“Little Shop of Horrors” is a mainstay for community theaters that are looking to stage an approachable musical that is fun for families and still has bite for musical theater aficionados.
And for good reason. It is quirky. It is fun and it has a great score, with great characters to round out the pages.
It last played locally at Tacoma Musical Playhouse to sold-out performances. Tacoma Little Theatre is now staging the show in hopes of landing some of those audiences. And the theater has a great shot at it. This production has all the elements of a blockbuster. The campy tale of a plant gone wrong holds up well on TLT's stage with a parade of creative performances that bring to life the nerdy but heart-filled flowershop clerk, it's abused and gorgeously ditsy flower arranger and her sadistic dentist turned boyfriend. Well, to life as long as the mysterious and interesting plant holds off from eating them that is.
The story goes like this: Seymour (played by Benjamin Cournoyer) finds a plant and nurses it to health in an effort to save the dying Skid Row flower shop he calls home. It does, much to the surprised delight of its owner Mr. Mushnik (Andrew Fry, who played the role in TMP back in the day). All is going well for a while. But as all wishes-come-true tales of this kind, there is a dark side to the deal. Seymour must provide the plant fresh blood to keep it thriving. The body count climbs along with the hilarity and love story between Seymour and his co-worker Audrey (Gretchen Boyt) who ...well, is not hard to look at and can command attention with her singing and acting.
The principals bring their prime cuts to this show. Cournoyer is quirky and klutzy, but lovable like a wet puppy. Fry plays down the "Jewish shop owner" features of the character this time so that the character is less than a stereotype and more of a person…until he becomes plant food that is.
The ringer of the show is Justin Michael Thornton as the dentist and a parade of extra characters, each with its own quirks.
Tying the show together is a chorus of Skid Row urchins with pipes so golden just listening to their interludes would be worth the ticket price. These stoop sitters – Crystal (Alexandria Henderson), Ronnette(Kenya Adams) and Chiffon (Deshana Brown) – bring energy and power chords throughout the show and turn up the heat during their solo cuts throughout. While "backup" on the playbill to the main actors, the women own the stage with over measure of their songs with their Supremes, 60s-style stage presence and thick harmonies that would make Diana Ross proud.
All the elements of the show fell to director Maria Valenzuela, who made it her own without getting all weird with the staging that can happen with a well-trod show like this. Putting the musical pit in the wings, for example, allowed the show to bring top shelf music under Terry O'Hara, while not distracting from the goings on about the stage. Even the giant killer plant, operated by James Wrede and voiced by Carmen Brantley-Payne, can't outshine her star.
Toss in a spinning set that flips from inside to the outside of the flower shop and dramatic lighting by Niclas R. Olson and the show has everything – a great serving of community theater to end TLT's landmark season.
"Little Shop of Horrors" runs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays through May 26. More information is available at www.tacomalittletheatre.com.