BWW Review: Reboot's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS Will Eat Your Heart
Dear Readers, we're about to enter the realm of my favorite show of all time, that of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical masterpiece "Little Shop of Horrors". I tell you this in advance so you'll understand the gravitas of my critique of anyone attempting this particular show and I've seen many. I've seen touring productions, local productions both large and small, and even one production set in an actual skid row. I even managed to see a certain Encores production with a certain movie star and the original Audrey (sigh). And now comes Reboot Theatre Company with their affinity for non-traditional casting/staging/etc. Add into that the fact that they're performing this at the Slate theater where the stage is about the size of the full-grown plant and this could be a recipe for disaster. And while I may have had a technical qualm or two, what I also saw was a company that understands the show and a production that has more heart in one tentacle than some productions have in their whole plant.
For those unfamiliar with the show, I pity you. For those only familiar with the 1986 movie, get yourself to a theater, the ending is quite different and so much better! But let's see what we can do for the newbies. Based on Roger Corman's 1960 movie we meet Seymour (Dani Hobbs), a clumsy little guy with little prospects working at the Skid Row Florists for Mr. Mushnik (DeSean Halley) along with the beautiful but misguided Audrey (Tipsy Rose Lee). Business is not good until Seymour puts a strange and interesting plant he's found in the front window and suddenly business is booming, but at what cost? You see, Seymour soon discovers that the only thing that will make the plant, which he has named Audrey II (voiced by Kristie Werner), thrive is feeding it human blood. Can Seymour continue to do bloody awful, evil things if it means all his dreams come true including getting the girl?
Ashman and Menken took a quirky dark comedy and infused the story with brilliant music that brings every moment alive and flows beautifully one to the next with a stunning tone of the 1960's. But so many times I've seen productions that want to poke fun at the era or the characters rather than embrace what makes them wonderful. Not the case with Reboot. Director Harry Turpin's love for the show is obvious and infused throughout the cast as they not only embrace the characters but the love story at its core. He has them playing the people with style and not the caricatures and that's what keeps the heart alive. And kudos to Music Director Michael Alexander and his band for their spot-on sound although this does bring me to one of my few qualms, those sound levels in that tiny space. Honestly, I was fearing much worse so they've obviously already done some work but then I know every word of the show. I'm not sure how clear everything would be for a newbie.
But it's early still and this glorious non-traditional, cross-gender, genderqueer cast is killing it. In fact, let's just remove that qualification right here and now. They're not killing it for a specific type of cast, they're just killing it. As the Greek chorus of urchins, Danielle Hill, Angela Snyder and Jake Atwood nail it. They've got the attitude and the chops needed to lead us through the story and take no prisoners doing it. Halley as Mr. Mushnik is a delight with his obvious love/hate for Seymour. Vincent Milay slays as the Dentist as well as a bevy of other hysterical characters. But I can honestly say I've never seen anyone have that much glee playing a psychopath and he does it with aplomb. And typically, we don't see but only hear the voice of the plant but here Reboot has decided to "bring Baby out of the corner", so to speak, and have Werner in costume alongside the plant. Werner brings the vocal bravado of another Ashman and Menken diva to the role, that of Ursula the Sea Witch from "The Little Mermaid", making for another departure from the norm but one that works perfectly. And in this small space with a plant that does move but maybe can't do as much as one on Broadway can, having Werner around to "play with her food" adds to the moment.
But this is a love story and I must say, I'm in love with the lovers. Lee brings in the perfect streetwise damsel opposite Hobbs nebbish and they make for a darling couple and what voices. Lee's ode to "Somewhere That's Green" is every bit as heartbreaking and hopeful as it should be and Hobbs' sells every single moment with a fantastic, crystal clear voice. And for me, everything boils down to that one song, "Suddenly, Seymour", and their talent, vocal chops, commitment and heart rivaled that of the aforementioned movie star and original Audrey.
THIS is the production of "Little Shop" you've been waiting for. You may have heard of it and thought, "huh, interesting gimmick with the casting" and it is. And the tiny space makes it super intimate as well. But beyond all that it's also simply a solid production that understands the show and how it needs to be done. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Reboot Theatre Company's production of "Little Shop of Horrors" an absolutely thrilled YAY+. Oh, and a warning. If you sit in the front row beware flying objects. Let's just say I'm glad I managed to catch that earring.
"Little Shop of Horrors" from Reboot Theatre Company performs at the Slate Theater through May 19th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.reboottheatre.org.