When it comes to big, bold, and brilliant productions, the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, knows the territory well. Paramount’s current production of Little Shop of Horrors is no exception. This show is a feast for the eyes and ears, with incredible production numbers, a talented cast, and a creative team that is at the top of their game.
Little Shop of Horrors is a musical with music by Alan Menken and lyrics and book by Howard Ashman. It uses the low-budget 1960s black-and-white film of the same name as its inspiration, then adds a great deal of humor and a raucous, addictive score.
The musical tells the story of Seymour Krelborn, a nerdy orphan who works at a flower shop on Skid Row. One day, Seymour discovers a strange new plant that he names Audrey II. The name is a tribute to his coworker and love interest, Audrey Fulquard.
The plant, Audrey II, quickly begins to grow and thrive bringing a new world of success to Seymour. But, there’s one problem – the plant has more than just a passing thirst for human blood.
Little Shop of Horrors originally premiered Off-Broadway in 1982. That original production was directed by Ashman. It won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical, and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Musical.
Although a Broadway transfer of the 1982 hit was discussed, the producers ultimately felt the show was most in its element Off-Broadway. It ran for over 5,000 performances.
The show was adapted into a film in 1986, which was directed by Frank Oz of Muppets fame. The movie starred Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Steve Martin and earned rave reviews. Greene had starred Audrey in the Off-Broadway and West End productions and is one of the biggest highlights of the overall stupendous film.
In 2003, Little Shop of Horrors finally made it to Broadway in the form of a successful revival starring Hunter Foster, Kerry Butler, Rob Bartlett, and Douglas Sills. The show was very successful, although some critics argued that the show is more suited to a more intimate space. It did, however, inspire a national tour with one of my personal favorites, Anthony Rapp, as Seymour.
Little Shop of Horrors is currently running in a new Off-Broadway revival that opened in 2019. Jonathan Groff and Tammy Blanchard headed the revival’s original casting. Notable replacements include Jeremy Jordan, Rob McClure, Corbin Bleu, Lena Hall, and Constance Wu.
The Paramount Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Landree Fleming, with music direction by Kory Danielson, and choreography by Michael George and Mariah Morris. The cast includes Jack Ball as Seymour Krelborn, Teressa LaGamba as Audrey Fulquard, Russell Mernagh as Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., and Gene Weygandt as Mr. Mushnik.
The production numbers in Paramount Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors are truly spectacular. This show is so good it hurts!
The opening number features Lydia Burke as Chiffon, Marta Bady as Crystal, and Tickwanya Jones as Ronnette – the Greek Chorus of the comedy. The Prologue is a high-energy number that introduces the audience to the world of the show – a big cartoonish reality reminiscent of a 1980s slasher B-movie, but with an emphasis on comedy. The number is full of bright colors, catchy music, and precision choreography. It sets the tone for the fun and campy ride that is to come.
The set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec gives the performers an ideal space in which to work. Paramount consistently shines with its elaborate sets and Kmiec gives the cast an entire Skid Row neighborhood in which to play. Costumes by Yvonne Miranda also help create the world that director Fleming invites audiences into.
The characters in Little Shop are very well entrenched as musical theatre canon. Seymour is a loveable, bumbling nerd just looking for love and acceptance. His co-worker Audrey is the Skid Row version of a beauty queen – who doesn’t know how attractive she is. Audrey’s boyfriend is a male chauvinist with violent masochistic tendencies, and Seymour’s boss Mr. Mushnick is a cranky old penny-pincher.
Going away from established characterizations is always a risk. Sometimes it works in amazing fashion and sometimes it turns out to be a valiant effort. Part of theater direction is making those choices. Hits and misses come with the territory, but a good director will keep painting the scenes with big brush strokes in trying to give audiences something new to enjoy.
As the main character Seymour, Jack Ball turns in a brilliant acting performance. Recently seen in The Book of Mormon on Broadway as Elder Cunningham, Ball is a physical comedian like no other. Combining his physical humor and loveable nerdy character choices, Ball is near perfect as Seymour. While Ball has a beautiful voice, giving Seymour a more characterized song delivery would take the performance from near-perfect to absolutely ideal.
I have been a fan of Teressa LaGamba for years. She is a strong actress who always plays up the toughness of her characters, which is exactly what she does with Audrey. It’s a different approach. Her stunning belt on Suddenly Seymour brings down the house, and the chemistry between Seymour and Audrey is enjoyable.
Mr. Mushnick, the owner of the Skid Row florist shop where Seymour and Audrey work, is far more likable under Fleming than in typical productions. Gene Weygandt is an absolute treasure in the Paramount production. He is never evil and moments of meanness are more misguided than intentional.
Audrey’s boyfriend Orin Scrivello is customarily given an Elvis-like feel. Russell Mernagh, though, takes the role in a totally new direction. It is a spectacular interpretation that makes the audience inclined to boo the character as an ultimate sign of appreciation to the actor. To be clear, Russell Mernagh is a tremendous talent.
Of course, there would be no shop of horrors without the man-eating plant from outer space. Audrey II is designed by Skylight Music Theatre, with puppet versions created by prop master Jesse Gaffney. The evil plant is brought to life with the physical talents of puppeteer Adam Fane and the incredible vocal delivery of Je’Shaun Jackson. Wow! What a voice!
The supporting ensemble is phenomenal as well. Ann Delaney, Sean Patrick Fawcett, August Forman, Darian Goulding, Jared David Michael Grant, Brandon Acosta, Lexie Bailey, Jeff Pierpoint, and Shelbi Voss are all exceptional. Delaney, Fawcett, Forman, and Goulding all have scene stealing moments.
The orchestra is extraordinary. It features Danielson as conductor and keyboardist, Cameron Tragesser as associate conductor and second keyboardist, Dave Saenger on guitar, Rafe Bradford on Bass, and Dave Victor on drums. Sean McNeely serves music contractor and Ethan Deppe provides electronic music design.
As suggested earlier, the design of the show is simply stunning. The set, costumes, and lighting are all top-notch. Sound design by Adam Rosenthal is excellent with many creative flourishes in sound effects and thematic music interludes. Lighting design is well done by José Santiago. Wig, hair, and makeup design are nicely attended to by Katie Cordts
Overall, Paramount Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is a must-see for musical theatre fans. The show is full of catchy songs, over-the-top humor, and a quirky and enjoyable story. Most of all, Paramount’s production is notable for its big flashy production numbers, which are visually stunning and a delicious treat to digest. Come to Paramount and be amazed!
You’ll have a spectacular time at Paramount Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors – just remember not to feed the plants.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through October 15, 2023, at Paramount Theatre in downtown Aurora, IL. For tickets and information, visit www.ParamountAurora.com or call (630) 896-6666.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren
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