Highly Recommended ***** Back in 1960, a low budget film was made telling the story of a small flower shop in a seedy part of town, where a special plant took over the youngest employee and changed the tides for the shop owner. The film by Roger Corman was “Little Shop of Horrors”. Fast -forward twenty plus years and enter the 1980’s where a new musical production took to the stage, “live” and then moved onto the Orpheum Theatre instead of hitting Broadway itself. This show might have been more difficult for an audience in a large venue. It is one of great intimacy, where the audience feels that they are part of the “family” that is the cast. After winning many awards, another film was made, only this time a star-studded, large scale one that wowed the industry and the audiences. Over the years, having watched many attempts at capturing the true essence of the writing of Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) it appears that Jonathan Berry and his all-star cast of the American Blues Theater has found every ingredient to make this a true delight for young and old.
If you do not know the story, “Little Shop of Horrors”, Seymour (played to perfection by Chicago favorite Michael Mahler ) a poor assistant in a flower shop, wants nothing more than to achieve success and to win the heart of his employer’s “girl Friday”, Audrey (powerfully played by Dara Cameron, who gets to show her true range in this production). Their employer, Mr. Mushnik (deftly handled by Mark David Kaplan, who puts the Jew back in Jewish with his interpretation of this character. He has it just right!), is facing bankruptcy as his shop, located in Skid Row has very few orders for flowers.
Seymour, comes to the rescue by finding and developing a special plant, which he names Audrey II that brings the store new fame, and with it, fortune. There is always a price to pay for fame and fortune, as Seymour finds out. His special plant likes a certain liquid beverage for growth and survival, which makes for a very interesting two hours of entertainment. I do not want to spoil the surprises that are in store for you, but will tell you that in the intimate setting of the Green House Theater Center, Berry and his cast make this as exciting a theatrical experience as one could ever want.
The ensemble for this production is powerful, with Ian Paul Custer back as Orin, the Dentist, who romances Audrey with “bullying” (Custer just wowed audiences with his performance in “Bad Jews”, now, he is a bad dentist),Yando Lopez (playing several roles), Darian Tene (likewise), Lorenzo Rush Jr. (playing the voice of Audrey II) and the female chorus of Eunice Woods, Camille Robinson and Jasondra Johnson (they are stupendous!!!). Grant Sabin has designed a great set for the shop and outdoor area along with the dentist’s office. Heather Gilberts’ lighting works to perfection and Rick Sims’ sound is also “right on”. Sarah E. Ross designed the puppets that were Audrey II and there were times that one felt that there really was a plant that spoke in the room. Nice Work! Christopher Neville has assembled a great array of props, making the tech side complete.
On the music front, the very talented Austin Cook handles the music direction and is in fact the conductor. He is at the keyboards with Malcolm Ruhl (bass), Matthew Sitz (aux percussion), Michael Witherspoon (drums) and Shaun Whitley (guitar and 2nd keyboard). It is hard to believe that so much music came from a band of musicians numbering five- what a task as they play an assortment of “doo-wop”, “Motown” and “rock n’ roll”, featuring songs such as “Little Shop of Horrors, “Suddenly Seymour”, “Feed Me” and a host of other titles that propel the story, yet are not tunes you will hum on the way home. Darien Tene handled the choreography and Matthew Sitz is the puppeteer, with Vincent Teninty doing the fight choreography. This is a difficult show to put before an audience. That might explain why it is not often brought to a local stage.
However, American Blues Theater, having Mahler and Cameron as part of their membership knew that they had the perfect start to casting this powerful and hysterical production. Adding Kaplan to the mix makes the casting director look like a genius. You could not have asked for a more stunning cast that hits every part of the script, the music and the characters written with just the right touch. This is a show that despite it’s storyline will find a place in your heart and soul, and the sheer magic on the stage will allow you to overlook some of the words and actions of the story. “Little Shop of Horrors” will continue at The Greenhouse Theater Center located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue thru JULY 31st (extended) with performances as follows:
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $19-$49 and can be purchased by calling 773-404-7336 or online at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com
Sunday shows are followed by a FREE post discussion.
The theater has been remodeled so while the seating is far more comfortable (wider and padded better), the number of seats has been reduced to only 167 and this production is worthy of every seat being filled for the entire run, and then some (an extended run would be great). The front rows of seats have been raised so the actors are no longer afraid to trip over the feet of those who paid to see them work.
Parking, as always is a sticky problem in the area as some of the “free” spaces are now by permit only. The hospital parking garage is available for 100 cars at NO CHARGE (first come first served).
To see what others are saying, visit http://www,theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Little Shop of Horrors”