Little Shop of Horrors

Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Little Shop of Horrors at Stage 773. Presented by Street Tempo
Music by Alan Menken

Co-Directed by Brian Posen and Kory Danielson

Musical Direction by Kory Danielson

At Stage 773, Chicago

A Little Shop with a Big Heart.

New-to-the-scene Street Tempo follows up its first production of Let My People Come with another revival with the rock musical Little Shop of Horrors. Long a favorite of intimate settings and smaller ensembles, Horrors is perfectly suited to this upstart young troupe, and while two points is a line and not a pattern, it could be fair to say they have an inclination towards the saucier side of things. With gusto and flair, Tempo tells the darkly humorous tale of the little plant shop on Skid Row and the macabre implications of a rise to fame fueled by a blood-hungry alien life form.

Like Hairspray after it, Horrors was a 1960 spoof of B-movies that became a 1982 musical that morphed into a 1986 feature film. It follows the story of young Seymour (John Sessler), an orphan working under the cruel dominion of flower-shop owner Mushnik (Scott Olson). He pines for his Kewpie coworker Audrey (Erin Creighton), but her low self-esteem keeps her in the sway of an abusive boyfriend (Patrick Cannon). Everything begins to change when a mysterious eclipse deposits a strange plant into his life. Naming it Audrey II, he inadvertently learns it feeds on human blood. As it grows, so too does its hunger for flesh. Soon, it’s promising Seymour all his little dreams can come true if only it will help it feed. Seymour must decide if ghoulish acts of sacrifice are justified to get what he wants and earn his gal’s affections. Horrors is equal parts rock opera, farce and horror/comedy with a simple moral of not only being careful what you wish for, but being wary of who’s granting the wishes. Not all genies will go back into their lamps, or pots in this case.

Tempo’s revival brings a little Rocky Horror to this shop along with a few more contemporary references, changing the street urchins to street walkers. With more successes than disappointments, Tempo runs Horrors charmingly diverse gamut of song stylings. Ranging from Motown to do-wop, ballads to tangos, the numbers are still just as catchy as when they first debuted. From the wistfully powerful “Suddenly Seymour” and “Somewhere That’s Green,” to the funky fun “Skid Row (Downtown)” and “Ya Never Know” and of course, the titular toe-tapping number. Augmented by some delightfully nostalgic—if not terribly original—choreography, Tempo has sparkle to spare. At the preview performance, it seemed like there were still some issues with some voices falling off in the wall of sound some of the bigger numbers required, but I’m hopeful a little volume pruning will help bring the complex layering into cohesion.

Creighton plays her Audrey with the exact right bigger-than-life vulnerability and sweetness for a woman despondently mired in low self-esteem and trapped in a gray, unforgiving world. She has the hardest job to pull off and she does it well, maintaining her Brooklyn-bimbo lisp and trilling voice while still managing to navigate the most challenging numbers. Sessler imbues Seymour with a pitch-perfect comic timing and appropriately unsophisticated vocals. The trio of street walkers that provide some of the best numbers and back-up (Krystal Metcalfe, Sharriese Hamilton, Will Hoyer) steal every scene with their sultriness.

The whole is a little rough around the edges yet, but Horrors is a forgivingly tongue-in-cheek musical that absorbs them comfortably into its infectiously fun atmosphere, making it a safe and crowd-pleasing choice for a young troupe (which I think shows some wisdom on their part). With an eclectic blend of sounds and an over-the-top tall tale, this little shop is an amusing stop in Skid Row with enough bubbling energy to leave you humming for days. Just don’t feed the plants.

Recommended.

Review by Clint May

Date Reviewed: April 11, 2012

For more info checkout the Little Shop of Horrors page on www.stage773.com

At Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, Chicago, IL; call 773.327.5252 or visit www.stage773.com tickets $38; performances Thursdays-Saturday 8pm, Sunday 3pm; running time 2 hours with 1 intermission; through May 13.