Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Ford's Theatre

The production runs through May 18 at Ford's Theatre.

By: Mar. 21, 2024
Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Ford's Theatre
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Little Shop of Horrors has earned kudos over the last 40 years as a cult favorite, a campy sci-fi horror/comedy/musical with catchy doo-wop tunes with winks and nods to pulpy noir stories.

But the latest version at Ford’s Theatre underwhelms. The fun has run out. It’s clunky, awkward, and a bit cringey.

Let me say at the outset that the cast has beautiful voices, tons of energy, and a lot of heart. This is a talented group of performers who deserve better direction and a tighter, less sloppy show.

Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Ford's Theatre
Derrick D. Truby Jr. (Seymour) and Chani Wereley (Audrey)

Little Shop of Horrors features Seymour, a hapless, ill-fated floral shop worker who raises a rare plant … that happens to be a carnivorous creature with an insatiable thirst for human blood. The growing plant (Audrey II, named after Seymour’s co-worker and secret love) attracts a great deal of business for the previously struggling store. Seymour grows more confident in the fame and fortune that his leafy, ever-growing botanical friend attracts, and it gives him the guts to show his flower shop co-worker Audrey that she is the girl of his dreams. But Seymour is faced with the conundrum of how to feed the increasingly bloodthirsty plant. Seymour learns too late to be careful what you wish for.

Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Ford's Theatre
Derrick D. Truby Jr. (Seymour) with Kaiyla Gross (Ronnette),
Nia Savoy-Dock (Chiffon) and Kanysha Williams (Crystal)

The lush and catchy score – lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken – celebrates early rock and roll and Motown tunes. You’ll find yourself humming the tunes long after leaving the theater.

But Ashman’s book features the storyline of floral shop clerk Audrey sporting a black eye, broken arm, and fear of leaving her abusive boyfriend that is played for laughs. It’s hard to believe that jokes about her safety were accepted without a peep a few decades ago, but they landed with an uncomfortable and resounding thud in 2024.

The Ford’s Theatre cast tries valiantly to overcome such dated material and less-than-professional production elements. Derrick D. Truby, Jr. is earnest, geeky and full of heart as floral shop employee Seymour. Chani Wereley shows spunk and smarts as Audrey and earns well-deserved ovations for her clear and lovely ballads “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour.”

The sassy trio of Kaiyla Gross (Ronnette), Nia Savoy-Dock (Chiffon), and Kanysha Williams (Crystal) bring tight harmonies, powerful voices, and fun choreography that propel the action and add verve and energy to the show.

Lawrence Redmond (as the owner of the failing skid row floral shop Mr. Mushnik) and Joe Mallon (as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin and additional opportunistic characters trying to take advantage of Seymour) are accomplished actors but would have benefitted from a strong directorial vision that set consistent levels for zaniness and campiness for the show.

Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Ford's Theatre
Lawrence Redmond (Mr. Mushnik) and Derrick D. Truby Jr. (Seymour)

But Little Shop’s director Kevin S. McAllister made poor and confusing choices that squandered the resources of the theatre and the talent of the cast.

Sloppy production elements didn’t help matters. With a live band in the pit under the stage, the actors had to be mic’d at high volume to compete. As a result, crispness and enunciation were sacrificed so important plot lines or jokes in the lyrics were lost.

Production issues weren’t limited to sound. Max Doolittle’s lighting design called for some shadowy exterior street scenes that left some actors unlit or poorly lit even when they were delivering an important line.

Paige Hathaway’s scenic design, a two-story skid row street scene that wraps underneath the stage’s prominent box seats, looks impressive but doesn’t function well. Most of the action occurs only within the small, center-stage floral shop, crowding the actors and leaving stagnant and unused space on either side. Some dance numbers shoehorn awkwardly in the tiny usable space. In one scene a dentist chair and a large banner of teeth must be gathered up at the completion of a scene and bundled offstage by Seymour.

However, Alejo Vietti’s costuming was a highlight. Audrey is costumed in bright colors with fun flounces and details. Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal sport the sequins and shimmer of the 1960s girl groups. Vietti has fun with the early 60s silhouettes.

Little Shop of Horrors is a long-time musical theater favorite and there’s little doubt that Ford’s Theatre will sell tickets to fans and cherry blossom tourists who love the fun and catchy songs. Unfortunately, this production — which had plenty of talent and resources to draw on — was sub-par and disappointing.

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minutes intermission

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, is produced by Ford's Theatre, 511 10th Street NW. The production runs through May 18. For tickets, accessible performance information, special events, attendance policies, and further information visit the company's website.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is directed by Kevin S. McAllister with choreography by Ashleigh King and music direction by William Yanesh. The production features scenic design by Paige Hathaway, costume design by Alejo Vietti, lighting design by Max Doolittle, sound design by David Budries, hair and make-up design by Danna Rosedahl, dialects and voice direction Rachel Hirshorn-Johnston. The production team also includes Production Stage Manager Craig A. Horness and Assistant Stage Manager Taryn Friend.

Monkey Boys Productions provides the puppets for Audrey II. Jay Frisby and Ryan Sellers provide manipulation of Audrey II and Tobias A. Young is Audrey II’s voice.

William Yanesh conducts the band that includes Nathan Beary Blustein, DeAnte Haggerty-Willis, Eliot Seppa and Carroll “CV” Dashiell III.

Photo Credit: Scott Suchman