BWW Review: Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Christian Borle Star In Buoyant and Bouncy Revival of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Bucking the current trend of rewriting and reinterpreting older musicals to suit current sensibilities, director Michael Mayer's buoyant and bouncy revival of Little Shop of Horrors, with a story involving a hero who murders and a leading lady who defends the actions of her physically abusive boyfriend, pretty much delivers Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 smash hit with the same brand of beloved quirkiness that has made it a favorite for high schools, community theatres and regional productions for over three decades.
Though it's based on Roger Corman's same-named 1960s comedy/horror flick about a clumsy flower shop clerk who cultivates an odd little plant that grows larger and deadlier as it feeds on human blood, you don't have to be a be a fan of late-night double feature picture shows to appreciate how the extremely catchy melodies and the often very funny/often weirdly poignant lyrics are tied into a finely crafted book that cleverly builds empathy while retaining its B-movie sci-fi roots.
Narrated and commented upon by a trio of street urchins who, apropos to their names Ronette (Ari Groover), Chiffon (Joy Woods) and Crystal (Salome Smith) sing tight girl-group harmonies while performing choreographer Ellenore Scott's lightning fast physical gestures, the story unfolds on settings by Julian Crouch that present a comically glossy, rather than naturalistic version of the musical's Skid Row locale.
Jonathan Groff is charmingly nerdy as the hapless clerk Seymour who, after a short lifetime of enduring indignities from his gruff employer, Mr. Mushnik (Tom Alan Robbins), grows in confidence when his botanical discovery starts making headlines, only to be horrified when he learns the price of his fame.
Tammy Blanchard appears ripped off the cover of a bad girl pulp novel, though her portrayal of Seymour's good girl co-worker, Audrey, is beautifully delicate, edging close to tragic realism as her character balances a gritty accent with mannered sense of gentility.
Comic dynamo Christian Borle swaggers with faux-sexy bravado as Audrey's sadistic boyfriend, Orin, who musically defends his physically abusive behavior as a natural tendency. He also gets some good laughs as a variety of cameo characters, one this reviewer would swear was an impersonation of Ray Bolger.
Puppet designer Nicholas Mahon, working from Martin P. Robinson's original creation, provides a cute little plant that, voiced by Kingsley Leggs, begs for nourishment like a baby before growing into a monstrosity that demands a bloody feast with funky attitude.
Funny, tuneful and surprisingly heartfelt at times, Little Shop of Horrors has little more in mind but to provide wacky entertainment, which this production achieves with breezy finesse.