BWW Reviews: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is a Great Big Hit!
Who would have thought that a cheap, black and white horror movie, shot in 1960 by Roger Corman in just two days, would resurface some 20 years later, to become an off-Broadway musical comedy smash hit? The show, in its new incarnation (created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken) ran for over four years, before transferring to Broadway and from there to London's West End.
Now a cult classic in its own right, Little Shop of Horrors, which opened at the Aux Dog Theatre on January 10, is an experience not to be missed. The show is original, clever, well crafted, completely outrageous and very, very funny.
The story, set in the early 1960s, in New York's Lower East Side, Skid Row, starts out innocently enough in the little flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik. Business is bad and he's seriously thinking about giving up altogether, when his nerdy young shop assistant, Seymour, turns up with a highly unusual plant. This mysterious plant, which he names Audrey II in honor of the girl who works with him and with whom he is secretly in love, soon attracts the attention of curious passers by and suddenly business is booming.
But there's a problem. . . a really big problem. No matter how much food or water Seymour offers the plant, it does not respond and soon begins to wilt, until, quite by accident, he discovers that what Audrey II needs to grow and flourish, is human blood. It's not long before the demands of the plant's growing appetite outstrip what Seymour can personally provide from a few pinpricks.
So, what to do? Having wisely decided to keep the plant's dark secret to himself, Seymour is faced with a serious dilemma. He can either find a way to keep the increasingly bloodthirsty plant fed and happy, or he can let it die and return to his previous poverty stricken existence. The final, gory outcome is a flesh-eating fest reminiscent of SWEENEY TODD, but, because the entire situation is so surreal - this is science fiction after all - the voracious, carnivorous plant (which now demands to be fed in a deep-throated, threatening voice) never makes the transition from cartoon character to terrifying man-eating monster.
The cast does succeed, however, in making the characters more than just cartoons. Tim Macalpine conveys genuine emotion as Seymour, the naïve, love-struck shop assistant, torn between doing the right thing and giving in to the temptations offered by going along with Audrey II's blood lust.
Seymour's boss, Mr. Mushnik, a less complex character focused primarily on his bottom line, is convincingly played by Phil Shortell. His inability to connect the dots (literally the spots of blood on the shop floor) finally lead to his own grisly downfall.
Jessica Osbourne is delightful as Audrey, the girl Seymour dotes on from afar. She is blinded to his ardor by her attachment to a sadistic, leather-clad biker, named Orin, who also happens to be a dentist. Her low self-esteem keeps her tied to this monster, partly through fear and partly because he is a professional. In spite of multiple bruises and broKen Bones, she still clings to the illusion that he will one day be her ticket to a better life.
As for Orin (played in Corman's original movie by a then unknown Jack Nicholson) he is hilariously interpreted by Bryan Lambe, who also appears in several cameo parts at the end of the show. Orin has to be a dream role for a character actor and Bryan Lambe clearly delights in taking it over the top. His final, unlikely demise, literally laughing himself to death by inhaling nitrous oxide to get high, is one of the most memorable scenes in the show.
Woven in and out of the story, along the lines of a Greek chorus, is commentary, sung in 60s style be-bop fashion by a trio aptly named Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette. The musical score is witty and catchy, as one would expect from the songwriting team of Ashman and Menken (who also wrote. 'THE LITTLE MERMAID', 'ALADDIN', and 'BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.'
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS marks the first collaboration between Aux Dog Theatre and The Enchanted Rose Theatre, whose founder, Vernon Poitras, directs the show. His frequent use of the theatre aisles for exits and entrances, as well as taking advantage of the area in front of the curtain, expands the performance space and keeps the audience visually alert. Judging by the success of this first joint venture, here's hoping it won't be the last.
And a final shout out goes to those who bring Audrey II to life, puppeteer Michelle Gammill and actor Gene Corbin, who delivers the plant's increasingly menacing voice. Never have the words, 'Feed me,' sounded so blood-curdling.
The show runs through February 2 and has already earned my vote as one of the best and most engaging productions of 2014. I urge you not to miss it!
photo courtesy of Russell Maynor