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Paulanne Simmons

“Little Shop of Horrors” is Open Again


Jonathan Groff and Audrey II. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser.

Little Shop of Horrors
Directed by Michael Mayer
West Side Theatre
407 West 43 Street
Opening Oct. 17, 2019
Tuesday & Thursday 7pm, Wednesday 2pm and 8pm, Friday 8pm, Saturday 2pm and 8pm, Sunday 3pm
Tickets: $69-$179
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Oct. 13, 2019

From the moment the girl group (also known as the Urchins) sings the opening “Prologue” of “Little Shop of Horrors,” in the new revival at the Westside Theatre, directed by Michael Mayer, we know we’re in for two hours of exuberant joy. The performances of Ari Groover (Ronnette), Salome Smith (Crystal) and Joy Woods (Chiffon) are just one reason to see the show. There are plenty of others.

Of course, the rock score by Howard Ashman (lyrics and book) and Alan Menken (music) goes a long way in turning the source, an eponymous low budget, black comedy film, into a hit. And the morality tale of how a wimpy florist’s assistant (Seymour) is corrupted by his desire for success, is as appealing as such stories have always been since Satan fell from heaven.

But this production also has the impeccably cast Jonathan Groff as Seymour and Christian Borle as the sadistic dentist Orin. The cast is completed by Tammy Blanchard, as the hapless and shapely Audrey, Seymour’s co-worker; and Tom Alan Robbins, who turns the role of Mushnik, the stereotypical Jewish shop owner, into a work of art. And let’s not forget the throaty Kingsley Leggs, who is the voice of the vicious Audrey II, the plant who cries, “Feed me!”

This revival has a reinvented Audrey II, who looks a little like a Muppet gone rogue. She is manipulated by four talented puppeteers: Eric Wright, Teddy Yudain, Kris Roberts and Chelsea Turbin. Because the stage at the Westside Theatre is small, Audrey II actually takes over the stage much the way she eventually takes over the world.

Ashman claimed the musical satirizes science fiction, “B” movies, musical comedy and the Faust legend. In 2019 we may see it a little differently.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is set on Skid Row. The three urchins are high school dropouts. And Audrey II, the man-eating plant, may be the darker face of capitalism. Although Audrey II is so exotic and beautiful she attracts many new customers, the good fortune she brings comes with a price tag. As for Orin, his abusive treatment of Audrey is the kind of behavior that’s become the stuff of newspaper headlines.

“Little Shop of Horrors” premiered Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 before moving to the Off-Broadway Orpheum Theatre, where it ran for five years. A Broadway transfer was nixed by Ashman who believed the show belonged off-Broadway. Nevertheless, the musical (after various stops and starts) made its way to Broadway by 2003, opening in August, with Hunter Foster as Seymour and Kerry Butler as Audrey. It closed in August 2004.

Perhaps Ashman was correct back in 1987. In 2019 this little show may have a big future.

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