Story: Business is not exactly booming, much less blooming, at Mushnik’s Florist Shop on Skid Row. It’s so bad that Mr. Mushnik informs his two employees, Seymour and Audrey, that’s he’s going to close it down.
It just so happens, though, that Seymour, a hapless orphan whose life revolves around his job and his silent love for Audrey, has found an exotic plant. He puts it in the storeroom window and, voila! A customer comes in and orders some roses. Suddenly, business picks up, as does Audrey II, the plant so named by Seymour, when Seymour accidentally pricks himself on a thorn and the plant sees blood.
As Seymour continues to feed the bloodthirsty Audrey II, the plant grows larger and larger and increasingly insatiable. Prodded by Audrey II, Seymour goes after bigger ‘meals’ for the plant, such as Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, and the suspicious Mr. Mushnik. Nothing good can come of this, right?
Highlights: Based on a 1960 cult classic ‘B’ movie by Roger Corman, Little Shop of Horrors premiered off-Broadway in 1982 and ran for five years and more than 2,200 performances. Its early-rock score by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken and Ashman’s whimsical book make the show a perennially popular favorite among Baby Boomers and subsequent generations.
Director Justin Been adds a few new wrinkles to the entertaining musical in Stray Dog Theatre’s presentation, such as having one of the members of the ‘girl group’ Greek chorus performed in drag. Under Been’s dutiful direction, this Little Shop of Horrors is a show of bountiful musical treats.
Other Info: Myriad touches by the technical crew make this an endearing presentation. David Blake’s scenic design places Mushnik’s shop in the shadows below some old railroad tracks, trash cans on either side in front of seedy apartment buildings with an occasional room dimly illuminated with Tyler Duenow’s lighting design.
Alexandra Scibetta Quigley dresses the chorus, named after early ‘60s girl groups and comprised of Chiffon (Jamie Lynn Marble), Crystal (Maria Bartolotta) and Ronnette (Mark Saunders), in a fanciful array of matching outfits, with notable assistance from makeup and wig stylist Priscilla Case. She also highlights the motorcycling Orin’s dental attire with a delightful T-shirt bedecked with a winged and bloody tooth. And the amusing props provided by Jay Hall and Gary Bell include a nasty-looking dental drill and a space-age helmet that proves the undoing of the abusive Dr. Scrivello.
Marble’s choreography adds pizzazz to the moves of the chorus as well as a delightful tango featuring Seymour (Ben Watts) and Mushnik (Christopher Brenner) as the lonely employee contemplates becoming his boss’ adopted son in the number Mushnik and Son.
The music, which complements the show without dominating it, is contributed by a combo directed by Chris Petersen hidden behind the set. It features Michael Monsey on bass, guitarist Adam Rugo, Sallie du Maine at the synthesizer and percussionist Clarence “Clancy” Newell, who will be replaced in remaining performances by Bob McMahon. Sound often seemed muddled on opening night, a problem hopefully amended in subsequent performances.
Watts is entertaining as the knebbish Seymour, projecting both the character’s innocence as well as his vulnerability. He is suitably complemented by Lindsey Jones as the simple-minded Audrey, who warbles of a life in suburbia in the pleasant ballad, Somewhere That’s Green. The two also blend well together on the second-act ballad, Suddenly Seymour, and are joined by Brenner as the gleefully greedy Mushnik on the upbeat tune, Closed for Renovations.
A highlight of the production is Keith Thompson’s rollicking explanation of how a torture-craving kid could satisfy his sadistic urges by becoming a Dentist! in a humorous number aided by the chorus.
Been’s use of a guy (Saunders) to play one of the members of the girl-group chorus is more a novelty than an inspiration, although Saunders contributes as well as Marble and Bartolotta on the show’s best number, Skid Row (Downtown), a tune that harkens to the sounds of the pre-Beatles ‘60s.
Audrey II’s booming bass voice, a key ingredient to the story, is provided by Jeremy Sims to great effect, particularly on the droll piece, Feed Me (Git It). The over-sized plant is masterfully handled by Dan Jones and arrayed in all its garish splendor by Michelle Sauer.
Been also fleshes out the cast with a quartet of ensemble players who contribute to the production’s lighthearted spirit, namely Evan Fornachon, Corey Fraine, Amelia Morse Kolkmeyer and Kimberly Still.
Little Shop of Horrors doesn’t pretend to be anything more than it is, namely a nifty little homage to cheesy horror flicks and simple pop tunes of a bygone era.
Musical: Little Shop of Horrors
Company: Stray Dog Theatre
Venue: Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Avenue
Dates: July 25, 26, 27, August 1, 2, 3
Tickets: $18-$20; contact 865-1995 or StrayDogTheatre.org
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of John Lamb