Reviewed by Katherine Damisch
For those of you who don’t know, Little Shop of Horrors is a 1982 musical about a murderous plant. Yes, really. The plant, called Audrey II, is created and fed by feeble Seymour, played at American Blues by Michael Maher, who is very reminiscent of Producers-era Matthew Broderick. As Audrey II grows, so do Seymour’s fame and the plant’s appetite for blood, and soon, Seymour is backed into a corner. This parody of sci-fi B-movies asks us: how far are we willing to go to keep success alive? Are we willing to do what it takes, even at the expense of morality?
On the surface, there is little amiss in this production. The cast is well-chosen and, for the most part, fit very well into each role, large or small. The music includes such classics as “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly, Seymour”. The set fits very nicely into American Blues’s own little “shop” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The space was well-used and never felt cramped. In fact, when Audrey II’s final form is revealed, it is amazing what this impressive team is able to accomplish. The designs of the lighting and costumes also serve to highlight the grimy world of Skid Row.
But how is a modern audience supposed to feel about the shadier elements of the script? The terrors of domestic violence are frequently reduced to a punchline. To be fair, though, director Jonathan Berry did what he could to mitigate the revulsion; Ian Paul Custer’s interpretation of the dentist is far more goofy than menacing. Still, the jokes are no less cringe-worthy. The only characters of color (mainly the Urchins and the voice of Audrey II), while extremely well-sung, are pushed to the background of the action. Mr. Mushnik, the Jewish owner of the flower shop, is so frazzled and coarse that he can come off as hateful (though expertly portrayed by veteran actor Mark David Kaplan).
Yes, Little Shop is a campy thriller, but those distasteful elements make this horror story even uglier. This is not to say the production lacks merit, far from it. But when a show is problematic enough to hinder potential enjoyment, it loses some of its usefulness, especially when that show is a comedy. Our society has hopefully come far enough that joking about abusive boyfriends is no longer acceptable.