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Touring "Little Shop of Horrors" Is Big Supermarket of Shtick

"Little Shop of Horrors"

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman; music by Alan Menken; director, Jerry Zaks; choreographer, Kathleen Marshall; conductor/music director, Brent-Alan Huffman; set design by Scott Pask; costume design by William Ivey Long; lighting design by Donald Holder; sound design by Domonic Sack and Carl Casella; puppet design by The Jim Henson Company and Martin P. Robinson

Cast in order of appearance:

Chiffon, Yasmeen Sulieman

Crystal, Amina S. Robinson

Ronnette, Latonya Holmes

Mushnik, Ray DeMattis

Audrey, Tari Kelly

Seymour, Jonathan Rayson

Orin, James Moye

The Voice of Audrey II, Michael James Leslie

Audrey II Puppeteers, Michael Latini, Paul McGinnis, Marc Petrosino

Performances: Now through May 15

Box Office: Ticketmaster at 617-931-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com

The word "subtle" will never be used to describe the national touring company production of the recent Broadway version of "Little Shop of Horrors." With its emphasis on glitz over content and vaudeville over character development, this "Little Shop" is big, slick, self-consciously clever, and very loud.

On stage at the Colonial Theatre in Boston through May 15, this little musical that could – which opened Off-Broadway in 1982 and ran for more than 2000 performances – has morphed into a theme park spectacular of grotesque proportions. Its brash tone is much more in keeping with the over-the-top 1986 star-studded movie musical version than the Roger Corman-directed low-budget black-and-white non-musical cult classic upon which it was originally based.

Corman's 1960 Faustian black comedy eerily satirizes America's insatiable hunger for fame, fortune, and unlimited success by giving us a seemingly innocuous but increasingly more menacing houseplant that figuratively drains the moral life out of its meek caretaker Seymour while literally draining him of his life's blood for its own nourishment. As Seymour's goodness diminishes, the plant's evil power grows.

In the current touring production of the 2003 Broadway mounting, that darkly funny and prophetic symbol of creeping cultural decay has become a gargantuan monument to its own overindulgence. Its very excess oddly reveres the greed and gluttony that its parasitic existence is supposed to condemn. Not only does this contemporary steroidal flytrap eat its victims. It also chews the scenery.

This is not to say that "Little Shop of Horrors" isn't entertaining. It is great fun and, like its early film predecessor, has established an enthusiastic cult following of its own. Many members of the opening night audience laughed in anticipation of the iconic bits that peppered the show. Viewers who had clearly seen the production several times before responded to characters like they were old friends. Even the dimming of the house lights prior to the opening of the neon-emblazoned curtain received sustained applause. This super-sized "Little Shop" may lack the poignancy of the original, but fans clearly approve of its unapologetic shtick.

Fortunately for those theatergoers who crave more than sheer extravaganza from their musicals, the cast of this touring production of "Little Shop of Horrors" delivers the acting and singing goods, as well. Howard Ashman's clever book and his and Alan Menken's witty, sardonic, yet at times tender doo-wop inspired pop-rock score is beautifully rendered by uniformly strong and flexible voices.

Jonathan Rayson as Seymour is a pleading mix of insecurity and hope while he croons "Grow for Me" to his newly acquired but withering exotic plant Audrey II. Tari Kelly as the much put upon love interest Audrey (I) is heartwarmingly sincere in her touchingly humorous ode to suburban America, "Somewhere That's Green." Ray DeMattis as the shopkeeper Mushnik brings a Tevye-like showmanship to his and Rayson's celebratory vaudeville duet, "Mushnik and Son." And in the wonderfully passionate and uplifting "Suddenly Seymour," the endearing Rayson and Kelly sing with a combination of intimacy and joy that is totally refreshing.

Audrey II comes to magical life through the combined efforts of Michael James Leslie – whose deeply resonant and lush bass vocals alternately cajole and threaten in numbers like "Git It" (a/k/a "Feed Me") and "Suppertime" – and puppeteers Michael Latini, Paul McGinnis, and Marc Petrosino, whose perfectly timed and executed manipulations somehow give a playfully sinister personality to an otherwise pugnacious plant. As if one larger-than-life villain weren't enough for any stage, though, James Moye as Audrey's sadistic boyfriend Orin plays the nitrous oxide guzzling dentist as if he were channeling a sociopathic Fonzie and Elvis at the same time. Finally, Yasmeen Sulieman, Amina S. Robinson, and Latonya Holmes add a very contemporary American Idol twist to their Supremes-like trio of street urchins as they provide a nicely harmonized – if somewhat over energized – caustic commentary throughout the show.

In this age when Americans worship the opulence of Donald Trump and seek their 15 minutes in the spotlight as contestants on Reality TV, it shouldn't surprise us that a popular Off-Broadway musical has gotten bigger and bolder with each new success. It is ironic, however, that a show which lampoons the pursuit of fame and fortune at any cost has fallen victim to its own peril. No longer little, this "Shop of Horrors" has sold its soul.

 


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