Marvelous ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ has plenty of bite
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They’re serving up Attack-of-the-Killer-Tomato realness with a side of “Dr. Faustus” at the Drury Lane Theatre. You don’t often see a production defined by a moral dilemma that would stump Solomon and an aesthetic that celebrates the wonders of B-Movie schlock. But that’s what we have in “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed and choreographed for the Oakbrook Terrace theater by Scott Calcagno.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’
When: Through Oct. 28
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace
Tickets: $50 – $65
Run time: 2 hours, including one intermission
“Little Shop” poses a conundrum for the ages: Does feeding a few clearly unnecessary people to a homicidal vegetable count as actual murder? Or could it be considered “murder lite,” aka, a judicious and justifiable pruning of undesirables? Also: If people who only eat plants are vegans, what are plants that only eat people? Such are the questions that try men’s souls.They also drive “Little Shop,” a doo-wop musical (score by Alan Menken; book and lyrics Howard Ashman) that explores the root of all evil from a metaphorically unique point of view. Calcagno’s take on the tale is, shall we say, evergreen.
The story goes thusly: Dweeby, dorky human doormat Seymour (Will Lidke, who could be Evan Hanson’s more comically angsty older brother) works at a skid row florist owned by crankypants Mr. Mushnik (Ron E. Rains, as the lovechild of Sesame Street’s Mr. Green Jeans and Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”). Seymour’s co-worker is ditzy-but-sweet Audrey (Kelly Felthous, a bombshell in a Marilyn Monroe wig and a vocal powerhouse with a belt that could power a wind farm).
Audrey’s monstrously abusive boyfriend is Orin (Steven Strafford, whose entrance feels like it should come with a movie voice-over urgently announcing “Nicolas Cage IS Marilyn Manson!”), a dentist with a penchant for industrial-grade whippits.
A miracle (growth) occurs when Seymour’s horticultural experiments yield a unique and interesting plant that brings in hordes of curious customers. Before long, there’s a parade of William Morris agents and movie producers badgering Seymour to sign on the dotted line. The only catch is that Audrey II (Seymour names the money-making plant after Audrey) needs human blood to survive. Also, Audrey II is Satan. Before you can say “cannabis would be way easier and just as lucrative,” Seymour is making shish kebabs from body parts.
Just like McDonald’s in 1955, Audrey II has her (his? their?) sights set on world domination. Since there’s millions to be made by franchising (i.e. making cuttings and putting little Audrey IIs in homes and gardens throughout the world), men with dollar signs for eyes quickly capitalize on the Audrey-Across-America movement. Seymour realizes too late that millions of lives are at stake. Also, he could go to prison for hacking up people with machetes.
The plant-as-unchecked-capitalism-metaphor is clever and clear without being preachy or (too) cliched. But what truly powers “Little Shop” is Menken’s score, which calls for a trio of women to serve as a Greek Chorus while also evoking the Supremes.
The trio here is Melanie Brezill, Candace C. Edwards, Melanie Loren (as Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon, respectively). It’s thanks to them and Lorenzo Rush Jr. (as the voice of Audrey II), that “Little Shop” truly blooms. From the opening notes of the Prologue, the production is sonically irresistible. There’s bite to the music as well as joy and humor: “Downtown” is a harmonically gorgeous, Petula Clark-adjacent rumination on class. “Be a Dentist” is a beautifully twisted riff on “Leader of the Pack.”
Puppet designer Martin P. Robinson has done a killer job creating Audrey II. From flower-pot cutie to voracious beast, this is one impressive piece of greenery. Puppeteer Matthew Sitz’s performance has teeth, making the Venus-flytrap-on-steroids creature a winning violent/verdant hybrid.
Nobody in “Little Shop” actually says “Wait a minute! What about the girl?” But that’s the B-movie sensibility Calcagno achieves, peppering the staging with hilariously overcooked double-takes, pauses so pregnant they could hold quintuplets and, of course, a tentacled menace that could take on the Blob.
If nothing else, “Little Shop of Horrors” teaches us this: Don’t sleep on your houseplants. They could be up to anything.
Catey Sullivan is a local freelance writer.