Save for one teensy tiny potted plan that doesn’t even make it through Act One, there’s nothing even vaguely botanical-looking in The B Productions’ 99-seat revival of Menken & Ashman’s Little Shop Of Horrors. What there is is an abundance of talent both onstage and off, making the NoHo Arts Center guest production a winner even if its central conceit (“Technology Can Kill”) will probably work best for those who’ve already seen Little Shop umpteen times.
The “greenery” sold in Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists may have names like Rose and Fern (and be the result of “plant-based, recycled technology”) but they look exactly like your garden-variety laptops, tablets, and cell phones, not precisely what movie maker Roger Corman had in mind when he introduced the world to Little Shop back in 1960.
Still, significant as director Brianna McDonnell’s concept tweaking may be, Howard Ashman’s Cold War paranoia-inspired book remains basically unaltered.
Brenden Kyle MacDonald stars as nerdishly cute orphan Seymour Krelborn, longtime clerk at the crummiest and least successful “flower shop” in town … but perhaps not for too much longer, given how pitiful business is of late.
Fortunately for Seymour and his bimbo-with-a-heart-of-gold coworker Audrey (Julia Haimowitz), the first customer they’ve had in days is so charmed and fascinated by the strange and interesting “plant” sitting in the store window (one that Seymour just happened to find soon after a total eclipse of the sun) that he buys $100 worth of “roses,” and before long, business is booming, the shop’s cranky owner Mr. Mushnik (Danny Guerrero) is thinking of adopting Seymour, the latter is finding it harder and harder to think of the lovely Audrey as a mere work colleague, and Audrey is wondering if Seymour might just be the knight in armor who can rescue her from her sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello D.D.S. (Ramiro Garcia Jr.).
Meanwhile, a trio of grade school dropouts (Flynn Hayward as Crystal, Tiffany Polite as Chiffon, and Jenae Thompson as Ronnette) keep popping up to comment on the action and sing backup like the 1960s girl groups after which they are named.
There’s just one problem with the strange and interesting “plant” that Seymour has named Audrey II. It has a craving for blood, human blood, and the drops Seymour gives it from his increasingly ravaged fingers are soon nowhere near enough to satisfy its cravings. Audrey II wants a body’s worth of blood, and it wants Seymour to supply it posthaste.
A “flower shop” stocked with laptops, tablets, cell phones, and one out-of-control computer monster may not be the ideal Little Shop intro for newbies, but to those like this reviewer who’ve seen more than their fill of traditional interpretations, director McDonnell’s rethink is at the very least an interesting new take on something tried and true.
Still, what ends up making this Little Shop Of Horrors a winner is its cast of very young musical theater up-and-comers, a production design that takes imaginative advantage of the NoHo Arts Center’s double-decker stage, production numbers that give a larger-than-usual ensemble a whole lot to do, and of course composer Alan Menken and lyricist Ashman’s irresistibly catchy songs.
Recent That Lovin’ Feelin’ star MacDonald could not make for a more appealing Seymour opposite power-piped Haimowitz as his outwardly tough, inwardly mushy dream tootsie Audrey.
Guerrero has great fun as Mr. Mushnik, Garcia’s Orin is Danny Zuko on drugs, and the three-part harmonizing trio of Hayward, Polite, and Thompson give the Chiffons, the Crystals, and the Ronnettes a run for their ‘60s bucks.
The B Productions’ Little Shop adds about half-a-dozen ensemble members to the original off-Broadway cast list, then gives them plenty to do, and not merely in cameos like Logan Allison’s eccentric flower shop customer (whose purchase sets the plot in motion), Matthew Kesner’s statuesque bleach-blonde Life Magazine editor Mrs. Luce, Jeffrey Sabino’s super agent Skip Snip, Carina Sapiro’s fast-talking NBC exec Mrs. Bernstein, and Miranda Wynne’s opportunistic entrepreneur Patrice Martin. (Audrey II’s kuroko-manipulated “tentacles” are a particularly clever touch as well.)
Director McDonnell and co-choreographers Allison and Sam Mejia turn one song after another into a full-cast show-stopper, from a cell phone-spiced “Skid Row (Downtown)” to a suburban-fantasy “Somewhere That’s Green” to a “Dentist” featuring not one DDS but four to a Jewish Brooklyn-populated “Musnik And Son,” and with musical director Lindsay Aldana’s top-notch four-piece live band (Aldana, Dillon Yoder, Jack Keller, and Louis Truman) and sound engineer Kenji Kang joining forces, these musical numbers sound as terrific as they look. (Ensemble member Alyssa Faye Smith’s great big Audrey II vocals are winners too.)
Production design kudos are shared by McDonnell and Dustin Atlas for their electronic paraphernalia-packed set, Marissa Maynes for her bevy of contemporary costumes, prop master Eunice Sanchez for her multitude of electronics, and above all Kevin Eduardo Vasquez for his dazzling high-tech lighting design.
Brooke Van Grinsven (assistant director), Rebekah Maynes (assistant costume designer), Antonio Cruz Ventura (technical director), and Brian Rafael Vasquez (assistant technical director) receive deserved program mention.
Lindsey Martin is stage manager and Gabrielle Bruno and Geoffrey Stirling are assistant stage managers.
From its 1960 Roger Corman Z-movie origins to its 1982 off-Broadway musical debut to its 2003 Broadway premiere to countless regional, school, and community theater productions in between, Little Shop Of Horrors has proven a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Plant-free though it may be, The B Productions’ thoroughly entertaining revival is no exception.
NoHo Arts Center, 11136 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.
August 4, 2106