Cleveland Play House (CPH) has a monster success to brag about with its current production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” playing now through February 7 at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square.
Bloody good fun and out-of-this world music soak this story of nerdy clerk Seymour (Ari Butler) as he works fruitlessly in a Skid Row florist alongside curmudgeon owner Mr. Mushnik (Larry Cahn) and blond beauty Audrey (Lauren Molina).
Business is bad, Audrey’s dentist boyfriend Orin (Joey Taranto) is a punk, and everyone (including the Urchins on the stoop) are down and out until Seymour starts tinkering with a “strange and unusual plant.” It seems like overnight, the “Audrey II” plant makes Seymour and the shop a national sensation.
With fortune and fame at his doorstep, Seymour quickly learns that Audrey II’s hunger comes with a very steep price. With the possibility of love, is Seymour willing to trade the blood of others for the affections of his dream girl?
Written by Howard Ashman and with music by Alan Menken, “Little Shop of Horrors” had its first incarnation back in 1915 and featured marionettes. This version of the “comedy rock horror musical” is based on the 1960 film directed by Roger Corman, and the 1982 version that ended up on the big screen in 1986 starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin.
Directed, music directed and choreographed by Amanda Dehnert, this stage version of the mean, green plant machine is gorily great. The fast-paced production has a Motown flavor with a B-movie flair that gives the show a vicious vibe… in a good way.
The voices and personas are phenomenal in this production. Calleri Casting’s Geoff Josselson has cultivated all the right talent with this powerful pool of performers.
Butler is a goofy and agreeable Seymour, clumsily clamoring along in his lonely life. He has the audience cheering for the underdog in a laughable but likeable way. His pleading performance of “Grow for Me” is definitely full of a beautiful kind of begging that encapsulates his desires.
Cahn’s Mushnik is a little gruff, definitely grumpy, and not a cheerleader for anything optimistic in his flower shop. He brings the audience into his place of business, and works with what little life has given him without having completely given up on everything. His performance in “Mushnik and Son” is a nice burst of energy and plotting from the care-worn character.
Taranto’s Orin is groovy and greasy, in a brilliantly dislikeable way. His sleaze is superb as he sings his way through “Dentist,” and his sadistic tendencies are rewarded with all the blood the character deserves.
Molina is a tendril of tender tenacity as Audrey. She plays the delicate flower with an unsuspecting inner strength. The character is timid and uncertain, but longing and hopeful. Molina’s voice is anything but timid, though – she wails her way through “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly, Seymour” with a tidal wave of beautiful sound.
Perhaps the best part of the production is the incorporation of the Urchins (Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon, originally a 1960s doo-wop trio) into a 5-piece band. The five women (Kate Ferber, Alanna Saunders, Hallie Bulleit, Brittany Campbell and Injoy Fountain) are a fantastic addition to the stage. The ladies pick up the usual Urchin lines and occasionally step into the action, but mostly rock out stage right with subtle interactions with the other characters throughout the show. The band is tight, well-harmonized and fantastically dressed (please note a far-out pair of white boots, and a fabulous pair of pink, platform heels – thank you costume designer, Melissa Torchia!)
And what about the heart of the show – the plant? Puppet Designers at Phantom Limb company combine with puppeteer Kev Abrams and plant voice Eddie Cooper to create a creature worthy of screams and applause. Cooper’s soulfully sexy voice is a deep velvet that draws the crowd in from the moment Audrey II speaks. And the visuals are incredible. Don’t feed the plant!!!!
With a dark, graphic novel-inspired flower shop set (designer Philip Witcomb), moody lights (designer Brian Gale) and sultry sound (designer Josh Horvath), all pieces of the puzzle fit.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is a do-not-miss. Playing now through February 7 at the Allen Theatre, tickets are available via phone by calling 216-241-6000 or by visiting www.clevelandplayhouse.com. Prices range from $20-$100.