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This downright scream is ready to slay


An unconventional holiday treat is on stage at Milwaukee's Skylight Music Theatre through January 2nd. Directed by Michael Unger (his first since taking the reins as Artistic Director), Little Shop of Horrors may not tee up glad tidings of comfort and cheer, but a show this fun is equal to the festive task. Little Shop brings joy, humor, astonishment... and a bloodthirsty plant.

The musical is based on a 1960 film that inspired an Off-Broadway show with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. Funny how, on the heels of this horror comedy, these two went on to pen music and lyrics galore for Disney in the 1990s. Little Shop of Horrors follows a failing flower shop on Skid Row, a derelict corner of downtown. When the meek young botanist Seymour discovers a new breed of strange and interesting plant, business begins to boom. The problem? This plant is a literal man-eater. Can Seymour get the girl and rake in success, all while satisfying his plant's thirst for blood?

The show opens with a Greek chorus bop in the style of The Supremes. Right away you know you're in for a night that's campy, farcical, and fabulous. The soulful trio -- each aptly named Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette -- are played by Kristen Jeter, Brandite Reed, and Raven Dockery, respectively. Though some moments of harmony could do with refining, each is particularly strong when belting out a solo. By Act Two, the threesome had more so found their groove, and no doubt their syncopation will continue to gel throughout the show's run.

The staff of the titular little shop includes owner Mr. Mushnik (David Flores), botanist Seymour (Kevin James Sievert), and ditzy sales girl Audrey (Ashley Oviedo). As an orphan, Seymour has been with Mr. Mushnik since childhood -- not so much as a son, but as a workhorse. Seymour pines for Audrey, who suffers from low self-esteem and a string of no-good boyfriends. The latest is Orin Scrivello, DDS (Dan Gold from November 19-21, Seth K. Hale onward), a sleazy scumbag, abusive in every sense of the word.

The show does a good job of making us love to hate this evil dentist, and let's just say you can rest assured he gets his comeuppance. The Skylight also acknowledges that real abuse is no laughing matter, inviting the audience to donate via QR code to Sojourner Family Peace Center, a nonprofit providing domestic violence prevention and intervention.

Back to the show: Flores has found a perfect fit in the role of Mushnik. Oviedo enchants with strong vocals, particularly in her Act One ballad "Somewhere That's Green." And Seivert? He's a total gem as Seymour. From the get-go, his voice is crystal clear and effortless, going to some particularly miraculous places in songs like "Feed Me." Of all the talented folks on this Skylight stage, Seivert is the heart-stealer.

But let's not forget the horror in this little shop. First up, the bad-news boyfriend, Orin Scrivello, DDS. Gold brings wild, wacky energy to the part in his opening weekend stint. Having seen Hale on other Milwaukee stages, I'm bummed to have missed his Skylight debut. My guess is he'll be a hoot.

As for the show's leading villain Audrey II, AKA the strange and interesting plant, big-time praise for puppets and practical effects. Gabriella Ashlin is the Audrey II puppeteer, and she literally puts her whole body into making this massive man-gobbling plant speak, sing, and spark to life on stage. It's an amazing feat, and a killer workout, night after night. Audrey II is voiced by Aaron Reese Boseman, his every rich, thunderous note thick with soul. Together, these two excite and entertain like crazy.

This stellar cast is supported by a wildly imaginative set and wardrobe with lighting by Graham Kindred, scenic design by Brian Prather, and costume design by Kristina Sneshkoff.

So this Little Shop, while stocked with its share of horrors, shills a night of live theater that's a downright scream. This Skylight production offers proof that larger-than-life performances, stories, sets, and even killer plants are back on Milwaukee stages and ready to slay.

Photo Credit: Mark Frohna

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