by Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
The Skid Row Urchins, Crystal (Tavia Rivee), Ronnette (Melessie Clark) and Chiffon (Abigail Stephenson), the ever present and ever harmonious chorus, warns us that strange things are about to happen in Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” Things get strange right away.
Schlubby Seymour (Philippe Arroyo) spends his days sweeping up the backroom and pinning away for Audrey (Lauren Marcus) in Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop until he finds a very interesting and unusual plant. He dubs the floral enigma the Audrey II.
The problem is the plant is droopy and water, plant-food and direct sunlight do not seem to be helping. When Seymour cuts his finger on the thorn, the plant perks up. He feeds the plant a few drops of blood it blooms.
It’s tasted blood and it wants more. More. More!
Suddenly Seymour realizes that the plant is on a people-based diet. Chickens, pigs and cows do not seem to satisfy it – only human blood will do.
Enter Orin Scrivello, DDS (Patrick Cannon). The sleazy sadistic dentist is dating the original Audrey. The girl comes to work with a black eye one day and a bruised arm the next. Seymour and Audrey II (played by puppeteer J. Alex Noble and voiced by Monteze Freeland) decide that the dentist sure looks like plant food to them.
When the dentist accidentally suffocates on his own nitrous oxide, Seymour feeds him to Audrey II. The plant begins to grow and grow.
Soon, the store owner, Mr. Mushnik (Marc Moritz) becomes suspicious of the dentist’s disappearance when he sees Seymour and Audrey kissing and it’s suppertime for the plant once more.
But how far will Seymour go to get everything he’s always wanted?
Pretty dang far.
The musical is based on the titular 1960 horror comedy written by Charles Griffith, and directed by the pope of pop cinema, Roger Corman.
The cast, much like Audrey II’s mysterious origins, is out-of-this world. They are backed up by a fantastic orchestra conducted by Catie Brown.
Arroyo is adorable as the klutzy Seymour.
Marcus is a tremendous talent. Her “Suddenly Seymour” is a show stopper. She belts it out beautifully, incandescently.
Cannon is delightful as the deranged dentist with a sadistic streak. He is charismatic and electrifying in his performance as Orin Scrivello, DDS. He also tackles a few additional roles with aplomb.
Freeland is hilarious as the villainous vegetation, Audrey II. He gives the creature the cadence and lilt of a scary ass drag queen from space. It’s a marvelous interpretation. It’s amazing how fluidly Freeland’s voice matched up to the puppet’s giant Venus Fly Trap of a mouth thanks to puppeteer J. Alex Noble.
Normally, the Urchins (i.e. the Chorus) are regulated to the back of the stage, singing back up. Director Marya Sea Kaminski moves the chorus front and center, and it’s pays off brilliantly. Rivee, Clark and Stephenson are amazing. Their voices combine mellifluously.
All the action takes place on an illustrious and imposing set wondrously designed by Tim Mackabee, and gloriously illuminated with projection design by Bryce Cutler.
If you’re in the mood for a monstrous musical, “Little Shop of Horrors” is the main event.
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through February 23 at the O’Reilly Theater at the Pittsburgh Public Theater, 622 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. For more information, click here.