A Review of Little Shop of Horrors

69dcd-bhwcplogoby Toni Wilson Wood

Waterloo – I am not a musicals person. I know that that automatically makes me not a theatre person in some people’s minds (degree in theatre be damned). Oklahoma could continue to sweep down the plains for all I care; I could wash South Pacific right out my hair.

But then there’s Little Shop of Horrors. I first encountered this musical when I was 11 or 12. I was flipping through the channels and found the 1986 version with Rick Moranis. I had to have the volume down pretty low because I’m pretty sure my mother would have thought it was ‘evil,’ but watching it showed me that musicals didn’t always have to be pretty and sweet.

Fast forward from 1988 to October 2015, when I finally get to see it on stage–and WOW. I remember why it’s one of my favorites. Here’s a warning though (besides don’t feed the plants)–this is not your grandmother’s Little Shop of Horrors. It’s much darker than the version I cut my teeth on (and which I frankly like better).

Little Shop of Horrors is Greg Holt’s directorial debut as the new artistic director of Waterloo Community Playhouse, and this show smacks of his experience and abilities as a director. This is not to take anything away from the actors. The whole company, from set design to the lighting design, the band, the costumes… the whole thing shines and shines.

Which is pretty amazing considering the musical is set on Skid Row. The set–holy cow, the set! Timothy Walker outdid himself with his version of Skid Row. I had heard that it was beautiful, but I was not prepared for exactly how beautiful. I wish I could tell you what that turn table looking thing in the center of the stage does, but I won’t. It’s a delight to see what happens. The colors of the set are vibrant and dingy at the same time, and the delightfully understated lighting design by William Barbour tied the whole show together.

The show is fast paced and fun, full of laughs and sweet tender moments amid the harsh realities of Skid Row. The show opens with a trio of 1960s street urchins, Ronnette (Keisha Dedrick), Chiffon (Kenesha Davis) and Crystal (Jessica Lieb), setting the scene of the urban skid row, complete with bums and bag ladies. Dedrick, Davis and Lieb act as a kind of chorus, commenting on the events as they unfold. These three ladies have golden voices. Davis, in particular, brought down the house with her parts in “Skid Row (Downtown)”. I could have listened to them all day long!

Seymour (Carter Allen) works for Mushnik’s Skid Row Florist, owned by the grouchy Mushnik (delightfully played by Gary Baumgartner). The floral shop, like everything else on Skid Row, is failing. Mushnik feels he should just go out of business since he has no customers and another employee who can’t seem to get to work on time, Audrey (Ashley Rogers). Things begin to turn around when Seymour brings out an unusual plant, a bizarre venus fly trap looking thing, which he names Audrey II. The second it is placed in the window of the shop, the customers and the money starts to flow.

Audrey II doesn’t fare well in the shop, and Seymour is at a loss for what to feed it, until he cuts himself on a rose thorn and Audrey II perks up. And the original Audrey also has a problem, a sadistic nutjob dentist boyfriend, Orin. Once Audrey II gets a taste for blood, it doesn’t take long to understand that it wants a little more than just a few drops of blood, and who just might provide it.

Carter Allen was stellar as Seymour, a sweet, nerdy, meek fellow with a crush on Audrey and low self esteem. He hit all the physical and emotional notes of Seymour–plus more. And Ashley Rogers played Audrey with a sweetness and naive charm that made you wish that her abusive boyfriend, Orin, would end up plant food. Together, Allen’s and Rogers’ voices were just beautiful. Rogers’ rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” was a gorgeous tearjerker of longing. I would have preferred there be nothing else going on on stage during that song, but that’s a personal preference.

Jens Petersen portrayed Orin with the frenetic energy of someone addicted to sniffing nitrous oxide and the delight of your everyday sadist. Petersen was a delight to see, and I was even kind of sad to see his character go.

This is a show not to miss. The whole company and the artists involved have created a dark little world in which the characters dream of a better life, which is something we can all relate to. Little Shop of Horrors is anything but and it’s great to get lost in a show of this caliber.

The shows run through October 25. Tickets are available here.

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