`Little Shop of Horrors' will grow on you

Company gives musical slick interpretation

Theater Review

April 21, 2005|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

It's back in Baltimore - where it belongs. "It" is Audrey II, the carnivorous plant at the center of the fun-with-Faust musical Little Shop of Horrors, and it's in residence at the Hippodrome Theatre for two weeks.

The reasons it belongs here are twofold: 1. The lyrics describe Audrey II as "something out of Edgar Allan Poe," and, in case Baltimoreans need to be reminded, the Hippodrome is only a couple blocks from Poe's grave; and 2. the late Howard Ashman, who penned the show's clever lyrics and book, was a native Baltimorean. (The period-perfect '60s pop-flavored score is by Alan Menken.)

So, welcome back, Little Shop. The show's offbeat loopiness feels right at home in quirky Bawlamer, and director Jerry Zaks' slick cast is playing this tale of temptation in a skid row florist shop for all it's worth.

Indeed, performing these roles as a matter of life and death is the only way to go. Not only does it keep the show from devolving into mere camp, but it makes us care about the central characters - nerdy Seymour Krelbourn (the florist's clerk who discovers the "strange and interesting plant" at the heart of the story) and the woman of his dreams, tawdry but good-hearted Audrey (for whom he names the pivotal plant).

Of course, Little Shop of Horrors is about life and death. Those are the terms Seymour reluctantly accepts when he makes his pact with the devil, aka, Audrey II. Jonathan Rayson's Seymour is a klutzy, boyish good guy, the kind who always finishes last. He's convinced he's a loser. Adenoidal-voiced Tari Kelly's Audrey is a sweet victim of low self-esteem (as well as the battered victim of a no-good boyfriend). She's convinced she's a loser.

According to the dictates of musical theater, Seymour and Audrey are made for each other. And, in the second act, when the pair belts out the paean to their new-found love, "Suddenly Seymour," it's one of those gushy moments made in musical theater heaven.

Ashman and Menken even supply a trio to urge them on. Part Greek chorus, part bop-sh-bopping back-up singers, and part Sixties girl group, Yasmeen Sulieman, Amina S. Robinson and LaTonya Holmes pump up the show's attitude and spunk. And just wait till you see these erstwhile urchins dolled up in designer William Ivey Long's Supremes-inspired costumes in "The Meek Shall Inherit."

In other roles, Ray DeMattis as Seymour's employer brings a touch of the Borscht Belt to the proceedings, and although James Moye doesn't seem sufficiently threatening as Audrey's abusive boyfriend, a sadistic biker/dentist, he proves a nimble quick-change artist in a host of cameo roles.

Then there's Audrey II. With its rumbling voice provided by Michael James Leslie and its movement supplied by three rotating puppeteers, Audrey II morphs from modest houseplant to scene-stealing monster. Along the way, this complex plant makes kissing noises at the prospect of its favorite food, is a lech around pretty women, it exudes charm, it sinisterly curls its lip and, in an especially inspired moment, its branches perform movements synchronized with the trio's arm gestures (choreography is by Kathleen Marshall). Audrey II also does some unsavory things that it'd be a shame to give away; suffice it to say, this probably isn't the ideal musical for very small children.

Like Audrey II, Little Shop is the little show that grew. Based on Roger Corman's 1960 horror movie, the musical started out at a small off-off-Broadway theater in 1982, moved to a larger venue, toured (including a stop at the Mechanic Theatre in 1984), was made into a movie in 1986 and finally landed on Broadway last season.

That Broadway production spawned the current tour. And, with Audrey II's tendrils entwined on the Hippodrome stage and beckoning seductively, this cute-and-creepy plant-centric show is hard to resist.

Little Shop of Horrors

Where: Hippodrome Theatre, 12 N. Eutaw St.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 6:30 p.m. Sundays; 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays; through May 1

Tickets: $24-$69

Call: 410-547-SEAT

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