Oakbrook Terrace—It’s been so long since I’d seen a professional production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that I’d forgotten that it’s one of the most hip, funny, and ingenious musicals to tickle American audiences in the past generation. Happy memories of my original exposure to “Horrors” back in the 1990’s flooded my mind as I enjoyed the terrific revival at the Drury Lane Theatre.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is satirical spoof of a low-level science fiction motion picture made in 1960. Director Roger Corman reportedly filmed the picture in three days. It became a cult movie and a trivia question (What future superstar appeared in the movie as a sadistic dentist? Answer: Jack Nicholson).
The story is set in the skid row section of New York City, specifically in and around the struggling flower shop operated by a senior citizen named Mushnik. The shop is a financial flop but Mushnik still employs a couple of assistants, a ditsy blonde named Audrey and the dorky young Seymour Krelborn. A prologue speaks darkly of a recent solar eclipse. In the dark, Seymour buys a small strange looking plant resembling a Venus flytrap and names it Audrey II to commemorate his unreturned love from Audrey the sales girl.
Seymour soon discovers that the plant thrives on human flesh, growing in size and appetite from scene to scene. Audrey II becomes a sensation through TV publicity, saving Mushnik from bankruptcy, but the plant’s lust for human flesh threatens to get out of control. But Seymour sees Audrey II, who now talks, as his ticket to fame and fortune as well as Audrey I’s affections.
The musical becomes a satire on the American urge for money and fame and the mass media’s role in arousing the worst instincts of the American drive for success. The show also has its sinister side, as when Seymour feeds the plant body parts from the dentist who succumbed to an overdose of laughing gas. The musical ends with a dire prediction for the future of the human race and the plea “Don’t feed the plants.” It’s a risky conclusion to an unorthodox show but its offbeat humor won over enough reviewers and theatergoers in the 1980’s to run 2,209 performances off Broadway.
The Drury Lane management has cast the play superbly, led by Will Lidke as the doofus Seymour who makes a Faustian pact with Audrey II to provide food for the voracious plant in return for power. Kelly Felthous channels a kookie Judy Holliday personality into her charming performance as Audrey. Ron E. Rains is first rate as the blustering Mr. Mushnik and Steven Strafford shows himself a quick-change artist of considerable accomplishment in an assortment of cameo roles that accompany his impersonation of the nasty motorcycle-driving dentist who brutalizes a vulnerable Audrey I.
Contributing to the narrative are a trio of African American girl singers named Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, who by a coincidence are also the names of three popular rock ‘n’ roll girl groups of the 1960’s. Melanie Loren, Candace Edwards, and Melanie Brezill weave in and out of the show as singers and actors, drawing a raucous response from a whistling and shouting claque in the audience. They could have stayed after the show and performed a concert of golden oldies with distinction.
The show is well served the score composed by Howard Ashman (lyrics) and Alan Menken (music). The score is mostly rhythmic early rock but there are a couple of emotionally authentic numbers sung by Audrey I (“Somewhere That’s Green”) and Seymour (“Suddenly, Seymour”).
“Little Shop of Horrors” makes considerable demands on the production’s designers. Martin Robinson of the Muppets designed a puppet Audrey II that is exceptionally complex, funnier, expressive, and eventually scary. Props go to Matthew Sitz who operates Audrey II from what must have been exceedingly tight quarters. Lorenzo Rush Jr. is filled with oily menace as the seductive voice of Audrey II.
Kevin Depinet’s set made creative use of the Drury Lane turntable stage to shift between the interior and exterior of Mushnik’s flower shop. Lynda Myers designed costumes, especially for the females, that are gaudy and very 1960’s. Other design commendations go to Ryan O’Gara (lighting), Ray Nardelli (sound), Cassy Schillo (properties), and Claire Moores (wig and hair design). They all united to creatively capture the haute tacky look of the show. And dialect coach Sammi Grant gave Audrey and Seymour the New York City-New Jersey brogue that makes the dialogue even funnier.
Director-choreographer Scott Calcagno orchestrates a complex physical production look natural, even when the action gets really wild. The electrified small pit band led by Roberta Duchak plays the Menken score with energy and a catchy feeling for the pop and rock sounds of the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Viewers should enjoy “Little Shop of Horrors,” no matter what their demographic group. Audiences who lived through the Roger Corman era should wallow in nostalgic pleasure. Younger attendees should still love the show, even if they hold no fond memories of the B movie sci fi thrillers their grandparents enjoyed. The fun transcends all generational barriers.
The show gets a rating of 4 Stars
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through October 28 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane. Performances are Wednesday at 1:30p.m.,Thursday at 1:30 and 8 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 5 and 8:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 6 p.m. Tickets are $50 to $65. Call 630 530 0111 or Call 630 530 0111 or visit www.DruryLaneTheatre.com.