Little Shop of Horrors Is Bloody Good
I Always Forget Just How Good This Musical Is, and Then a Vivid, Punchy Production Like This Swallows Me Whole
And I’m a large, cranky person who’s hard to swallow. Or I just have a lot of… um, feedback. About musicals. And how you could do them better. And I honestly can’t think of any way to improve this production of Little Shop of Horrors. Go!
Botanically speaking, this is a crossbreeding of the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre, and as crossbreedings go, it’s one of the most successful ever: 5th Avenue–level singing in the intimacy of ACT. Maybe it’s not a Mendel-discovering-genetics-with-his-pea-plants level of world-changing greatness, but Little Shop of Horrors is revelatory, satisfying material, blackly funny, gorgeously structured, a marvel of language. And a painful reminder, yet again, as if there were any doubt, how freaking brilliant Howard Ashman was, the playwright and lyricist, not to mention how handsome (seriously, do a Google image search of Howard Ashman). Ashman wrote the stage script and lyrics to Little Shop of Horrors in 1982, when he was in his early 30s, inspired by an old Roger Corman flick, and it was an off-Broadway hit. Then he wrote the screenplay for the (not as good) movie in 1986. Then he went on to write all the lyrics for a couple little movies called The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. (Well, part of Aladdin: the cleverer, wordier songs. Someone else wrote the “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid” crap.) Alan Menken wrote the music to go with Ashman’s words for Little Shop and the rest. On the night they won an Academy Award for a song in The Little Mermaid, in 1990, Ashman told Menken he had something he needed to tell him when they get back to New York. Ashman revealed he was HIV positive, and a year later, the handsome, brilliant, hilarious artist was dead. He was 40.
Funny how horror steps in out of nowhere, isn’t it? So anyway, Little Shop of Horrors is about a pair of unbelievably dweeby, innocent, heart-in-the-right-place losers who are acted upon by a coercive, venal world, basically. The guy is a schlub named Seymour, played perfectly by Joshua Carter—like literally, he’s perfect. He’s balding adorably and he sings like motherfucker. The girl with a dirty past and abusive boyfriend is Audrey, played by Jessica Skerritt, who’s outstanding, with a knack for making stupidity and insecurity seem charming. (She’s the result of some crossbreeding in the Tom Skerritt genetic line, FWIW.) And the three doo-wop girls who tell the story in three-part harmony are charismatic young talents—Nicole Rashida Prothro, Alexandria Henderson, and Naomi Morgan. But Seymour’s our guy, it’s Seymour we get to watch change, and the change is not pretty, although it’s also not not pretty, because the killing he does is more out of neglect, you could say—it’s more like he watches a couple bad guys walk into their own traps… ish, and then he feeds them to this weird plant, and the plant grows, and Seymour profits mightily, ding, ding, ding, the cash register, capitalism. Carter doesn’t have a false moment in the show; the achingly light way he says, “I spilled Hawaiian Punch, and it stained,” when someone asks what all the red drops on the floor are about killed me. If I have any quibble anywhere at all, it’s the very basic and awkward choreography of the very last number, but that’s such a small detail it’s easy to look past it. After the curtain call, something rolls out of the plant that’s so delightful you literally won’t be able to think of anything else. His name is Eric. Overheard in the lobby, after the show, grown adults talking to each other: “That was awesome!” “Wasn’t that great?” On the walk home, two people freshly in love, maybe now vaguely apprehensive of plants, passed under a tree newly full of pink blossoms. “Blossoms in the trees,” one of them noticed. “Yeah, I saw that this morning,” the other said.