LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Stahl Theatre

By: Howard AshmanLittle shop of horrors at stahl

Music by: Alan Menken

Directed by: Geoffrey Arndt

Saint Patrick Summer Theatre/ Stahl Family Theatre

There are few people in America, especially those in their thirties and older, who have not seen the cult-classic musical Little Shop of Horrors. I’m one of them. Years of living under a rock you tend to miss a few pieces of pop culture.

It’s been made into a motion picture…twice, placed off and on Broadway, and has been revived by every high school, college, and small theatre group in America. How could you miss it? Well I have, that is until seeing it for the first time at the Stahl Family Theatre, performed by the St. Patrick Summer Theatre Group. Going into this show without any pre-conceived notions to cloud my judgment, I was curious to see what I had been missing all these years. But after sitting through it, I can say, I didn’t miss much.

Little shop of horrors at stahl

As many of you know, it’s the story of Seymour, a nerdy, flower shop stock boy who raises a blood thirsty Venus Fly Trap as a vehicle to bring in customers, appease his tyrannical boss Mr. Mushnik, and win the affection of his vivacious co-worker, Audrey. Seymour is a sheltered man, only knowing of life as it is within the walls of a skid row flower shop, yet for once in his life he’s capable of something extraordinary. By raising this plant and becoming an “over night sensation”, Seymour can possess fame, riches, and the heart of Audrey. A typical protagonist that you should be rooting for, but I just couldn’t. In fact I felt indifference for all the characters, and if you don’t have someone to either love, or hate, you’re not going to enjoy many shows. But not liking the story is no fault of the production or the cast. They had different issues to contend with.

Little shop of horrors at stahl

For starters, the music in this production was nearly inaudible. In fact it was almost A Capella at points. I understand that within a smaller theatre space, which was very well designed by the way, there’s no room for an orchestra pit. A pre-recorded track over the PA would have been more suitable, instead of a four piece band consisting of a pianist, synthesizer, drummer, and guitarist playing back stage. Of what I did hear, the musicians made the most of it.

The singing was pretty good overall, especially that of Audrey, played by Kendal Lester, and of all things Audrey II (the plant) voiced by Drew Messenger-Michaels. Audrey’s abusive and soon-to-be eaten boyfriend, Orin, played by Jack O’Brien, was the audience favorite by far. His energetic singing and comedic timing was refreshing to a show that had less than charismatic players, most notably Seymour, played by Noel Taylor, and Mr. Mushnik, played by Jonas Grey. By themselves they were flat and lethargic, and together they were twice as much so. When they sang the duet Mushnik and Son, in which the two dance together, the audience did not seem to care, but in fairness to them it had to follow O’Brien’s show stopping number, Dentist!, which got the most rousing applause of any number in the show. The stage production values were surprisingly detailed, especially on the various Audrey II puppets, but unfortunately it was not enough to save the show.

The verdict is still out on whether or not the director Geoffrey Arndt had his cast properly prepared, however, it’s very clear that everyone involved put forth the effort. A lot can be chalked up to opening night jitters and a youthful cast, which has a bright future, but this show can only be recommend for the Little Shop fans who are just happy to sing along.

Somewhat Recommended

John B. Reinhardt

Date Reviewed: 7/23/10

Stahl Family Theatre/ 5900 W. Belmont Ave. Chicago / $12 general admission / Running time approximately 120 minutes/  7/23-8/1 at 7:30pm