Ellen Greene's Entrance There is nothing quite like watching a true star of the stage embraced so completely by an audience. The moment Greene — who created this role Off-Broadway over three decades ago and later preserved her work on screen — stepped onto the City Center stage, the audience erupted into cheers that echoed throughout the cavernous theatre. And, when she uttered her first line — in her high-pitched, squeaky Audrey voice — it was clear that time had not in any way diminished the comedic gifts of this stellar actress. Her Audrey was as lovably ditzy and openhearted as ever.
Jake Can Sing! The question on everyone's mind when it was first announced that Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal would star as down-on-his-luck plant-shop worker Seymour in the City Center run was quickly answered as he began singing "Skid Row." The actor, seen on Broadway this past season in Constellations, possesses a versatile tenor, strong yet tenderly sweet when it needs to be. He also displayed a wonderful knack for comedy, earning laugh after laugh throughout the memorable evening while also scoring just as fully in the dramatic moments.
The Urchins Tracy Nicole Chapman, Marva Hicks and Ramona Keller, The Radio of the award-winning Caroline, or Change, reunited to play, respectively, Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, offering fierce, powerhouse vocals — and spot-on harmonies — from start to finish.
A Little Boy, A Little Plant Because the production did not utilize plants from any of the previous Little Shop productions, Audrey II was embodied by a young boy and later an adult man. The utterly cute Anwar Kareem was cast in the non-speaking role of Young Audrey II and won over the audience with his sweet, but devilish smile. He also delighted in an inspired bit of choreography with co-star Gyllenhaal.
"Somewhere That's Green" Sitting atop a Skid Row garbage can, the ageless Greene (as Audrey) poured out her heart and soul in the show's most moving ballad. Watching Greene deliver the Howard Ashman lyric with such stirring vulnerability was a master class in song interpretation. The phrasing, the pauses, the emotion and that inimitable voice created one of the night's showstoppers; in fact, following Greene's slowed-down singing of the final lines — "Far from Skid Row, I dream we'll go, somewhere that's Green" — the actress was met with one of the evening's most thunderous ovations.
Taran Killam The "Saturday Night Live" star boasts a surprising penchant for musical comedy. His delivery of "Dentist!" — including a great take on the line "a talent for causing things PAIN!" — was not only hilarious but also terrifically sung. Killam, who managed to get laughs with well-known lyrics while making the song completely his own, also scored later in the evening as a bevy of folk seeking the attention of the now-famous Seymour. One hopes this won't be his last foray onto the New York stage.
Eddie Cooper Where exactly did this sensational talent come from, and why haven't we heard his glorious voice before? The son of Tony winner Chuck Cooper – who was originally slated for the concerts but withdrew to star in the new Broadway musical Amazing Grace — gave a star turn as the man-eating plant Audrey II. In addition to his rich, powerful voice, it was also great fun to watch Cooper's facial expressions as he demanded more and more food – in the form of human flesh and blood. And, did we mention that voice?!
"Suddenly, Seymour" Little Shop's best-known tune was given full-throttle treatment by Greene and Gyllenhaal. As the two stars' voices soared and blended together, creating the musical high point of the night, the enthralled audience once again responded with deafening cheers. And, despite their age difference, these two actors enjoyed great chemistry and an obvious affection for each other.
Audrey's Death Throughout the two-hour evening, Greene drew laughs from nearly every phrase she uttered or gesture she made; yet, when she played her final scene with her adoring Seymour, one could hear a pin drop as Greene invested so fully in the moment, nearly stopping the hearts of the sold-out crowd. It's a testament to the tremendous depth of her talents that she can make you laugh one moment and move you to tears in the next breath.
Howard Ashman Tribute Director Dick Scanlan's generous video tribute to original director Ashman, who died of AIDS at the age of 40, was a wholly unexpected and completely moving conclusion to the thrilling evening.
The Curtain Call After a joint bow between Gyllenhaal and Greene, the former magnanimously pushed his co-star centerstage and departed, letting the audience show their love for the original Little Shop star. The thunderous applause overwhelmed the visibly moved actress; in fact, she seemed so affected by the response that she left the stage long before anyone in the audience wanted her to – the sold-out crowd would have applauded ad infinitum had she stayed. Let's hope some wise producer transfers this production or finds another role to keep Greene onstage where she truly belongs.
Ellen Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal Dazzle in Little Shop of Horrors! See the First Bow and Cast Party
The limited run concludes July 2 with performances at 2 PM and 7:30 PM. Tickets begin at $25. Phone (212) 581-1212 or visit NYCityCenter.org.