Little Shop of Horrors
ACT Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, acttheatre.org. $20–$50. Runs Tues.–Sun. Ends June 15.
Small wonder that a show as guileless and tuneful as their 1982 Little Shop of Horrors would launch the careers of composer Alan Menken and his lyricist partner, the late Howard Ashman. It’s simple, it’s overstuffed with hummable melodies, and it toys affectionately with two of America’s enduring infatuations: cheesy monster movies and jukebox pop.
Appropriately, this co-production of ACT and the 5th Avenue cranks the fun dial up to 11 with a string of spectacular performances. These include the Spectoresque Greek chorus of Ronnette, Chiffon, and Crystal (Nicole Rashida Prothro, Alexandria Henderson, and Naomi Morgan, respectively); floral-shop owner Mr. Mushnik (Jeff Steitzer, long my favorite Scrooge in ACT’s A Christmas Carol ); and his star-crossed lovebird employees, Audrey and Seymour (Jessica Skerritt and Joshua Carter).
For such a small show, the oft-produced Little Shop has done much for both theater and film. After their smash hit moved to Broadway, Menken and Ashman helped relaunch Disney’s moribund animation division with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Since Ashman’s 1991 death from AIDS complications, Menken has continued to enliven the art form with Enchanted and Tangled.
It’s easy to see why Ashman and Menken’s work has stood the test of time: They make story and song interdependent. Every song in Little Shop—the tale of a man-eating plant come to conquer Earth by devouring every last man, woman, and child—either advances character or plot. Often they do both. Here, director Bill Berry lets all his cast members cut loose, and none shrink from the opportunity. During both solo and ensemble tunes (arranged and conducted by R.J. Tancioco), there’s a palpable glee in watching confident performers nail each number with sharpshooter precision. Their voices blending with fearsome beauty, the girl-group trio rips the roof off with the title number. (Having seen the Off-Broadway original production, it’s interesting to hear what shows like American Idol have wrought. It’s no longer acceptable to merely sing a song—every phrase now requires performers to demonstrate their most acrobatic chops. Little Shop ain’t so little any more.)
Parents thinking of taking their kids to see the chipper ending that delighted moviegoers in ’86 might want to reconsider. In this stage version, it’s the plant, rather than the players, who has the final word. For everyone else, Little Shop is a savory treat that reminds us that we’re all somewhere on the food chain.