BWW Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Grows on You at Theatre Baton Rouge

Photo by Megan Collins

It's finally spooky season, and Theatre Baton Rouge is ready to deliver you a night of suspense, romance, and one giant, man-eating plant. Welcome to LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS.

Adapted from Roger Corman's 1960 horror cult classic featuring a young Jack Nicholson, writers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman created a rags-to-riches musical (with a twist) that opened off-Broadway in 1982. It won multiple awards and ran for five years, becoming, at the time, the highest-grossing show in off-Broadway history. It would later earn pop culture status in 1986 in a musical film starring Rick Moranis.

The story follows the employees of Mushnik's Skid Row Flower Shop, and unfortunately, business has been terrible. A sad sack orphaned clerk, Seymour, who works in the failing shop, buys a curious little plant that harbors a huge, evil secret. He names the plant Audrey II after his co-worker, Audrey, whom he loves.

With Audrey II's presence, the shop starts seeing success, though the personal lives of Seymour and Audrey don't get any easier. Audrey is trapped in a relationship with a sadistic dentist hooked on laughing gas. And despite an evident affection for her, Seymour stands aside because he soon becomes involved in an abusive relationship of his own.

When Audrey II becomes sick, nothing seems to work, until Seymour pricks his finger and discovers Audrey II can not only talk but is also nourished by blood. However, as Audrey II grows, so does its appetite. When the devious plant tells Seymour it can make all his dreams come true - including getting the girl - Seymour must decide if his dreams are worth crossing over to the dark side.

Directed by Jenny Ballard, the TBR production does a first-class job with the show's musical score, which draws heavily on 1960s' rock 'n' roll and doo-wop. Ballard is no stranger to the works of Menken and Ashman, having directed THE LITTLE MERMAID and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST in previous TBR seasons. It's almost bizarre to think the team for writing iconic Disney scores had their breakthrough with a musical about a bloodthirsty plant, but Ballard treats the script and music with just as much care as she would with the Disney canon, if not more so.

With a strong cast and toe-tapping music, Ballard and the TBR gang have put on a show well worth the ticket price. I won't give away all the twists and turns, but fans of the movie should take the opportunity to see LITTLE SHOP on stage. The ending may surprise you.

The show has an irresistible momentum, helped along by a likable cast. Coats, who has several other credits at TBR, does an excellent job of portraying the lonely protagonist Seymour. Even when Seymour gets in over his head, his likeability remains so high that we still root that he will get the love he deserves in the end.

Natalie Overall as Audrey brings everything people love about the character to life. Sweet and kind, though troubled, Overall's portrayal invokes more sympathy than laughs. As she pines for a suburban lifestyle in "Somewhere That's Green," she sings so sweetly and earnestly that it becomes a moving experience. You'll want her to earn the life she deserves, even though she doesn't think she's worthy of it.

Together, Coats and Overall bring a level of vulnerability to their roles, which made it easy for this critic to believe they were real soulmates instead of an office fling. Their duet "Call Back in the Morning" is highly entertaining as they handle a deluge of customer phone calls.

This show also has some wonderful scene-stealing performances from its supporting cast. It's always a delight to Terry Byars on the TBR stage, and as Mr. Mushnik is no exception. Bringing additional humor to the show, Byars plays the role of the grumpy owner with panache.

Tyler Grezaffi is also wickedly good as Orin, the dentist. The energy he brings as a sleazy, abusive greaser creates a character that is almost alluring as he is dangerous. Grezaffi redefines the role made famous by Steve Martin with his blend of nitrous oxide-fueled zest and a toothy smile.

The trio of neighborhood street urchins Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronette, played by Sofia Argueta, Chloe Marie, and Jada Traveler respectively, are at the heart of the play. Inspired by popular girl groups of the early '60s, these three ladies act as a Greek chorus, observing the actions of the people around them, while also inciting narrative hooks of their own. They may live on Skid Row, but these girls' voices and smiles sparkle while delivering some of the more infectious tunes in the show.

The breakout role of the show, however, goes to Brandy Johnson as Audrey II. As the off-stage voice of the man-eating plant, Johnson is soulful, sassy and sexy. While not traditional, the casting of a female as Audrey II nicely highlights the inherent jealousy between the plant and her namesake.

TBR's production of LITTLE SHOP is scary good, and if ever there was a show to kick off the Halloween season, this is it.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS runs through Sunday, October 7. Tickets are available via theatrebr.org or by calling the TBR Box Office at 225-924-6496.

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From This Author Tara Bennett

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