty much the sole reason I survived exposure to Disney last year, shining brightly as the aptly-named Lumiere. Here he’s finally got his starring role, and boy does he run with it. I hesitate to use the term “brilliant” for someone who’s what, 12? – but there’s no denying it with this guy.

Gabrielle Chwazik-Gee’s right there with him as Audrey, the meek little shop girl who inspires Seymour’s plant-rage. While her accent is purposefully grating, Chwazik-Gee’s beautiful singing voice really shines in her signature number, “Somewhere That’s Green.” And while my favorite Dr. Orin Scrivello will always be Sherburne’s own Dr. Frank Bianchi (who owned the role in an SMTS production years ago), Tyler Cooper’s a gas as the nutty dentist. Watch for his shining moment in “Dentist!”

Part of the fun of covering the NHS production every year is getting to see the kids move up the ranks from timid middle schoolers to upperclassmen and full-fledged stars. In “Little Shop,” I’ve got my eye on two freshmen who are sure to be attention-getters for years to come on the Tornado stage – Chris Kappel and Erin McMahon. Kappel has the showier of the two roles – his crotchety Mr. Mushnik is the perfect foil to Austin’s Seymour, and the two young lads share a palpable buddy chemistry and crack comedic timing, particularly in “Mushnik & Son.” Miss McMahon plays Crystal, one of the ‘Greek chorus’ trio omnipresent in the show, but this little firecracker is hardly a background performer. She steals almost as many scenes as Audrey II chews.

There’s certainly been a lot of sturm und drang going on in Norwich lately, so I’d definitely recommend a night of great musical comedy at your local high school. Sure beats getting eaten by a carnivorous mutant plant, right?

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