Little Shop of Horrors, when done right, is a wonderful, good time theatre experience. There is no heavy message, just some funny characters doing some funny stuff while singing some absolutely brilliant songs.
The production of Little Shop of Horrors now playing at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest is one of the best Chicagoland theatrical events in recent memory. Even if you’ve seen Little Shop before, you are in for a delightful time with Citadel’s mounting. It’s fresh and new, without changing any of the core elements audiences have come to expect.
Featuring music by Alan Menken and lyrics and book by Howard Ashman, Little Shop of Horrors is a “horror comedy” that had its Off Broadway debut in 1982 under Ashman’s direction. The horror element is rather tongue in cheek. You won’t ever be scared as you rollick along with the cast.
In crafting the stage musical, the creators took a low-budget 1960’s campy Roger Corman horror flick of the same name, and injected it with comedy steroids and catchy, quirky, fun music and dance. The result is one of the best musicals of all time – proving that funny can be just as entertaining and moving as heavy drama.
The story follows Seymour Krelborn, an impish young man who works in a Skid Row florist where he also experiments with breeding new species of plants. Also working at the shop with Seymour are Audrey and Mr. Mushnick.
Audrey is a vamp with a heart of gold, who sells herself short in the romance department under the belief she’s not good enough of a person to be with a great guy like Seymour. Mr. Mushnick is a shoddy businessman who runs the poorly performing florist show.
In a last-ditch effort to get customers into the failing flower shop, Seymour introduces a new plant he has acquired – a strange and interesting plant he has named the Audrey II in honor of the co-worker he secretly pines for.
The plant, however, turns out to be a visitor from another planet. Growing to giant proportions, the plant does indeed draw in customers and attract media attention. And, in secret, the plant can also talk. There’s just one little catch – to do all this, Audrey II has to be fed human blood and body parts.
All the while a Greek chorus of doo wop singers keep the action moving from scene to scene with crazy good harmonies and precision Motown dance moves.
As Seymour, Sam Shankman is a delight. He makes the ragamuffin character one that the audience roots for. And hiding behind the nerdy eyeglasses and dusty old baseball cap, Shankman’s Seymour is a powerhouse vocalist. You couldn’t ask for a better interpretation.
The character of Audrey has been immortalized for decades based on the original interpretation of Ellen Greene, who reprised her role in Frank Oz’s 1986 film adaptation. In the Citadel production, Dani Pike gives us a totally original characterization.
Pike’s Audrey is not an airhead, as typically done. She is a smart and sassy woman who has come to terms with the idea of being trapped forever on Skid Row. However, that doesn’t stop her from dreaming of a life in the suburbs. And when the opportunity presents itself, she lets herself believe the dream.
Experimenting with the status quo way a character has traditionally been played is a gutsy move, but Pike answers the call. Pike shows us a full range of emotions, while hitting notes with a gusto that is rarely seen. Whether it be singing, dancing, or acting – Dani Pike delivers the goods. She’s that damn great.
Allan Ball’s Mr. Mushnick is a little more real than some interpretations of the role – and it works. He is absolutely believable, despite existing in a world of glitter and painted scenery. Ball’s Mushnick is one of the best versions I’ve ever seen.
As the story begins, Audrey is dating a sadistic dentist: Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. As a running gag, the actor playing the dentist also plays multiple other roles in the show. For the performance being reviewed, understudy Elliot Simmons offered a hilarious performance as Orin and other characters. You would never know Simmons was an understudy. He delivers a near-perfect performance.
The trio of doo wop girls consist of Sabrina Edwards as Ronnette, Ania Martin as Chiffon, and Isis Elizabeth as Crystal. Together they are impeccable. Their attitudes are fun and their singing and dancing would make The Supremes jealous.
Aaron Reese Boseman hits the ball out of the park with his delivery as the voice of Audrey II. Boseman has an electrifying voice filled with soul and passion. He is simply delicious to listen to.
Of course, Audrey II is far more than just a voice. Also bringing the character to life is Michael Dias as the Audrey II Puppeteer. This role is incredibly physically demanding, and Dias pulls it off without a hitch. The puppets themselves (and there are several) serve as a testament to the brilliance of puppet designer Matt McGee.
At the helm of this vibrant Little Shop of Horrors revival is director Matthew Silar. His attention to detail, the characterizations he pulls out of his performers, and the way he balances the stage all contribute to the realization that Silar is a phenomenal director.
Music director Isabella Isherwood has done an exquisite job creating arrangements that make her singers burst to life and blow the audience away. Every singer shines in their spotlight moments and the way they blend their voices together is breathtaking.
Choreographer Lexie Bailey is equally deserving of praise. Bailey’s dances are visually fun and always carry the storyline forward. Every actor on stage executes the dances asked of them with finesse. In short, Bailey has prepared her cast well.
The set design also deserves the highest of accolades. The fold out set is genius. Scenic designer Eric Luchen and scenic artist David Geinosky have done a masterful job of incorporating a style of artistic graffiti to give the set a comic book Skid Row setting. It is rare to see a set this good.
Costumes are by Cindy Moon, lighting design is by Sam Stephen, and sound design is by Jonesy Jones. Jessica Greenhoe serves as stage manager, Ellen Phelps is the production manager, Jason Clark is the technical director, Isabella Noe is the properties designer, and Courtney Abbott is the intimacy and fight director. Alex Trinh is the sound board operator, and Samantha Thielman serves on the run crew.
For a guaranteed good time, grab tickets to see Citadel Theatre’s phenomenal production of Little Shop of Horrors. The production runs through October 16th. It is a truly great theatrical achievement that you’ll want to see. For performance dates and to purchase tickets visit: www.CitadelTheatre.org.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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