Looking for something spooky and fun and theatre-ish to do this weekend?
Of all the shows to see the week leading up to Halloween, I’d say one of the best is Little Shop of Horrors. It’s the perfect mixture of morbid and sweet. And Kennedy Center’s Broadway Centerstage production of it is a wonderful interpretation of the off-the-wall classic.
The show, which originally ran off-Broadway in the early 1980s tells the story of a man-eating plant whose only desire is to take over the world. Along the way, there’s murder, a sadistic dentist, and a love story. If that all sounds a little odd, it’s because it is -- but in the best way possible.
The Kennedy Center’s production plays up these odd-ball moments for laughs and chills, which work wonderfully because of the fantastic cast they’ve lined up. Portraying Seymour, the nebbish botanist whose work with plant seeds leads to the birth of a homicidal Venus Flytrap, is the perfectly cast Josh Radnor. Radnor plays up Seymour’s nervous twitches, and his costume of suspenders and over-sized glasses really sells the part. He and the fabulously talented Megan Hilty, as Audrey, have adorably sweet chemistry. Hilty’s a powerhouse of a singer, and her “Suddenly, Seymour” was a highlight of the show. She and Radnor both sang the well-known song beautifully.
Playing Mr. Mushnick, the owner of the flower shop where Seymour and Audrey both work, is Lee Wilkof. Wilkof played Seymour in the original Off-Broadway production. It’s fun to see him back in the world of Little Shop. Wilkof is given a few of the best lines of the evening. He may be a terrible human being, treating Seymour with little respect, but Wilkof seems to relish those disdainful moments, milking each insult for every laugh.
Memorable for anyone who has seen the movie based on the musical is the "dentist" character played by a very young Steve Martin. In KC’s production, this sadistic, insane, and possibly psychopathic character is played by Nick Cordero. Again, though the dentist is a truly horrible person, Cordero has a ball making the audience squirm. Cordero’s dentist is big and loud and commands the stage when he’s in the spotlight. The contrast between the nerdy Seymour and the evil dentist made for great chemistry between Cordero and Radnor.
Finally, of course, there’s the plant -- the axis on which the plot of horrors spins. Filling in for James Monroe Iglehart, who stepped out of the production for personal reasons earlier in the week, Michael James Leslie embodies Audrey II. Leslie originated the voice of Audrey II in the Off-Broadway production. As bummed as I was to miss Iglehart in the role, I was sold on Leslie the moment Audrey II appears on stage. I’m trying to give as little away as possible about the role because the fun of this show is seeing how the creatives design the giant plant. But know this, Leslie’s deep baritone voice and tall stature allow Audrey II to strike a commanding presence on stage. On top of that, Leslie plays the part with a twinkle in his eye, nailing all the best “bad-guy” lines. Acting as the narrators, backup singers, and plant assistants, the talented Amber Iman, Amma Osei, and Allison Semmes round out this stellar cast.
In addition to the fantastic casting KC has amassed for the Broadway Centerstage productions, they’ve also mastered the art of doing a lot with very little set décor. Because the productions run for only one week, the set designers don’t create large set pieces. They rely on projections and small moving objects. In the case of Little Shop, set on “Skid Row,” the projections of graffitied brick walls and dilapidated storefronts set the scene from the moment the curtain rises. Add to that the trashcans and city stoops, and you’ve got a stage set squarely on the wrong side of the tracks. A few tables with some flowers, some rotary phones, and a worse-for-the-wear store sign, and you’re suddenly in Mushnick’s florist. It’s a creative way to see a show -- focusing on actors’ performances rather than relying on fancy stage elements.
For any fan of horror and musicals, KC’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is the perfect show. The performances of the cast, in addition to the creative way the story is told makes this old classic seem new and anything but horrific.
Little Shop of Horrors plays the Kennedy Center through October 28, 2018. Find tickets here.
Have you seen the KC production of Little Shop? What did you think? Tell us in the comments.