On the twenty-first day of the month
In an early year of a decade not too long before our own
The human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence
And this terrifying enemy surfaced as such enemies often do
In the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places…
Roger Corman’s low budget, 1960 black comedy is a cult classic. Twenty-two years after the film, the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken musical version ran for five years Off Broadway and was, itself, brought to the screen. To say the show has legs, however, is a misnomer. It actually has roots and leaves.
Said foliage belongs to a carnivorous plant named Audrey II, or “Twoey,” raised in a rundown flower shop on Skid Row by big-hearted schlub Seymour Krelborn (Jonathan Groff). Having a decade ago rescued the young man from a dumpster, owner Mr. Mushnik (Tom Alan Robbins) has made his charge into a groveling, indentured servant.
Seymour pines after salesgirl, Audrey (Tammy Blanchard), a sweet, insecure girl with a body like Marilyn Monroe and a past that fostered victim mentality. Every day Audrey comes in to work with a new wound administered by her sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Christian Borle). “He’s a professional man!” she protests. The 12-inch plant, a green snout circled by leaves, will be both Seymour’s tribute to Audrey and a draw for the shop if only he can get it to flourish.
What’s wrong?! He’s tried plant food, fertilizer, chemicals, light, water…nothing works. When Seymour accidentally nicks his finger, Twoey suddenly comes alive, salivating for blood. Placement in the window begins to bring in business. By the time the plant hits 20 inches, there are Band-Aids on all ten of Seymour’s fingers. The shop is booming. At 10 feet, the Rose Bowl calls. Of course, a few people have gone missing. Seymour is tempted by lecture, licensing, and television offers.
At this point, Twoey is talking (voice – Kingsley Leggs), or rather demanding ever more sustenance. Seymour has a chance with Audrey. Mushnik is suspicious. Outsiders mean to capitalize, but unwittingly propagate.
The piece itself holds up. Keeping its original, scrappy scale helps enormously. Both music and lyrics are great fun. Concept is terrific. Topically the Sci-Fi take on scary science portrays not only a dangerous, aberration of nature created by man, but a protagonist for whom the lure of fame and fortune might be worth the price. Sound contemporary? (Not having seen the film is a benefit as its casting seems better.)
Jonathan Groff is a talented performer. He sings well, moves well, looks great, was hysterical as King George in Hamilton. Unfortunately, it takes more than a pair of glasses to make a doofus out of him.
As Audrey, Tammy Blanchard looks the part and has fine pipes, but fails to embody naiveté and vulnerability essential to the character.
Christian Borle’s Orin has a solo extremely similar to that of his (brilliant) Shakespeare in Something Rotten, with which he seemed to have more fun. We never feel he’s scary violent. In various cameos, the actor makes the most of absurd wigs (Tommy Kurzman) and costumes (Tom Broecker), including a drag ensemble to which the audience gleefully responds. (The designer excels with Orin’s gas mask; his girl group doesn’t look sufficiently tough.)
Ronette (Ari Groover), Crystal (Salome Smith), and Chiffon (Joy Woods), the synchronized, Doo-Wop/Motown Chorus deserves better sound design (Jessica Paz). Both lyrics and harmonies are sometimes lost or diminished. Execution of Ellenore Scott’s cute and cool choreography is spirited.
Director Michael Mayer keeps the piece humming and visually appealing.
Mushnik’s bottom rung store and dilapidated environs are ably manifest –floor to ceiling – by Set Designer Julian Crouch.
Nicholas Mahon, Martin P. Robinson, and Monkey Boys Productions are credited with the creation of star thespian, Audrey II, whose last bow is priceless. If you’ve never seen her, prepare to fall in love.
Photos by Emilio Madrid-Kuser
Opening: Jonathan Groff (Seymour) and Audrey II
Little Shop of Horrors
Book & Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Based on the film by Roger Corman, Screenplay by Charles Griffith
Directed by Michael Mayer
407 West 43rd Street
Through January 19, 2020