Little Shop of Horrors holds a special place in my heart. I first saw the 1986 movie adaptation when I was young, and it gave me a love for goofy, off-brand musicals that tell dark stories, like Urinetown; and while there are two other versions—the original 1960 Roger Corman film and the 1986 adaptation of the musical—I feel that the 1981 musical is the best of the bunch. Little Shop of Horrors may seem like a goofy, kind of gory musical about a man-eating plant, but it tells the story of a man so determined to live a better life, he doesn’t realize the things he’ll have to do, and sacrifice, to get there. Mercury Theater has done an amazing job bringing Little Shop Of Horrors to life, and if you go, I guarantee you’ll have a good time.
Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of Seymour (played by Christopher Kale Jones), a poor schmuck who lives on Skid Row and is employed at a flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Tommy Novak) along with Audrey (Dana Tretta), the woman Seymour loves. Seymour lives a less than happy life on Skid Row, until one fateful day when, after a total eclipse of the sun, he finds a strange, venus-flytrap-like plant that he names the Audrey II. What follows is, and I quote the Mercury Theater program, “…a Faustian tale of a simple ‘everyman’ who surrenders his moral integrity to achieve power and success, at a tremendous cost.”
Music is by Alan Menken with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. L. Walter Stearns directs the Mercury Theater production with musical direction by Eugene Dizon. Set design is by Alan Donahue, with costumes by Serena Sandoval and choreography by Christopher Chase Carter.
The actors make the musical, and Mercury Theater’s production is bursting at the seams with them. Christopher Kale Jones is amazing as Seymour, and does a great job showing Seymour’s rise from schmuck to celebrity, all while he has to come to grips with what he’s done to get there. Dana Tretta is also fantastic as Audrey, a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship in a dead-end part of town. Special credit has to be given to Jonah Winston, the voice of Audrey II, who successfully brings the killer plant’s voice to life; and his amazing voice gives Audrey II as much on-stage presence as any of the physical actors in the cast.
Little Shop of Horrors is full of iconic musical numbers, like “Skid Row” and of course, “Mean Green Mother From Outer Space,” but iconic music is nothing if it isn’t performed well. The entire cast has some serious vocal chops, although Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (played by Shantel Cribbs, Nicole Lambert, Adhana Reid, respectively) really steal the show, with the opening number, “Little Shop of Horrors,” being one of the best opening numbers of any musical I’ve seen. David Sajewich was incredible as Dr. Orin, DDS, and pulls off the charismatic sadism of Orin almost TOO well throughout the aptly titled song “Dentist.”
The most impressive part of Mercury Theater’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is the puppets, as they are truly a sight to behold. Sam Woods is magnificent as Audrey II’s physical presence on stage. There are several different versions of Audrey II used throughout the musical, from the tiny version controlled with a single hand, to Audrey II’s final form that requires Woods inside the puppet to lift the mouth. Going into the musical, I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was absolutely blown away by the puppet work. Not only are the puppets beautifully designed, but they are operated flawlessly. My favorite example of this is when Seymour is carrying Audrey II to show it off at a radio show, the plant suddenly comes to life and starts singing. I was caught off-guard, because it was obvious that there weren’t any animatronics to control the puppet. It was only when I took a closer look that I realized that the right arm that was holding the plant’s pot was a fake, and that Christopher Kale Jones’ actual right arm was inside the plant, controlling it. This seems simple, and to others might seem overshadowed by the enormous puppets from later in the musical, but that simple little trick worked so well, that if I hadn’t been three rows from the front, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to tell his arm was fake.
Little Shop of Horrors is fantastic, whatever version of it you see; but there’s just something about a massive plant singing like Levi Stubbs while a geeky guy feeds it body parts that you need to see live. Mercury Theater’s production of Little Shop of Horrors does this flawlessly, with the incredible acting, singing, and puppetry from the entire cast coming together in perfect symphony. So, if you’ve wanted to see Little Shop of Horrors in all its onstage glory, I’d highly suggest Mercury Theater’s production.
Little Shop of Horrors has been extended through June 30. Tickets start at $35. Runtime is 2 hours including a 15-minute intermission. Mercury Theater is at 3745 N. Southport.