Review Roundup: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Starring Groff, Borle & Blanchard - See What The Critics Are Saying
Howard Ashman & Alan Menken's landmark musical returns to New York under the direction of Tony Award winner Michael Mayer (Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Spring Awakening), with preview performances beginning Tuesday, September 17, ahead of an official opening night on Thursday, October 17, 2019. Joining Groff ("Seymour"), Blanchard ("Audrey") and Borle ("Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.") in the cast are Tom Alan Robbins ("Mushnik"), Kingsley Leggs ("The Voice of Audrey II"), Ari Groover ("Ronnette"), Salome Smith ("Crystal"), Joy Woods ("Chiffon") Stephen Berger, Chris Dwan, Kris Roberts, Chelsea Turbin, Eric Wright, and Teddy Yudain.
Seymour is a down-on-his-luck florist with a crush on his co-worker Audrey. When he discovers a mysterious - and voracious - plant, suddenly Seymour and Audrey are thrust into an epic battle that will determine the fate of the entire human race. With a book and lyrics by Grammy and Academy Award winner Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast), and music by Tony and Academy Award winner Alan Menken (Aladdin, Newsies), Little Shop of Horrors first premiered Off-Broadway in 1982, where it made audiences laugh, scream, and give up gardening for good.
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Yet against expectation, Mayer's interpretation, staged in a 270-seat theater, summons the shivery elation I felt seeing "Shop" at the East Village's Orpheum nearly four decades earlier. It restores the show to its original scale and sensibility, reminding us of the special potency of grisly things that come in small, impeccably wrapped packages. It's not an exact facsimile of the 1982 production, which was directed by Ashman. Working with an ace design team, Mayer heightens the show's classic pulp elements, its aura of low-rent noir splashed with flecks of blood-red.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: To populate this parable, Mayer has wrangled a marvelous cast. Dressed in hilariously lumpy clothes, Groff's Seymour is a likable klutz with just a hint of deadpan creepiness. As Audrey's abusive boyfriend, the sadistic biker dentist Orin Scrivello-and in a bevy of smaller parts-Christian Borle solidifies his status as the preeminent musical-theater clown of his generation: His performance is a master class in milking. The three street urchins-cutely named Ronette (Ari Groover), Crystal (Salome Smith) and Chiffon (Joy Woods)-are nicely individuated (though Ellenore Scott's choreography sometimes keeps them too busy). And Blanchard is a revelation. Many actors try to imitate the magical brittle ditziness of Little Shop's original Audrey, and merely wind up somewhere that's not quite Ellen Greene; Blanchard takes the character to a different world entirely. She's earthy and tough, with a bee-stung face and a manner that suggests a world of pain in her past. She's the heart of the production, and she's heartbreaking.
Greg Evans, Deadline: In a staging that feels garden-fresh while honoring everything that made the musical such an invigorating blast nearly 40 years ago, this Little Shop sold out its limited run at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs) before performances began in September, prompting an eight-week extension through Jan. 19 that offers audiences a rare opportunity to see the show on the turf and in the manner that Ashman & Menken must surely have envisioned.
A.D. Amorosi, Variety: Groff and his Audrey, Tammy Blanchard (who won an Emmy for "Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows"), are both subtle comic presences and supple, dramatic vocalists, ensuring that in this new production there's something lovely at work, something devoid of the usual camp, schmaltz and quirk of "Little Shop." Without the big, stagey "New Yawk" accents and broad interactions of yore, the humor comes more naturally, and neither Groff nor Blanchard have to chase the laughs.
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: Mayer's staging makes some very smart choices for the moment. In essence, he downplays the show's satirical soul in favor of its baked-in truths. Especially when it comes to Blanchard's truly stunning Audrey, a performance far from Ellen Greene and a piece of acting willing to embrace the cause of Audrey's chronic lack of self-esteem and depict it, especially during the iconic "Somewhere That's Green" number, with total seriousness.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: Tonally, Mayer's production, accented with Will Van Dyke's fine arrangements and Ellenore Scott's gestural, loose-hipped, giddy choreography, takes a chirpy see-what-sticks approach, but the script is daffy and capacious enough to allow performances as emotionally grounded as Blanchard's, as blithely comic as Groff's, as bananas as Borle's, who plays Scrivello with the precision of a Swiss wristwatch and the derangement of a candidate for exorcism. He mugs, he twerks, he chews scenery like it's a wooden amuse-bouche. If scene-stealing is a crime, someone should make a citizen's arrest at the stage door.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: This "Little Shop," under the direction of Michael Mayer, doesn't really sprout until Borle's Customer arrives. And without him in many of the following scenes, it tends to wilt. The three urchin back-up singers (Ari Groover, Salome Smith and Joy Woods) always manage to delight with the doo-wop songs by Ashman and Alan Menken, and co-stars Jonathan Groff and Tammy Blanchard are also in very strong voice. It's too bad that the developing love affair between the two lead characters, the put-upon shopkeeper Seymour (Groff) and Orin's masochistic girlfriend (Blanchard), never ignites comic sparks.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: In this case, that puts us closer to a never-better Jonathan Groff as Seymour Krelborn, the Skid Row florist shop worker who makes a Faustian pact with the carnivorous succulent. With his preppy, all-American handsomeness hidden beneath greasy hair, nerdy glasses and baggy costumes - a droll running joke has agents, photographers and TV producers recoiling when they see the eyes beneath the specs once the "strange and unusual plant" brings Seymour success and fame - Groff disappears into a role he was born to play. He's entirely credible as a klutzy nebbish, an orphan so hopelessly besotted with his co-worker Audrey that he names his weird botanical discovery after her.
Johnny Oleksinski, The New York Post: And, yes, Michael Mayer's production - with its blood and death set to bouncy tunes - is still hilarious. Borle's dentist leaves you gasping for breath when he inhales nitrous oxide for kicks. His erratic energy is that of Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." And there are laughs to be had at how perfectly big Audrey II (voiced by Kingsley Leggs) is puppeteered as Leggs croons "Feed Me."
Jesse Oxfeld, New York Stage Review: Michael Mayer's staging, at the Westside Theatre, the Hell's Kitchen off-Broadway house best known for the kinds of shows that play best to Wednesday matinee crowds, is true to the show's (voracious) roots off-Broadway in the East Village. This lo-fi production of a show now so often encountered in high schools and community productions wonderfully illustrates the magic that can be made with a small cast, a great score, and ravenous puppet.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Mayer knows the tone to strike: shrewd, sentimental, and‚ yes, sincere. There's no other way to bring across the beautifully unadorned lyrics, and wistful melody, to Audrey's suburban-fantasy ballad, "Somewhere That's Green": "A matchbox of our own/ A fence of real chain link/ A grill out on the patio/ Disposal in the sink/ A washer and a drier and/ An ironing machine/ In a tract house that we share/ Somewhere that's green.":
Roma Torre, NY1: What may seem like miscasting with the hunky Groff as the meekly innocuous Seymour was a stroke of genius. He's both endearing and dreamy, which adds a deeper dimension to his romantic pairing with Tammy Blanchard's Audrey. And if she seemed to struggle with some of the high notes, it only added to her vulnerable take on the role of the good-hearted masochist. Channeling Judy Holliday, her soulful pining for a decent home somewhere that's green was wrenching. And then there's Christian Borle, hilariously inspired as the nasty nitrous oxide snorting Oren Scrivello DDS. But that's far from all. Playing multiple roles, he distinguished each one with such particular virtuosity that he steals practically every scene he's in. It's a master class in comedy performance and if you see it just for him, you got your money's worth. The cozy venue upstairs at the Westside Theatre is perfectly suited to this hugely entertaining little show. I expect it to be planted there for many months, if not years, to come.