"Little Shop of Horrors" Awaits with Open Jaws at Great Lakes Theater

click to enlarge Little Shop of Horrors at Great Lakes Theater - Ken Blaze
Ken Blaze
Little Shop of Horrors at Great Lakes Theater

If you don't like musicals and would like to see their characters punished, have I got the musical for you! In "Little Shop of Horrors," now at the Great Lakes Theater, all four main characters are killed in a gruesome manner by an alien species of barbaric botany that lives in a florist shop in Skid Row (i.e. New York).

Oh, wait, I didn't say "spoiler alert." But that's okay, since this melodious massacre (book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken) has been around for some 40 years, the do-wop score and witty lyrics performed by countless college and community theaters, not to mention each and every high school drama group in existence.

And why not? The small cast trills endearing songs that capture the verve and vibe of 60's Motown groups. Heck, the three "Greek chorus" females even bear the names of famous girl rock groups: Ronnette, Chiffon, and Crystal.

It's based on a dirt-cheap eponymous 1960 film, a non-singing black comedy about a carnivorous cabbage that continues to grow and demand more food. The plant sits in the front window of a florist shop, located amidst urban blight. It's owned by miserly Mr. Mushnik whose two employees, Audrey and Seymour, care for the plant that will only accept nourishment in the form of human blood.

The fourth main character is Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist who is dating and abusing simple and sweet Audrey. (Fun fact: the original film included a walk-on by Jack Nicholson in one of his first film appearances as Wilbur Force, a masochist who reads Pain Weekly and is a devotee of Dr. Scrivello's Novocain-free ministrations.)

Seymour is so infatuated by Audrey that he names the plant after her, Audrey II. Dazzled by his kindness, Audrey shares with him her dream of ascending to a suburban, middle-class life in one of the show's best numbers, "Somewhere That's Green." In it, she imagines a home where she "cooks like betty Crocker and looks like Donna Reed."

Under the sure-handed direction of Victoria Bussert, the cast, consisting mostly of Baldwin-Wallace students and alumni, ranges from splendid to sufficient. As the love-smitten couple, Andrew Faria and Sara Masterson are a bouquet all their own. Faria plays the uber-nerd Seymour with honesty and incorporates his character's inherent spazz-ishness into every movement and gesture. Masterson's Audrey is sweetness personified, using her lush voice to embellish her songs.

As Mushnik, Aled Davies sets aside his stentorian delivery developed as a longtime member of the GLT family in roles such as King Lear and Falstaff to embody the cheapskate shop owner. Although he could have probably tried adopting an appropriate borough accent, he conveys the sleaze under Mushnik's seedy enterprise. As the unseen voice of Audrey II, Elijah Dawson has the pipes to send a floral shiver down your spine.

The role of nasty Orin is a plum, since it was essayed with such delicious decadence by Steve Martin in the 1986 movie of the musical. In this production, Alex Syiek has all the meanness but little of the charm (or is it smarm?) that must be present to make this odious character palatable. His constant inhaling of nitrous oxide "laughing gas" becomes repetitive and engenders fewer chuckles than one might expect.

All the action is backed by the vocal stylings of the aforementioned girl chorus—Sydney Alexandra Whittenburg, Kris Lyons and Savannah Cooper—who hang out on the stoop, crawl through the shop window, and appear whenever an outside comment is required.

So, if you don't like musicals, come and watch them die. But if you love some good tunes and a couple outstanding performances, Little Shop awaits your arrival with open jaws.

Little Shop of Horrors, through Oct. 9 at Great Lakes Theater, Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, 2067 E. 14th Street, 216-241-6000, greatlakestheater.org.

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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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