Before I begin this review, I have a startling, perhaps disturbing to some, confession to make.
I never liked the movie "Little Shop of Horrors" as a kid.
My grandmother loves the movie and always used to put it on for us when I went over to her house. An excellent singer who crooned from piano tops in the 1920s, she used to showboat around singing “Suddenly Seymour” for days afterward and I just didn’t get it. For my feel-good "Sound of Music," "Oliver!," "The King and I," "The Music Man"-raised little soul, it was too much. I didn’t understand black comedy, the funny-voiced lady irritated me, the dentist was mean, and the plant was scary. God knows what I would have thought if they had actually filmed the original ending instead of the sweet “Somewhere That’s Green” ending. Fearful of gasps of horror from my fellow theatre-loving compatriots, I kept my little secret under wraps into adulthood and never ventured to watch the film again in case I found that I truly didn’t like it.
Opening night of The 5th Avenue/ACT’s production of "Little Shop of Horrors" changed it all. What a kick in the pants! An early work of the dream team Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (a partnership that would later would bring us "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," and "Aladdin"), "Little Shop" is a witty, rockin’ musical about a dorky florist trying to impress a girl. . . by feeding an alien plant the blood of his enemies. So, basically, it’s awesome.
Directed by Bill Berry, his first local gig since returning from Broadway where he directed "First Date," "Little Shop" has a great big beating heart that is both black as night and sunny as summer. Joshua Carter and Jessica Skerritt as the leads Seymour and Audrey are perfect. Carter’s comedic timing is impeccable, his physicality is hilarious, especially in "Da-Doo." Skerritt’s Audrey leans more innocent than stupid and it makes for a really lovely heroine who is relatable rather than laughable — not to say that Skerritt isn’t funny. Her cute little punim earnestly says the darnedest things about handcuffs.
The Little Shop trio, comprised of Nicole Rashida Prothro, Alexandria Henderson, and Naomi Morgan, is fantastic, their voices meld together like a 1960s dream. They make you wish they'd hosted all those after-school specials because then you might have paid more attention. Prothro especially stands out as a girl with serious vocal chops, honey.
Jeff Steitzer, as per usual, is a delight to watch, grumping around as Mr. Mushnik, the curmudgeonly florist shop owner. The man's facial expressions should have their own billing. Pretty much everyone in this show, but Mushnik in particular, makes me yearn for more vaguely Jewish characters in musicals. Someone needs to get on that. Ekello J. Harrid Jr. as the voice of Audrey II is deliciously rich, oozing with funk and evil. Eric Esteb, the brilliant puppeteer who brings Audrey II to hideous life, has the most expressive legs and feet of any living creature, animal or vegetable. David Anthony Lewis plays a multitude of roles including Orin the sadistic dentist, an interested citizen, some homeless guy, various sleezy no-goodniks, and the kitchen sink.
If this production has a failing, it’s that it made me blood-thirsty for more. Berry’s production is a little clean. Little Shop is a show that can handle being ridiculously dark and gross, even if you don’t go full-on camp, and there is room in this production for more. More tasteless dresses for Audrey, more blood and body parts, more cruelty from Orin.
And now I sound like a horrible person. Or an unreasonable alien plant. Feed me!
Bloodlust or no, "Little Shop of Horrors" is a delectable production and a real treat to experience so many talented voices in the intimate setting of the Falls Theatre. You feel like you’re sitting in the middle of the show rather than watching from afar and Berry’s production builds a world that you’re happy to disappear into. . . even if you don’t come out alive.
"Little Shop of Horrors" plays now through June 15 at ACT – A Contemporary Theatre (700 Union Street, Seattle, WA 98101). Tickets (starting at $20) may be purchased online atwww.acttheatre.org, by phone 206-292-7676, or at the ACT Box Office.