REVIEW: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at the Parker Arts Center

by Owen Niland

“Man eats plant…” that doesn’t sell tickets, but “Plant eats man…”, now that will get butts in seats!  Or, after 18 months of cancelled shows, shuttered venues, virtual performances, and Zoom concerts, so hopes PACE Center and Sasquatch as they mount their first live post-pandemic show, Little Shop of Horrors.

Little Shop is the first production I have attended IRL since March of 2020, and words are insufficient to express the gratitude and excitement I felt being in an audience again.  Theatre is a living, breathing, vital animal (or in this case, plant), and nothing compares to the electricity that comes from seeing a production spring to life in front of you.  It is not a feeling I’ll let go of anytime soon.

Directed by Sasquatch Productions’ Kelly McAllister, with Music Direction by Tanner Kelly and Choreography by Heather Westenskow, PACE and Sasquatch have brought together an engaging and thoroughly entertaining production of Little Shop.  

Since Ashman & Menken’s sophomore musical outing (based Roger Corman’s low budget 1960 schlock-horror movie) premiered Off-Broadway nearly 40-years ago, probably more importantly, the 1986 film adaptation, Little Shop has become a stalwart of theaters large and small.  

The story, a thinly veiled allegory for whatever “-ism” suits as the boogeyman of the day, is simple enough: Seymour Krelborn (Chase Conlin), the downtrodden orphan toiling in Mr. Mushnik’s (Carter Edward Smith) skid row flower shop, pines for vacuous & voluptuous Audrey (Brekken Baker), discovers a “strange and unusual plant” he dubs Audrey II (Moses Brown, voice; Maggie Ortiz, puppeteer), and fame, fortune and homicide ensue.  Add in the trio of Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (Sonsharae Tull, Camryn Nailah Torres and Eli Harvey, respectively) as skid row’s version of a Greek chorus, the demented dentist Orin Scrivello (August Stoten), and you have the recipe for a wild night.

McAllister and company have pulled together a spry mounting of Little Shop, with Stoten pulling double duty as scenic designer and actor, the team uses PACE’s large stage to house the set pieces for the Mushnick flower shop, Scrivello’s dentist office, the stoops and streets of skid row, as well as conductor Trent Hines’ five person orchestra.  As the show progresses and the dreaded plant grows in stature (with puppets provided by Matthew McAvene Creations), we get a sense of the magic and stagecraft that makes Little Shop such a crowd pleaser.  

Westenskow’s choreography makes full use of the stage and sets, bringing some robust dance to a show that is generally more musical staging than acrobatics.  Conlin, an accomplished dancer, especially livens up his Seymour with some very impressive leaps in his solo numbers.

The cast is well suited to the show, bringing a lively passion to their little world.  Conlin and Baker’s young lovers’ palpable desperation to escape the skid row helps to ground the outlandish story, Stoten is appropriately over-the-top in his delight to inflict pain, and Brown’s delightfully outrageous voice brings the malevolence of the oversized flytrap to life.  Additionally, the various incidental characters, picked up by Ortiz and ensemble cast members Ruth “Dolly” Ortiz and Jason Bell were each fun and thought out, whose manners helped maintain the camp and humor as the show rolled on.

Although a strong production, I was left wanting for a little extra from the execution of the production – the lighting design and technical elements of the show were a little muted; I would have enjoyed some dazzle to highlight the campy sci-fi aspect of the story, especially at the finale.  In addition, the sound mix for the skid row girls and some of the full cast numbers seemed off the night I attended, which certainly could have been simply a one-night tech issue.

All-in, PACE and Sasquatch have brought together a thoroughly entertaining night and a welcome treat as we venture back to the theater after our long pandemic-pause at home. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is delighting audiences now through July 18th. For tickets or more information contact the PACE boss office by calling 303-805-6800 or online at Parkerarts.org

 

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