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This ‘Little Shop’ is Doing Big Business

Little Shop
In "Little Shop of Horrors," Seymour enjoys the attention his plant Audrey II draws.

You might call “Little Shop of Horrors” a guilty pleasure of mine, except that I don’t feel guilty at all about loving it.

Here’s why: It has an excellent score by Alan Menken (Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and many others) mixing such 1960s musical genres as doo-wop, Motown and girl-group pop. Its book and lyrics by Howard Ashman (also of “Beauty and the Beast” and Disney’s “Aladdin” fame) both advance the plot and comment on aspects of it in a way few musicals’ books do. In its two hours or so of show, it presents well-defined characters, particularly Audrey, a woman whose poor self-image leads her to associate with losers like Orin Scrivello, a dentist who, to put it kindly, is a semi-sadist, and Seymour, a nebbish-y flower shop clerk who, given the opportunity, will do anything for money, fame — and the girl.

Seymour, a Skid Row florist’s assistant, discovers a “strange and interesting” plant at a flower market immediately following a total eclipse of the sun. He purchases it and takes it to the flower shop, where he coaxes it to grow. He discovers the plant’s very unusual appetite and continues to feed it and watch it grow as his fame and fortune similarly rise.

Seymour is seduced into a deal with the devil in a series of events that gradually increase in intensity and depravity until there appears to be no way out. The plot has Faust written all over it, but it’s best not to think too deeply on it. This is, after all, a musical comedy based on a cheesy, campy 1960 science fiction film by Roger Corman.  But even cheesy and campy can have redeeming qualities. Being a cautionary tale about greed and about consorting with the enemy (even when that enemy is a big hungry plant from outer space) certainly has redeeming value.

To me, there are few theatrical experiences as enjoyable as a good production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” and the version of the play currently onstage at Broadway at Music Circus, despite a couple of little quibbles, is fine, indeed.

Jared Gertner nerds out as Seymour, clumsy and loveable, and Sarah Litzsinger is seductively simple as Audrey, whose greatest dream is to live in a cookie-cutter tract house “somewhere that’s green.” Litzsinger, who was the longest running Belle in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” has a voice that is achingly affective. One quibble is Audrey’s wardrobe — it’s so nice that it undercuts the joke about her taste in clothing. Michael Kostroff plays Mushnik, the flower shop owner and de-facto father of Seymour who doesn’t always act out of good intensions but doesn’t seem to deserve his fate, either. Jamison Stern plays the sadistic Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. in a performance that seems to sexualize his proclivities for pain in a way that is not usually seen and is totally unnecessary (that’s another quibble). There’s no disputing, though, that he’s one guy, who, in the words of the monster plant Audrey II, “sure looks like plant food to me!”

Destinee Rea, Zonya Love and Zuri Washington as Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette, respectively, act as sort of a Greek chorus, commenting on events, but also participating in the plot. They are excellent singers and their appearance is various guises is always a treat.

Above all in the cast is Audrey II, the man- (and woman-) eating plant. Sacramento puppet maker Richard Bay created the plant; manipulator Jordan Beall brings it to life; and singer/actor Ken Page gives it voice. And what a voice it is!

“Little Shop of Horrors” is the final show in this year’s very successful Music Circus season. The six-show offering of three Music Circus “classics” (“Singin’ in the Rain,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Gypsy”) plus three premiers (“Newsies,” “Mamma Mia” and “Little Shop”) has pulled in audiences in record numbers. “Little Shop” is particularly popular. Tickets are scarce for all remaining shows, with the best availability for the Thursday matinee.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. nightly through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Thursday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday (final show) at the Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St. Tickets are $45-$99. For tickets or for more information, call (916) 557-1999 or go to BroadwaySacramento.com.

Photo by Charr Crail.

About the author

Jim Carnes

Jim Carnes has masters degrees in English and journalism and is a former National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow in popular culture at Stanford University. He has covered Sacramento arts and entertainment for more than 20 years. He currently writes about and reviews theater, dance, music and events in the Sacramento area.

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