Green & Mean

The plant world takes its revenge in Little Shop of Horrors.

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Little Shop of Horrors Palace Theatre, 1519 Euclid Avenue Through November 20; 216-241-6000
What with humankind's abuse of the vegetable world over recent decades -- clear-cutting forests, chemically strangling our front yards, etc. -- it's a wonder that plants haven't already attacked us in our sleep. After all, we tend to measure our progress as a civilization by the number of native botanical organisms we manage to plow under and pave over. It's enough to piss off even a mild-mannered ficus.

So you'd think that a musical comedy featuring a badass plant that lustily devours adults whole, accompanied by a cackling sadistic dentist and a volley of early 1960s rock music, would be an invigoratingly edgy experience -- and welcome vengeance for photosynthetic friends of all stripes. And so it is, but the revival of Little Shop of Horrors now at the Palace Theatre is buffed to such a soft gleam that some of the original zest is muted, whether you compare it to the seminal 1960 Roger Corman film or the spirited off-Broadway production in 1982. Even the 1986 movie, memorable for Steve Martin's brutally hilarious dentist, has more zip than this plush-toy stage version.

Of course, the book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and the music by Alan Menken are as goofily endearing as ever. Seymour Krelbourn, a nebbishy florist's assistant in the grimy part of town, stumbles on a struggling little plant he names Audrey II, after the girl he loves. But once he pricks his finger and finds that Audrey II has an insatiable thirst for human blood, his life gets very complicated, as he must find new human takeouts for his fast-growing and voracious floral friend.

It's still a great story, which this production delivers with professional competence, sporadic inspiration, and an overall cartoonish sensibility. Even Scott Pask's set, featuring a painted backdrop of gray skid-row buildings craning over Mushnik's Florist Shop, seems so Disneyfied, one expects the tenements to start animating and singing with the principals.

A couple of cast members, under the probably distant direction of Jerry Zaks, don't bring the peak comedic chops necessary to kick the humor up a notch or two. Jonathan Rayson, tall and suitably diffident, only sporadically captures Seymour's goofy sweetness and as a result doesn't always bond with the audience. And while James Moye sings with gusto, he soft-pedals the demented dentist as well as other minor but still juicy roles.

Tari Kelly is lovable as the abused Audrey, squeezing some tender moments out of her ballad "Somewhere That's Green" in her squeaky New Yawk voice. And the biggest star of all is the mechanical marvel that is Audrey II, blossoming from hand-puppet size at the beginning to a gargantuan pod -- a storage locker with teeth. Whether it's the sensuous curve of her lips or the basso resonance of Michael James Leslie, who voices her, Audrey II is all id and no nonsense. If everyone had followed her anarchic lead, this would be a Little Shop to remember.

About The Author

Christine Howey

Christine Howey has been reviewing theater since 1997, first at Cleveland Free Times and then for other publications including City Pages in Minneapolis, MN and The Plain Dealer. Her blog, Rave and Pan, also features her play reviews. Christine is a former stage actor and director, primarily at Dobama Theatre...
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