By DANTE J.J. BEVILACQUA
For 21st Century Media
As fun-filled little musicals go, you can’t beat Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s 1982 off-Broadway hit “Little Shop of Horrors,” and the Broadway-style revival at the Bristol Riverside Theatre is guaranteed to knock your socks off. It’s campy, it’s macabre and it’s just plain fun.
One of the longest running and most successful off-Broadway musicals, the show is packed full of unforgettable tunes, including “Downtown,” “Suddenly Seymour” and “Somewhere That’s Green.”
The design team at BRT have invested much money and hard work to produce a show whose production values are 10 straight across the boards.
Brilliantly directed by Susan Atkinson, this production turns the “Doo Wop” parody of a 1960 low-budget, Roger Corman comedy-horror film into a rollicking, rip-roaring, high-energy romp.
The musical pays a nostalgic homage to that B-film horror genre. Here, even themes of murder, mutilation, greed, and aliens conquering the earth seem less threatening and secondary to a truck load of good laughs, and a toe-tapping good time.
Congratulations go to Jason Simms for a huge, amazing skid-row neighbor set that surrounds a multi-purpose turn-table center piece, with dramatic lighting by Charles Reece, eye-poping 50s period costumes by Linda Stockton, sound design by Adam Orseck and fabulous rhythms by Ryan Touhey’s off stage band.
Little Shop takes place in a skid-row florist shop staffed by nerdy, clumsy Seymour Krelborn, basically an indentured servant to the cranky Jewish shop owner Mr. Mushnik who took him in as a child.
Shop girl Audrey has a Marilyn Monroe coiffure and figure, but also a predilection for playing the masochist to her slimy dentist beau Orin Scrivello who leaves her with black eyes and worse.
As the shop’s days appear to be numbered, Seymour unveils a strange little flytrap plant that draws in a few customers. When other plant foods fail to perk up the plant, which he names Audrey II, a prick of his finger and a few drops of blood work wonders.
Before long the plant is growing exponentially, and the shop is doing land-office business, with Seymour a minor media sensation. Then, Audrey II utters her first words: “FEED ME!” in a sinister soulful voice which can also belt out a mean tune.
Audrey II convinces the Audrey-smitten Seymour to kill off the leather-jacketed DDS Orin. Faint-hearted Seymour can’t bring himself to do the deed, but when Orin bites it by accident, Seymour stands by and lets it happen, and feeds the cad to the plant. Soon an Audrey/Seymour romance is budding, but with Audrey II still craving fresh human flesh, there’s more carnage and less chance of a happy ending in the cards.
The show is filled with in-jokes and nostalgia references (Levittown, Donna Reed and 12 inch TV’s); the songs are witty and droll; and the visual humor is clever, especially as Audrey II grows larger and more gleefully menacing. The plant speaks in the voice of a jive inner city male to further embellish the show’s offbeat humor.
A trio of black female do-wop singers, logically named Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronette (and superbly done by Lindsey Warren, Candace Thomas and Berlando Drake), weave in and out of the action to provide vocal commentary like a Soul Train Greek chorus.
There are no flaws in this totally inspired cast. Andrew McMath’s take on Seymour makes him more lovable, less doltish and lets us see what Audrey sees in him, and his vocals are top-notch throughout, especially on his “Grow for Me” solo, and the soaring duet “Suddenly Seymour” with his heart-throb Audrey.
The girl of his dreams, Audrey, is adorably played with both comedy and pathos by Laura Giknis, who not only embodies the essence of a ditzy blond bombshell, but also the low self-esteem and vulnerability of an abused girl who believes she does not deserve better. She is a joy to behold.
Daniel Marcus’s meshuggeneh Mushnik is another great character turn for one of our best old pros, raging at his under paid staff and frolicking through the mock-tango “Mushnik and Son” with McMath.
Danny Vaccaro makes the dirt-ball, leather-clad Orin an Elvis wannabe and milks his “Dentist” number for every laugh that’s in it. Amazingly, he also does an incredible job in four other roles, all performed with unique distinction.
Nate Golden masterfully manipulates the full-size Audrey II puppet while Carl Clemons-Hopkins serves up his full-bodied “Soul Train” style vocals.
Ryan Touhey conducts, and plays the piano leading a four-piece live band that fills the theater with the sweet sounds of the early 60s. From the robust overture to the pounding finale the music here is played with verve and clarity; following the orchestrations of Robby Merkin.
This is one of those shows that is constantly winking at the audience members and grasping with glee at cultural touchstones of the fifties and sixties, not least the pop music of those decades. Much more, it is a delightful, toe-tapping experience which has spread its tentacles of pleasure far from its off-Broadway origins, a production that will plant itself into your never-to-be-forgotten theatrical memories.
IF YOU GO
Little Shop of Horrors continues at the Bristol Riverside Theater, 120 Radcliffe St. in Bristol through June 8. Tickets: $42 – $50. For information, call (215) 785-0100 or check brtstage.org.