PicksInSix Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
“LOOKS LIKE PLANT FOOD TO ME!”
Spring has sprung and world-domination waits just a few turns off a major artery on North Southport, courtesy of the delightfully comic infusion of L. Walter Stearns’s crisply directed production of the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman 1982 musical “Little Shop of Horrors” that opened over the weekend at Mercury Theater Chicago. With an all-star company that includes the enormously talented duo of Christopher Kale Jones and Dana Tretta, rocking music direction by Eugene Dizon and Alan Donahue’s Skid Row set, a fantastic fit in the historic confines of the Mercury, “Little Shop” is a twisted, taut and terrific hit!
As the story goes…stuck away on the other side of town in a rundown neighborhood, Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists caters to, well, nobody. Desperate to keep the store open and with no options in sight, Mr. Mushnik (Tommy Novak) has been taking out his frustration on those closest to him: his loyal-yet-extremely timid horticultural protégé Seymour Krelborn (Jones) and the sweet, but emotionally disturbed, assistant Audrey (Tretta), who is cowering in fear of her abusive boyfriend, the maniacal dentist Dr. Orin (David Sajewich). As a Greek chorus—the charming and talented trio of Nicole Lambert, Adhana Reid, Shantel Cribbs—leads us along the not-so-rosy garden path, Seymour happens on an extraterrestrial solution: a hungry, carnivorous plant that feeds off people’s hopes and dreams and whatever else they can humanly offer, that he affectionately names “Audrey II.”
Before you think that this sounds heavy, the truth is that all of the despicable activities in “Little Shop” are driven by and meant to fulfill the evil machinations of Seymour’s blood-thirsty companion. So, with that much of the absurd story in hand, you are free to lean forward into the lush performances of the tunefully rich Menken/Ashman score to see how this all turns out for the star-crossed lovers. It is familiar territory for the versatile Jones who played Seymour at Ford’s Theatre, has toured with “Jersey Boys” and recently headlined a sold-out Bobby Darin concert series at the Mercury. He takes a deep dive into Seymour’s milquetoast skin, displays a brilliant comic range, oozes the simple charm of the role’s innocence and showcases his formidable vocals all night long—but at no point more so than in his soaring anthem with Tretta, “Suddenly Seymour.”
It is easy to see why Seymour, and everyone else, falls for Tretta’s Audrey—a sensitive and touching turn for one of Chicago’s bright rising stars who appeared last season as Gilda Radner at the Mercury. Tretta’s nuanced and heartfelt performance of the signature ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green,” is truly remarkable.
Novak is perfect as Mushnik, whose suspicious nature causes things to start unravelling. As the evil Dr. Orin, Sajewich is diabolically delightful and then has loads of fun in a multitude of characters, from Bernstein and Mrs. Luce to Skip Snip. The leafy, lounging flycatcher-in-the-room is a technical marvel designed by Martin P. Robinson, expertly animated by Sam Woods and voiced by the phenomenal Jonah Winston, who also has a big finish.
Ashman’s script continually winks to the colorfully uncoordinated costumes which are the stellar work of designer Serena Sandoval. With Kristof Janezic’s lighting and top-flight sound by Carl Wahlstrom, every detail of Stearns’s high-flying production, from the Christopher Chase Carter choreography to the ruddy Skid Row atmosphere and fanciful suburban billboards promising “TRAIN fares are SO CHEAP!” combine to make “Little Shop of Horrors” a slithering, smashing success!
MERCURY THEATER CHICAGO
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
through April 28th
3745 North Southport Avenue
For more reviews, visit: Theatre In Chicago