Sunday, October 27, 2019

Review of "Little Shop of Horrors"

One of the great strengths of the Off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors is its location at the Westside Arts Theatre on 43rd Street and 9th Avenue.  The well-worn venue, with a capacity of just 270 seats, is the perfect setting for this off-beat, sci-fi musical about a man-eating plant that takes over a florist shop on New York City’s Skid Row.  The timeworn nature and size of the theater adds a degree of seediness that effectively sets the proper mood for the production.

Based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult classic film, Little Shop of Horrors tells the tale of Seymour Krelborn, a nebbish young man, played with geeky charm by Jonathan Groff, who is a clerk at a rundown flower shop presided over by the crotchety Mr. Muskin (Tom Alan Robbins).  Their dispirited, but hopeful co-worker Audrey (Tammy Blanchard), is in a very unhealthy relationship with her boyfriend dentist, Orin Scrivello (Christian Borle).  The fortunes of Seymour and company quickly change upon his discovery of a very mysterious and menacing venus flytrap looking plant that he names the Audrey II.  As news of the young clerk’s find begins to spread, the prosperity of the floral shop grows…as does the plant, which prefers juicy, blood-red nourishment.  Mayhem and an expanding body count ensue until a chilling climax.

The book by Howard Ashman is a highly rewarding mash-up of many genres—science fiction, comedy, and murder mystery.  The storyline, that centers on Seymour’s Faustian Bargain, is brisk and clever.  The inclusion of three women—Ronnette (Ari Groover), Crystal (Salome Smith), and Chiffon (Joy Woods)—to the mix allows a type of Greek Chorus to deliver exposition, expand musical numbers, and provide entertaining scene changes.

The wonderfully cast group of actors is led by Jonathan Groff as Seymour.  While he imbues the role with buoyant optimism and charm, he also displays a hardened determination as the musical progresses, which shows a rather disturbing side to the character.  Tammy Blanchard comes across as a tougher, more knocked around Audrey than the usual ditzy portrayal of the character.  Her performance is one of world-weariness and resignation, which gives her a more well-rounded persona. Christian Borle, playing multiple characters, but primarily the sadistic, demented dentist Orin Scrivello, is a comic dynamo who embellishes every scene he’s in with hilarity and sidesplitting antics.  Tom Alan Robbins is suitably gruff as Mr. Mushnik and the three-member female ensemble are spunky, smooth, and quite fun.

The score by Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman is high-spirited, tuneful and hip.  They incorporate a number of song styles to great effect.  They include Doo Wop (“Da-Doo”), tender ballads (“Somewhere That’s Green”), and comedic gems (“Dentist!”).

Director Michael Mayer keeps the two-hour musical running at a brisk pace.  He skillfully maneuvers his troupe of actors around the small Westside Arts stage with poise and aplomb.  Mayer has inserted a number of small, but humorous embellishments to add spice to a show that is a mainstay of regional and community productions around the country. Choreographer Ellenore Scott contributes a series of stylish, finely synchronized dance routines, primarily for the trio of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette.

Puppet Designer Nicholas Mahon’s creation of the Audrey II, based on the original design by Martin P. Robinson, is masterful. The plant, voiced by the deep throated and sinister sounding Kingsley Leggs, becomes almost life-like in the closing scenes.

Julian Crouch’s Scenic Design of a grungy florist shop and the Skid Row environs are perfectly shabby and dilapidated.  Jessica Paz’s Sound Design and Bradley King’s Lighting Design provide just the right amount of scariness and ominous foreboding to the production.

Little Shop of Horrors, a creepy, exuberant musical, playing at the Westide Arts Theatre through January 19th.

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