Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at Ray of Light Theatre

Little Shop of Horrors is a…..

Hold on.

Stop reading this review.

Go buy your tickets to go see this show. You will not regret it. Hell, buy tickets to see it twice.

Go here to buy them (it plays in San Francisco until October 8th), then come back and finish reading this.

Have you done it yet? I’ll wait…

Done? Okay, so now…

Ray of Light Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is two hours of nonstop fun. Whether you’re a longtime fan of the show, have a vague memory of the movie, or are completely unfamiliar with the material, you will have an absolute blast. With a fabulous 10-person cast and a crackling energy that is infectious, the material’s weaker points become irrelevant when you’re having as good of a time as you are at this show.

From the moment that Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon burst onstage to sing that ridiculously catchy title number, you know you are in for something special. Yes, the trio sings with gusto and vocal bravado and the band has a fantastic sense of rhythm, but there’s something else at play here too. It’s the genuine joy with which this entire production is mounted, causing every single moment to feel effortless and lighter than air.

For those who don’t know the story, it involves a run-down flower shop on “Skid Row”, a fictional slum in an unnamed urban area. The flower shop, owned by a Mr. Mushnik, is about to close forever due to terrible business when Seymour, a klutzy employee places a very ‘strange and interesting’ plant that resembles a flytrap in the window. Named the Audrey II after the flower shop’s other employee, a ditzy blonde who Seymour has a crush on, the plant stimulates business, but is only able to survive on a certain iron-rich liquid that can be found in the veins of humans. Soon it is revealed that the Audrey II may be more than just a plant, but as the plant begins positively affecting change in Seymour’s life, there might be more of an incentive to continue feeding the plant than to follow his conscience.

The show is more known for the 1986 film directed by Frank Oz, but it works a lot better onstage, mostly due to the small scale necessary to present the live show, as well as a much better finale (though the movie and the musical originally featured the same ending, and the original film finale is available online and with the Blu Ray copy of the film). Little Shop of Horrors has a great first act and a great second act, but they don’t necessarily mesh together perfectly. Both acts have their own unique tone, but there’s no transition between the two acts, merely an intermission. As a result, the show is more fun moment-by-moment than it is high quality upon reflection, but thankfully there’s quite a few laughs and a great score by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Written in the Motown style, the score features a great deal of pep and features predictably creative lyrics by the late great Ashman and a sense of melodic creativity that Menken would never again demonstrate in his rather banal scores to such movies as Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast.

As Seymour, Sam Faustine is absolutely wonderful. Those familiar with his wonderful choral and classical work will be especially surprised by his remarkable ability to sing popular music, and he gives off a perfect sense of awkward charm to make the role really work. Unlike more well-known interpretations of the role like Rick Moranis’s, his Seymour never feels like a cartoon, but is instead grounded in a sense of reality. Mary Kalita takes a similar approach to Audrey, ditching the typical campy New York accent in favor of something more emotionally true. It allows for their romance to feel more palpable and for the show to actually gain a feeling of weight; you won’t hear more touching renditions of “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly Seymour” than the ones presented at Ray of Light. Tim Hart is a wonderfully brash Mushnik, Jessica Corker plays the role of Audrey II with gleeful ferocity and vocal panache, and Jacqueline Dennis, Phaedra Johnson, and Katrina McGraw are fabulously fun as the trio of street urchins/Motown girl group.

It’s hard to imagine a more enjoyable production of this well-loved musical than the one currently playing in San Francisco. Even people who aren’t regular theatergoers will find much to love in this sparkling production.

Little Shop of Horrors plays until October 8th at the Victoria Theatre, San Francisco. Information and tickets are available here.

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