Monday, January 23, 2017

"Little Shop of Horrors" at Artistry

I love Little Shop of Horrors. While I wasn't too familiar with the beginnings of it (it started as an Off-Broadway musical in the early '80s and was made into a movie in 1986), I was lucky enough to see the original Broadway run when it finally landed there in the early aughts. The campy and nostalgic story of a 1960s plant shop employee who sells his soul to the devil in the form of a man-eating plant is full of unique charm. It may not be a typical musical with its small cast, small band, and darkly comic subject matter, but it has become a classic, and I'm glad that Artistry (formerly known as Bloomington Civic Theatre) continues to include non-traditional musicals in its programming, even if the BCT Sunday matinee crowd didn't seem that into it. I overheard a comment in the ladies' room that "it's not Camelot," but that's exactly the point. Artistry's production is perfectly cast, features a fun and colorful set, and beautifully captures that campy tone - definitely worth the drive to the southern suburbs.

First, a brief plot summary. Aspiring botanist Seymour finds a strange and interesting plant and brings it into Mushnik's Flower shop, where he works with Audrey. He soon finds out that the plant, named Audrey II, will only grow if he gives it blood, but in return it makes Seymour's life wonderful - the failing flower shop flourishes, Seymour becomes famous, and most importantly, he thinks it makes him look better in Audrey's eyes. But the dilemma comes when Seymour needs to find more sources of blood to satisfy Audrey II's growing appetite. He's sold his soul to the devil and there's no turning back.*

Here are 10 reasons to see Artistry's Little Shop of Horrors before it closes on Feb. 19:
  1. As they open the show and provide commentary throughout, the trio of Alicia Britton, Falicia Cunningham, and Jill Iverson are fabulous! They can all belt, and their doo-woppy harmonies are delicious.
  2. Ty Hudson is so adorable as our Seymour that you don't mind when he starts killing people. What else can he do?
  3. Perhaps the best work in that campy tone comes from Courtney Groves, whose Audrey is all exaggerated looks, eyelash flutters, quick tiny steps in tall heels, and dramatic pauses. And that voice! She and Ty sound fantastic and make a charming couple to root for.
  4. There's not a weak link in this small cast, which includes Philip C. Matthews doing some outrageous comedic work as the sadistic dentist and several other extreme characters; Brandon Jackson who puts such gleefully evil expression into the voice of Audrey II that it doesn't matter that you can't see him; and Michael Fischetti as the lovably gruff Mr. Mushnik.
  5. Although there are no big splashy dance numbers, director/choreographer Joe Chvala has infused the show with constant movement, and the trio particularly performs many great back-up dancer moves throughout the show.
  6. The set, described by the director as "a mash up of Coney Island, b-movie memorabilia, and even a '60s movie house" and designed by Eli Schlatter, is really charming. There's a smaller stage that moves forward to center stage upon which sits the tiny flower shop, the backdrop is full of colorful movie and amusement park posters, and there's even a roller coaster! Not to mention the ever growing in size Audrey II puppets, equally cute and terrifying (with larger versions manipulated by puppeteer Charles Goitia).
  7. Ed Gleeman's colorful '60s costumes are perfectly retro and campy, just like the show.
  8. Despite the wacky and dark plot, there's a really sweet heart to the show. Everyone can relate to the idea of wanting more, of wanting to be happy, which is all that Seymour and Audrey want.
  9. The score (music by Alan Mencken and lyrics by Howard Ashman) is full of too many catchy songs to mention (including one of my all-time favorite musical theater songs "Suddenly, Seymour"). That great '60s sound is brought to life by the cast and music director Anita Ruth's nine-piece pit orchestra.
  10. In times like these, it's good to be reminded what happens when you make a deal with the devil. Don't feed the plant!
photo by Hilary Roberts

*Plot summary borrowed from what I wrote about the 2014 production by 7th House Theater.