Roger Corman created the wacky 1960 cult classic film Little Shop of Horrors (featuring a young Jack Nicholson as a super masochist) which begat the surprise hit Alan Menken/Howard Ashman 1982 Off-Broadway musical which led to the 1986 Frank Oz musical film (happily immortalizing Ellen Greene’s stage performance) which in turn begat an overblown 2003 Broadway revival and a subsequent 2015 Encores! Off-Center production (with Greene stopping the show, yet again) which eventually led to the current, sparkling version, directed with finesse by Michael Mayer.
Now on stage at the Westside Theatre, this Little Shop features an unexpectedly top tier cast and extraordinary production values for an Off-Broadway show.
In a counterintuitive casting coup, handsome Jonathan Groff stars as the nebbish Seymour Krelborn who works at Mushnik’s (a funny, kvetchy Tom Alan Robbins) failing flower shop on Skid Row. Seymour discovers an odd potted plant in Chinatown after an eclipse, a plant that leads to great success for both Mushnik and Seymour.
Although it is difficult to forget Groff’s physical attributes (well-hidden under Tom Broecker’s costumes), he delivers a brilliantly realized sad sack Seymour. Poor Seymour is in love with the much put upon Audrey played with ditzy perfection by Tammy Blanchard. Two-time Tony Award winner Christian Borle chews the scenery as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello plus several other characters such as a William Morris agent and an NBC TV executive.
The characters are all observed by three Urchins, appropriately named after period girl singing groups: Ronnette, Crystal and Chiffon, played by Ari Groover, Salome Smith and Joy Woods all bedecked in Broecker’s tight, shiny colorful dresses. They are the wry, harmonizing Greek chorus that sets the mood (“Little Shop of Horrors”) and comments on the wittily dark goings on (“Downtown (Skid Row)” and “The Meek Shall Inherit”). Their choreography is by Ellenore Scott. They are all sassy and terrific.
As the plant, whom Seymour names Audrey II in honor of his beloved Audrey, gets bigger and bigger, Seymour discovers that it is carnivorous and needs human blood to thrive. Seymour is running out of his own blood to feed Audrey II and has to seek a fresh source of the red stuff. This leads to the funniest scene in the musical in which Seymour visits Orin and inadvertently winds up with fresh meat to feed Audrey II.
The oddball plant leads to fame and notoriety for Seymour and Mushnik—but also headaches and heartache. Audrey II, mouthed and sung with style by Kinglsey Leggs, engulfs not only Seymour’s life but tragically, its appetite growing ever stronger, Seymour’s close friends.
The songs, all take-offs of Sixties’ styles, still register, particularly the wistful “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour,” two numbers that also have heart.
Mayer has revitalized this minor musical classic with quick pacing, inspired casting and Broadway level production values. He has gathered a brilliant team to bring this Little Shop back to New York. The contributions of Broecker’s costumes, Julian Crouch’s right-on set, Bradley King’s vivid lighting, Will Van Dyke’s lively musical arrangements and the magical puppetry of Nicholas Mahon all bring Mayer’s vision to life.
Menken and Ashman went on to greater fame and fortune hitching their careers to the Disney world of entertainment, but Little Shop of Horrors will always be their most beloved and produced work for very good reasons.
Little Shop of Horrors (reopens April 13, 2020)
Westside Theatre/Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.Telecharge.com
Running time: two hours including one intermission