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A CurtainUp Review
Little Shop of Horrors

Carla J. Hargrove DeQuina Moore, Trisha Jeffrey as Crystal
Carla J. Hargrove as Ronnette, DeQuina Moore as Chiffon and Trisha Jeffrey as Crystal (Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Revivals of hit shows inevitably run into competition with earlier permutations of themselves. This is certainly true of Little Shop of Horrors, the story of a nebbishy fellow with a bent for horticultural experiments and a yen for his co-worker in a failing flower shop. A catchy pop score helped to transform this basically mediocre sci-fi fantasy into an endearing, fun send-up of the movie genre that spawned it. It ran and ran (2 209 performances!) just as Seymour's plant Audrey II (named after the dumb blonde he adores) grew and grew.

The Little Shop that's moved to the more upscale uptown neighborhood across the street from Hairspray, (review ) another movie inspired show, this one about big hair instead of a big and scary plant, is a lively and entertaining continuation of the R & R (recycling and reviving) trend that is the name of the game for producing Broadway musicals nowadays. Shop has enough going for it to keep audiences of all ages coming to the Virginia, perhaps not for five years but most likely for a healthy run.

Note that "all ages!". To give the original show's fans a nostalgia fix and also enchant their kids with non-threatening fairy tale magic, the current production has Crayola brightened the elements that make Little Shop more kin to the grisly Sweeney Todd than the big-hearted Hairspray.

Kerry Butler as Audrey, Hunter Foster as Seymour
Kerry Butler as Audrey, Hunter Foster as Seymour (Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Rather than waste more time comparing the old and the current Little Shop, and thus reviewing the show that's long gone as well as the one that just opened, I've included facts about the original after the production notes and song list at the end of the production notes. To move on to what's on stage now, it's directed smoothly and with pep by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall. Scott Pask's flower shop within a crooked row house set and William Ivey Long's snazzy costumes colorfully evoke the skid row neighborhood and '50s rock era.

The top of the line cast is led by Hunter Foster who, after playing the hero of another spoof musical, Urinetown, (Review) has now assumed the role of the anti-heroic Seymour -- a male version of Dorothy Parker's girl with glasses at whom boys don't make passes. Kerry Butler, who was last seen as Hair Spray Tracey Turnblad's best friend Penny, plays Audrey with winsome kookiness though she never manages to make you overcome a certain queasiness about accepting an abused woman as a comic character. On the other hand, Douglas Sills makes it easier to laugh at the sadistic dentist-boyfriend by going all the way over the top in his portrayal. Sills also demonstrates his versatility by doubling up in several other roles. Foster, Butler and Sills all have singing voices that do justice to the catchy and occasionally touching Menken-Ashmore tunes. The same is true for the three women who make up the singing and dancing Greek chorus.

Rob Bartlett
Rob Bartlett as Mushnik (Photo: Paul Kolnik )
Not to be overlooked in tallying up the show's assets, is Rob Bartlett's Mushnik. Bartlett evokes enough of Zero Mostel's persona to make him a worthy candidate the next time The Producers needs a new Max Bialystock. (Should Bartlett trade Mushnik for Max, Lee Wilkof, the original Seymour who's currently in a limited run off-Broadway gem called Four Beers.

The real star of the enterprise is of course Audrey II, a spectacular plant-puppet created by and masterfully manipulated by members of the Jim Henson Company. The deep, booming voice of Audrey II belongs to Michael Leon Wooley who, besides demanding "Feed Me" from inside the giant blood sucker, also sings zestfully on the stoop outside Munchnick's store.

In the tradition of punishing all who let greed consume their more noble instincts, Little Shop of Horrors is a gory fairy tale without possibility for a happy ending. People who follow world events may find themselves looking beneath and beyond the campy doings and connect the implausible with the awful realities that lie at the end of the road for all who allow the hunger for power and fortune to win out over more wholesome choices.

Little Shop of Horrors
Book & Lyrics: Howard Ashman, based on the film by Roger Corman & screenplay by Charles Griffith
Music & Lyrics: Alan Menken
Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Cast: Rob Bartlett (Mushnik), Kerry Butler (Audrey), DeQuina Moore (Chiffon), Trisha Jeffrey (Crystal), Carla J. Hargrove (Ronnette), Hunter Foster (Seymour), Anthony Asbury, Bill Remington, Martin P. Robinson, Douglas Sills, Michael-Leon Wooley and Matt Vogel (Derelicts and Skid Row Occupants), Mr. Sills (Orin, Bernstein, Luce, Snip and Everyone Else), Mr. Wooley (the Voice of Audrey II) and Mr. Robinson, Mr. Asbury, Mr. Remington and Mr. Vogel (Audrey II Manipulation).
Set Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Donald Holder
Sound Design: T. Richard Fitzgerald
Puppet Design: The Jim Hensen Company, Martin P. Robinson

Wig & Hair Design: Robert-Charles Vallance
Music Coordinater: John Miller
Original Vocal Arrangements: Robert Billig
Orchestra: Conductor -- Henry Aronson, Associate Conductor -- John Samorian, Keyboards -- Henry Aronson, John Samorian, Guitars/Mandolin --John Benthal, Bass -- Steve Gelfand, Drums -- Rich Mercurio, Percussion -- David Yee, Trumpets -- Tony Kadleck, Dave Spier, Woodwinds - Tom Murray, Matt Hong
Running time: 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.
Virginia, 245 W. 52d St. (7th/8th Avs), 212-239-6200
From 8/29/03; opening 10/02/03.
Preview performances:Tue - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm; thereafter: Tue at 7pm; Wed - Sat at 8pm; Sat at 2pm; Sun at 3pm. $56-96
OK for ages 8 and up.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on October 8th performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Little Shop of Horrors/ Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Downtown (Skid Row)/ Company
  • Da-Doo / Seymour, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Grow for Me/ Seymour
  • Ya Never Know/ Mushnik, Seymour, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Somewhere That's Green/ Audrey
  • Closed for Renovation/ Mushnik, Seymour, Audrey
  • Dentist! / Ohn, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Mushnik and Son/ Mushnik, Seymour
  • Git It / Seymour, Audrey Il, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Now (It's Just the Gas)/ Orin, Seymour
Act Two
  • Call Back in the Morning/ Audrey, Seymour
  • Suddenly Seymour/ Seymour, Audrey, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • Suppertime / Audrey II, Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette
  • The Meek Shall Inherit/ Seymour, Chifibn, Crystal, Ronnette, Bernstein, Luce, Snip
  • Sominex/Suppertime' (Reprise)/ Audrey, Audrey II
  • Somewhere That's Green (Reprise)/ Audrey
  • Finale: Don't Feed the Plants/ Company
Some Background Notes
  • The 70- minute long black and white movie by Roger Corman on which the show is based was shot in 1960 in two days. It was tagged as Grade Z and featured a then little known actor named Jack Nicholson as Wilbur Force, the nasty dentist's patient who liked pain enough to declare "No novocaine. It dulls the senses! "
  • In 1982 Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken transformed it into a low-budget (about $15,000 ) send-up of low-budget sci-fi/horror flicks and early-'60s pop music. Its success was considered a big surprise -- the surprise being that such a basically dumb movie could metamorphose into such an endearing stage musical. It was Ashman and Menken's first hit and led to their becoming Disney's darlings with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. After Ashman died (of AIDS in 1991), Tim Rice Joined Menken to complete Aladdin.
  • The first Little Shop ran off-Broadway, at the for more than five years (opening 7/27/82 and closing 11/01/87 after 2209 performances) and seeded a successful film version. Its homes, first the WPA and later the Orpheum Theatre on Second Avenue, were decidedly less glamorous and spacious than the Virginia.
  • The Off-Broadway opening night cast: Hy Anzell as Mr. Mushnik, Sheila Kay as Davis Ronnette, Ellen Greene as Audrey, Lelani Jones as Chiffon, Franc Luz as Orin/Bernstein/Snip/Luce/Everyone Else, Martin P. Robinson as Derelict/Audrey II (Manipulation), Ron Taylor as Voice of Audrey II, Jennifer Leigh as Warren Crystal and Lee Wilkof as Seymour.
  • Actors taking over the original roles included Anthony B. Asbury as Derelict/Audrey II (Manipulation), Fyvush Finkel as Mr. Mushnik, Robert Frisch as .Orin/Bernstein/Snip/Luce/Everyone Else, Faith Prince as Audrey and Marsha Waterbury as Audrey. The role considered to be the career making one was Ellen Greene's Audrey
  • One of the original creations for Audrey II once toured with a Smithsonian exhibition about biological engineering.
  • Audrey II in the original wound its blood-thirsty tentacles all around the theater so that the entire audience could get the intimate sense of being in a fun house of horror. In the larger Virginia Theater Audrey II still makes a monster move off-stage, but only the front and center section of the orchestra gets that sense of being swallowed up by the horrible but magical Audrey.
  • The show influenced such other off-beat musicals as Urinetown, Bat Boy, Reefer Madness, and the current big Broadway hit Hairspray.

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