When it comes to musical comedy camp, "Little Shop of Horrors" is a masterpiece. Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace allows the brilliance of this 1982 off-Broadway hit to be savored once again in a solid and traditional revival.
During an eclipse, milquetoast flower store clerk Seymour (Will Lidke) discovers an unusual plant he names Audrey II after the woman he secretly loves. His pet project, however, turns out to be an alien species -- a talking plant (juicily voiced by Lorenzo Rush Jr. and puppeteered by Matthew P. Sitz) with a taste for human flesh that manipulates Seymour into doing dastardly deeds.
Keeping the plant fed is a challenge, but there are other complications. Seymour's co-worker, Audrey (a delicate Kelly Felthous), suffers physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her biker boyfriend, Orin (a very versatile Steven Strafford, who takes on an assortment of oddball characters). The Yiddish-spouting Skid Row flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik (a hilarious Ron E. Rains) also takes advantage of Seymour's naive and trusting nature.
Commenting on the action is the vocally wowing trio of Ronette (Melanie Brezill), Crystal (Candace C. Edwards) and Chiffon (Melanie Loren). They not only interact with other characters as street-smart teenagers, but they also function as a glamorous Greek chorus, glittering in girl-group get-ups by costume designer Lynda Myers.
Director/choreographer Scott Calcagno boasts in the program notes about seeing the original production of "Little Shop of Horrors." He and his design team's approach to the material does not take major visual liberties (as cemented into place by Frank Oz's acclaimed 1986 movie musical adaptation).
The sturdy score and script by composer Alan Menken and playwright/lyricist Howard Ashman has shown to withstand some major tinkering (as seen in London's two most recent high-profile "Little Shop of Horrors" revivals where Audrey II was re-imagined a toothy sarracenia and as a sashaying drag queen). But traditionalists should be happy with Calcagno's more familiar approach.
The action is kept front-and-center with Kevin Depinet's impressive revolving set and Ryan O'Gara's spooky lighting design. Surrounded by deliberately broken neon signs (this is Skid Row, after all), the interior and exterior of Mr. Mushnik's sad shop serve as ideal backdrops for the bad Faustian bargains to come.
Calcagno's cast is top notch, with each ensemble member emphasizing both the comedy and pathos of the material. Felthous is particularly affecting in her "I want" song of "Somewhere That's Green." Strafford and Calcagno oddly de-emphasize the expected Elvis Presley swagger in the abusive Orin, but that's a minor quibble.
"Little Shop of Horrors," which took its inspiration from Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie horror flick, was the musical that catapulted the careers of Menken and Ashman into the stratosphere. The duo left an even greater pop cultural impact by contributing songs to the Disney animated movie musicals "The Little Mermaid" (1989), "Beauty and the Beast" (1991) and "Aladdin" (1992) before Ashman's untimely death due to AIDS-related causes.
Menken would go on to have other successes with different collaborators. But "Little Shop of Horrors," as seen in Drury Lane's sturdy revival, is a reminder of a great collaboration tragically cut short.
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Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylanetheatre.com.
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday; through Oct. 28
Tickets: $60-$75; some student and senior discounts; dinner show packages available
Running time: About 2 hours including intermission
Parking: Free adjacent parking garage
Rating: For preteens and older; includes some scary/comical moments of gore and violence, plus adult language