Cleveland Play House, celebrating its 100th season, presents “Little Shop of Horrors,” a twisted comedy musical about a man-eating plant named Audrey II.
Seymour, a nerdy floral clerk, comes across a peculiar and bizarre new plant that might just be his ticket to fame and fortune to get him out of the dumps of Skid Row once and for all.
As Seymour tends to his new plant, Audrey II, he discovers a horrifying truth: Audrey II thirsts for human blood in order to grow. Seymour must decide between fame, fortune and the girl of his dreams or saving the whole human race from his bloodthirsty plant.
With works by the award-winning composer Alan Menken, playwright Howard Ashman and director, choreographer and musical director Amanda Dehnert, “Little Shop of Horrors” came to life on the Allen Theatre stage with an all Actors’ Equity Association member cast and professional puppeteer, Kev Abrams.
In this production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” the street urchins, a five female group that enters the show to narrate or add dialogue between the main characters, also served as the musicians for the entire performance.
Playing the drums, keyboard, bass and guitar, these ladies provided a live rock band performance off to the side of the stage while interacting within each scene as part of the storytelling.
This was a new and different concept, to have the musicians as actors in the performance, but the transition worked well and added a concert-like feel to the show.
Ari Butler, who portrays the nerdy Seymour, brought quirkiness and spunk to the role with his squeaky voice, awkward clumsiness and zany dance moves. His transition from a meek floral clerk of a run-down flower shop to a scared yet more confident owner of a man-eating plant is intriguing as the audience watches what Seymour will do next as the story continues.
Larry Cahn portrays Mr. Mushnik, Seymour’s adopted father. Mushnik treats Seymour like dirt, always pointing out his mistakes, but when Seymour receives recognition for his discovery of Audrey II, Mushnik takes advantage of Seymour to receive part of his success.
Seymour’s love interest, his beautifully blonde co-worker Audrey, played by Lauren Molina, is a sweet girl who finds herself in an unfortunate abusive relationship with her dentist boyfriend Orin, played by Joey Taranto.
Molina’s portrayal of a rough-around-the-edges, doe-eyed girl who is down on her luck but dreams of a better life, is relatable and endearing. Taranto’s character, on the other hand, is just the opposite.
Orin, the semi-sadist and crazy dentist, proclaims his love for inflicting pain, but not without a little giggle gas. Taranto’s electrifying, wacky and over-the-top performance is incredible and frighteningly convincing.
In addition, Taranto portrays additional characters throughout the performance, using different accents, costumes and facial expressions, even dressing up as a woman, to become completely different characters while adding more humor to the show.
As the performance continues, Seymour longs to be with Audrey, yet doesn’t realize that Audrey also dreams of living happily ever after with Seymour in a picture perfect world somewhere that’s green.
As Seymour tends to his new and ever-growing flytrap plant, Audrey II, he hopes that he’ll impress Audrey with his instant success.
Once Audrey II becomes a life-size plant, designed by Phantom Limb, a theatrical production and design company known for its work with marionette-puppetry, she sings, dances, shimmies and, eventually, eats people.
Eddie Cooper, the voice of the plant, and Kev Abrams, who becomes Audrey II and controls the plant puppet, work well together as a team to bring the plant to life. The construction and design of the plant is ingenious and clever in creating a lifelike plant controlled by a human from within.
Set design and costumes for the show were contemporary yet also conveyed a hint of rock and roll and gave a nod toward 1960’s fashion. The urban, poor neighborhood streets of Skid Row were depicted as run-down, dirty and musky, complete with trash lining the edge of the stage.
Small set pieces, including an old-fashioned cinema front and 1960’s advertisements along the walls of the floral shop, and a few 1960’s costume designs, particularly among the street urchins, stand out among the more modernized elements throughout the show.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is a theatrical classic with comedy horror and musical styles of rock and roll, doo-wop and Motown. The modernized and old-fashioned vision for this performance was entertaining and captivating.
The show, overall, is fun and horrifying, leaving audiences awaiting the fate of the Seymour and his man-eating plant, Audrey II.
Editor’s Note: “Little Shop of Horrors” will be performing at the Allen Theatre in Cleveland Playhouse Square until Feb. 7, 2016.