Charming “Little Shop” Chews the Mac Haydn Stage
There’s an exotic, beautiful, candy-colored plant with moist lips and sharp teeth in the window of Mishnik’s Flower Shop downtown and it’s being tended and nourished by a young white boy who has an appetite of his own for love, acceptance, and approval as a worker in the American machine.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is the off-Broadway legend of a show which ran for over 2,000 performances in the ’80s and established the careers of Howard Ashman (book & lyrics) & Alan Menken (music) where they rode this downtown success of integration, sexual anxiety, and perversion out to Hollywood. They brought their uncanny pop-culture sensibility to Disney where they created “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty & the Beast” and “Aladdin” in quick succession. Unfortunately, the team’s meteoric rise was cut short by Ashman’s untimely death at the age of 40 due to complications from AIDS.
“Little Shop” takes as its unlikely source material a 1960 Roger Corman film (featuring a cameo by Jack Nicholson) about a desperate florist, Mushnik (played with rumpled good humor by George Dvorsky), who is running a florist shop on Skid Row that can go days without selling a fern. The shop is staffed by a young, nebbish orphan Seymour Krelborn (the thoroughly engaging and winning Andrew Burton Kelly) and a lost vixen Audrey (a terrific performance by Emily Kron mixing an off-beat world view and va-va-voom sex appeal) who take quite a while to get together. All seems lost at the top of the show until Seymour reveals the unique plant he has discovered, the creation of a total eclipse, which is a carnivorous, growing monster which eventually takes on an R&B voice played by the indispensable, outstandingly dressed, golden-throated Alecsys Proctor-Turner. The plant is a curiosity in the window, nourished and loved by Seymour that fuels walk-in business until it appears that the only thing that will continue its growth is human blood. How can Seymour possibly assist?
The show takes its pop sensibility from cheap ’50s sci-fi exploitation movies and uses the birth of rock and roll and the mainstreaming of rhythm and blues to have great fun with the telling of this outrageous story but at its heart it has a conservative, regressive heart and wants to retreat from the city, urban culture, bad boyfriends to the suburbs delivered with one of the night’s highlights, the song “Somewhere That’s Green.” Kron does an outstanding job with this song and with her undulating, caressing and mincing steps, she pushes for a very open definition of Levittown’s mores. There is a Greek chorus of young black girls named after the girl groups of the time played, sung and costumed with welcome sass and energetic invention by Maddi Cupp-Enyard as Chiffon, Angel Harrison as Crystal and Maya Cuevas as Ronnette. The invaluable Mac Haydn company play various Skid Row denizens from cops and missionaries to prostitutes and drunks. Dvorsky and Kelly share a fun Yiddish inflected number “Mushnik & Son” to solidify their partnership as their success takes off. Audrey has a dentist biker boyfriend with a taste for inflicting pain, you read that right, that she can’t seem to leave. Pat Moran as the DDS hits a giddy, gas-induced high with his number in the closing scene of Act I, “Now (It’s Just the Gas).” Act II has a terrific opening of Audrey and Seymour working together and dealing with their success and newfound love and the show soon hits the pop culture sweet spot with “Suddenly Seymour.” Kelly and Kron raise the roof with this song and you’re glad for their hard-fought harmony.
Mushnik’s Shop is house left, wedged in a corner with a door, counter and a fun curtain that looks like a steel roll-up door. Set design is by Emma Cummings and lighting design by Kevin Gleason. There are at least four incarnations of the plant that I counted and they are all exceptionally well done from the opening Audrey II which would fit in the palm of your hand to the larger than life gaping maw with tendrils that could eat you alive, Twoie at show’s close expertly handled by puppeteers Atsushi Eda, Anthony DaSilva, and Joe Hornberger. Costumes by Alison Zador are terrific, I especially liked the variations on the girl chorus from their opening plaids and cardigans to their floral dresses and funeral wear, Audrey II’s outrageous plant wear and a killer leopard print trench for Audrey. Music direction by David Maglione effortlessly handle the many shifts in tone, style and influence of Ashman and Menken’s varied score. The direction by Erin Spears Ledford is sure and clear, keeps the action moving, the characters distinct and every syllable is understood.
If there is nothing particularly frightful about this production as its title promises, it offers many pleasures in just over two hours with intermission, many in Ashman and Menkens superb pop score and the sweet and daffy young couple at the center.
Runs thru 8/18