If you love musical theater and your companion most certainly does not, try dragging them to see Asheville Community Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. This show contains exactly what many who do not enjoy musical theater so often miss—darkly comedic plotlines, absurdity and an over-the-top campy aesthetic that is hard to resist. Though ACT is strictly community theater, it is community theater at its best, with seasoned performers working under careful direction on a beautifully designed stage, wowing their neighbors with their secret talents.
Little Shop of Horrors, the hit Off-Broadway musical of the early 1980s (later a feature film, albeit with a strikingly different ending) is structured around the discovery by Seymour, an orphaned flower shop employee, of a “strange and interesting plant.”
Mushnik’s Flower Shop, where Seymour and the source of his romantic longing, Audrey, work, has fallen on hard times at its less than optimal location on Skid Row. However, with Seymour’s discovery, the flower shop soon becomes a hotbed of activity, all centered around the unusual plant perched in the window. Yet the plant fails to thrive, and eventually Seymour discovers the only thing it wants is human blood.
Audrey II, as Seymour names the plant, begins to flourish off of Seymour’s pricked fingers, and so does the shop. But what Seymour really wants is to be with Audrey, who is busy being abused by her sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin. As Seymour’s fingers start to run out of blood, the plant sprouts a sassy R&B singing voice and demands food on a more substantial level. The remainder of the show follows Seymour’s struggle to satisfy the needs of the plant in order to get all of his heart’s desires, including Audrey, while dealing with the moral implications of what that requires.
The music style is firmly rooted in doo-wop and Motown, making the show sound familiar and comfortable to anyone who has ever had the radio tuned to an oldies station. Michael Sheldon and Kelly Christianson, who play Seymour and Audrey, are both capable actors and singers and do a solid job carrying the audience through the story. However, neither of them truly inhabit their roles, both physically and emotionally; one can’t help but feel that they are being somewhat timid in their performances. Yet this was opening night, so perhaps both actors will find their footing and begin to really discover their roles in the upcoming weekends.
Cody Magouirk, playing Orin the dentist, sets the best example of truly committing to a role, and his magnetic energy onstage is a pleasure to watch. The ensemble as a whole is strong, but the three women who serve as the singing trio of narrators become the backbone of the play. Monica Baumberger, Katie Cilluffo, Georgette Tyner and their harmonies carry the audience throughout the show, and their energy never seems to flag.
Jack Lindsay’s set design is wonderfully executed and fills the stage with a comic book version of Skid Row. Mark Jones clarifies in his director’s notes that he was purposely going for a 3-D comic book feel, and also notes that he wanted to “make a live onstage comic book that was not only about a man-eating plant, but was appropriate for children.” Considering this show deals with scenes of dismembered limbs being fed to a plant and a running joke about Audrey’s abusive boyfriend using handcuffs on every date, it’s a bit of a leap to intend for a comic- style set dressing to make this show appropriate for kids. In every other respect, however, Jones’ direction is clear, uncluttered and purposeful, and brings this show to life.
For the musical theatre lover and hater alike, ACT’s current production has the potential to delight. If the idea of murderous bloodthirsty plants and sadistic dentists singing piques your interest, Little Shop of Horrors runs at ACT until May 16.
Little Shop of Horrors. Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman, Music by Alan Menken. Directed by Mark Jones. Musical Direction by Gary Mitchell. On the main stage through May 16. Performances Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m.