Scary-licious sci-fi meets paranormal pop/rock in Porthouse Theatre’s horror musical comedy “Little Shop of Horrors,” and while it may make you second guess purchasing a venus flytrap anytime soon, the show will definitely have you bopping in your seat.
Loosely based on the 1960s B movie of the same name, the musical version had its off-Broadway premiere in 1982, winning several awards, including the 1982-1983 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. Much like the man-eating plant itself, additional productions began sprouting up in other parts of the world, beginning with a London West End production, followed by several in Australia and Canada. Fast forward to today, and the tale of Seymour, Audrey and her murderous namesake, the Audrey II, has become a staple among theater seasons from high schools to colleges to professional venues. The current off-Broadway revival opened in 2019 and features Broadway vet Christian Borle as masochist Orin Scrivello, DDS.
The story takes place at Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop, which is hurting for business until the nebbish employee Seymour Krelbourne puts his “strange and interesting plant” in the window. Magically, a customer is immediately drawn to the plant and orders $100 worth of roses.
It doesn’t take long to realize the key to the shop’s success is the health and growth of that plant, lovingly named “Audrey II” after the object of Seymour’s affection, his co-worker Audrey, who is in an abusive relationship with Scrivello, a dentist who enjoys inflicting pain on his patients and his girlfriend. The problem is the plant eats blood, and eventually, people.
How will Seymour find enough “food” to keep his plant healthy and maintain his sudden success? Seymour exclaims “I don’t know anyone who deserves to get chopped up and fed to a hungry plant!” And just as Seymour witnesses Scrivello smacking his girlfriend around, Audrey II replies, “Mmmmmm, sure you do.” The plot thickens and takes a gnarly turn.
As you prune this “plant” and weed through the murder, abuse and occasional drug use, you will uncover a fun-filled, tongue-in-cheek musical comedy, waiting for a talented cast to bring it to life. And the Porthouse production does not disappoint.
The supporting characters are the scene stealers in this production, beginning with Jocelyn Trimmer, Israeljah Khi-Reign and Hannah Hall as Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette – the three street urchins who serve as a sort of Greek chorus throughout the show. Their glorious voices fill the entire space and their pitch-perfect harmonies make it impossible for the audience not to sing along. They mesh as a trio and stand out individually in both attitude and vocals.
Timothy Culver is hilarious as the stingy shop owner, Mr. Mushnik. He is lovably cantankerous and we can almost see the light bulb go off in his brain when he realizes he needs to keep Seymour around. His shrewd proposal to make Seymour his son plays out in a delightful tango-meets-Tevye style duet, where Culver’s vocal chops shine and his yiddishe-kop (literally a Jewish mind/head) is on display for all to see, and we are all kvelling.
Michael Glavin is the guy the audience loves to hate as the sadistic Scrivello. His stage presence is larger than life, he is skilled at physical comedy and has an impressive voice. We root for him to get fed to that plant. But as an audience, we want more of Glavin. Luckily, he has some fun cameo appearances throughout the show.
Brian Chandler, as the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey II, has the smooth, deep, menacing vocals you would expect in this role, with the perfect amount of chutzpah. Partnered with Robert Miller as the puppeteer, Audrey II becomes a delightfully devilish force to be reckoned with.
Morgan Mills and Abby Soffel as Seymour and Audrey both have incredible vocal versatility that allows them to sing tenderly, but also hit all of the big powerful belty notes that make songs like “Suddenly Seymour” a standout. However, they lack chemistry as a couple, with Mills playing Seymour more matter of factly rather than as a nerdy shlemiel (unlucky person). And Soffel embraces the sad, reticent parts of Audrey, but loses some of the optimistic facade that the character typically draws on to get her through life. Both gloss over some of the bits that add humor to their scenes, but they still deliver charming performances.
The production as a whole is a blast, under Terri Kent’s watchful eye and Martin Cespedes’ always creative and playful choreography, with a thoughtful step for every beat of the fun score, which gives a nod to a myriad of musical styles.
Make your way to Porthouse if you are up for a wild show that is “out of this world.” Just don’t sit too close to the stage, or Audrey II might come for you next.
Sheri Gross is the CJN theatre critic. She is a performer, director and freelance writer from Solon. She was the director of the Mandel JCC Playmakers Youth Theatre and Pilloff Performing Arts Camp for over 20 years and is the director of creative programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike.