BWW Reviews: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at ACT Feels a Little Anemic
It's one of my all time favorite shows so naturally I'm a little picky about it. I mean, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "Little Shop of Horrors" is one of those near perfect musicals. Great story, great characters, super fun music, it's got it all. But just as the plant in the show feeds on blood, so does the show, metaphorically speaking of blood as being the grit, funk, soul and attitudes of 1960's doo-wop and B-horror movies. And while there's a ton of talent and great voices on the stage of the current joint production from ACT and The 5th Avenue Theatre, there's also a shocking lack of that "blood" from the production.
Based on the 1960 horror film of the same name from Roger Corman, we focus on nebbishy Seymour (Joshua Carter) who survives his meek little existence as the shop boy for Mr. Mushnik (Jeff Steitzer) at Mushnik's Skid Row Florists, a shop usually only frequented by bums and three sassy teen urchins, Crystal, Ronnette and Chiffon (Naomi Morgan, Nicole Rashida Prothro and Alexandria Henderson). But Seymour dreams of someday getting out of skid row, as do they all, but Seymour also just wants to get the attention of Audrey (Jessica Skerritt), who also works at the shop, but she's currently dating a sadistic, motorcycle driving dentist, Orin (David Anthony Lewis) so all seems hopeless. That is until Seymour discovers a strange and unusual plant that he names the Audrey II that when displayed in the window seems to draw attention and success. But at what cost as the plant (Voiced by Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. and operated by Eric Esteb) only seems to thrive on human blood and keeps getting more voracious and powerful as it grows.
It's an amazing show but unfortunately director Bill Berry seems to have instilled a technical proficiency into the cast but forgot to instill that B-horror movie sense of macabre fun and era specific element of danger. Everyone sang great but a little too well and too stiff. The urchins didn't sound like they came off the street but fresh out of elocution class. The choreography is all very precise but lacks that fluid sensuality of 60's girl groups. Sure the plant eats people but only when they step inside it and lay down. It just didn't seem very vicious. The only real staging moment that elicited any element of danger (other than the danger I felt for the cast as the hydraulic elements of the set that refused to open and close correctly which at one point caused the show to halt while they fixed it) was when (SPOILER ALERT) Seymour dove into the plant at the end to destroy it. Other than that even the plant felt clunky and stiff and completely escapable.
There are some wonderful elements to the production. Carter manages one of the few fully entrenched characters of the piece. His voice is gorgeous and crystal clear but he also completely sells the 60's lovable geek who we root for. And Skerritt has an equally soaring and beautiful voice and sells Audrey well but I could have used even more of the comedy from her. Although I must say her renditions of "Somewhere That's Green" as well as her duet of "Suddenly Seymour" with Carter are some of the best I've heard. Harrid has an incredible voice for Audrey II but seems a little vocally stilted by the bulky movements of the plant which resulted in a not so malevolent villain. And Steitzer and Lewis have some quite funny moments but even they could have used a little more duplicity and instability to really sell the characters and up the stakes.
So yes, it's a technically proficient show (except for those hydraulics ... yikes) and they hit all the moments but they don't always hit the bull's-eye with them to make the show as deliciously gritty, and gruesomely fun as it can be. And without those elements the show just feels a little watered down. And Audrey II doesn't feed on water, she feeds on blood. So with my three letter rating system, and only because of a few great performances in a brilliant musical, I give it a MEH+.
"Little Shop of Horrors" performs at ACT through June 15th. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or the ACT box office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org or www.acttheatre.org.