Little Shop Kills at Farmers Alley
An adorable, curvaceous, squeaky blonde’s got a black eye and then her arm in a sling because her sadistic, nitrous oxide addicted dentist boyfriend’s been at it again. An equally adorable meek and earnest nerd cultivates a man-eating plant from outer space that brings great fortune and then terrible despair to a fledgling flower shop before threatening to take over the world. Meanwhile, three street urchins named after 1960s girl groups pop up like a doo-wop Greek chorus to speak truth to power and bring a little levity to Skid Row.
Despite the violent, gruesome subject matter, Little Shop of Horrors at Farmers Alley is utterly light hearted. It may be about murder, domestic violence, and the lengths one must go to emerge from poverty, but there’s little grit or edge to this sweet production.
From start to finish this campy show is a delight, a feast for the senses full of exceptional performances perfectly suited to the space of this theatre. Here they absolutely make the most of a quick and witty script with catchy memorable songs.
Director Kathy Mulay’s vision comes to beautiful fruition. The small cast of nine, two of whom are more or less inside the magnificent plant puppet for the duration, build a huge sound with Music Director Marie McColley Kerstetter and her talented orchestra that supports these fine singers and bring to life the Motown-inspired score. And a full, balanced stage shifts, changes, and rotates to create multiple interesting spaces with Tom Shuster’s adaptable set.
Technically, everything shifts, swells, and grows in tandem with the plant’s vitality—fed with human blood. CJ Drenth’s props grow brighter and more colorful as Lanford J. Potts’ lights illuminate the actors and scenes with greater vibrancy while also magnifying tonal shifts. Likewise, Kathryn Wagner’s fabulous 1960s-era costumes sparkle and hug all the right places while Jennifer Hudson-Prenkert’s hair and wigs grow bigger and sleeker.
It is a spectacle of the highest order with never a dull moment—thanks in no small part, of course, to universally strong performances.
From the moment the lights come up, Jasmine Franklin, Christie Lee Coleman, and Tia Pinson as Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon (repectively) set the stage with upbeat and consistent high energy with their soulful singing and dancing. Harrison Bryan’s Seymour is masterful and infinitely lovable. His physical comedy is terrific and he captures character nuances with impressive subtlety, never under or over playing the role. He has terrific chemistry with Melody Ricketts as an equally precious and hilarious Audrey. She looks the part of an ingenue but embodies real quirkiness. They absolutely shine together in “Suddenly Seymour,” creating big, gorgeous harmonies.
Everyone on stage (including Stephen Anthony Grey as the voice and Brian Panse as the puppeteer of the plant) is an extraordinary character actor in addition to having tremendous song and dance skills. Perhaps most notable is Farmers Alley Artistic Director Jeremy Koch, who positively delights in playing Orin, the sadistic and stoned laughing-gas dentist-biker, as well as at least six other distinct and silly roles. He’s a stitch.
Little Shop of Horrors premiered Off Broadway in the early 1980s and was based on a 1960s cult film. Mulay makes a pitch in the program’s Director’s Notes that the show is a cautionary tale about ambition. Perhaps. Though much of the dark underbelly of this show was erased in the revision of the 2003 revival on which this production appears to be based. Thankfully, Macbeth it is not. It is, however, a wildly weird and wonderfully fun night at the theatre.