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Off-Broadway Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Westside Theatre (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)

Off-Broadway Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Westside Theatre (Through Sunday January 19, 2020)
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Michael Mayer
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The most recent revival of “Little Shop of Horrors” by the musical theatre team Howard Ashman and Alan Menken surely proves to be timeless and timely. The musical numbers still seem to linger in your head long after you leave the theater just as they did when the show first opened off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre in 1982. The plot revolves around Seymour (a delightfully evil Jonathan Groff) a nerdy florist who discovers a weird tropical plant during a total eclipse of the sun and names it Audrey 2 after his co-worker in the flower shop Audrey (a pathetic Tammy Blanchard), whom he has a crush on. He learns the plant only feeds on human blood, so he complies with the plants demands, murdering characters one by one and feeding them to Audrey 2 in order to allow the plant to grow and achieve fame and fortune for both plant and owner. All this is done to win Audrey’s heart and to make her simple American Dream come true.

All the elements that made this musical so successful remain, but what seems to be missing is the down and out, dirty, grimy feel of its characters on skid row. Although it addresses so many difficult issues that are even more relevant in today’s socio-political atmosphere, it does so through a sort of obscure tinted lens. There is the weak orphan who is manipulated and taken advantage of; the battered woman who cannot leave her abuser; the homeless street people; greed, power, violence and the American Dream gone haywire. All these topics are front and center, but the evil, emotional trauma and immorality has been stripped away leaving everything clean and shiny as if to say there is nothing wrong here, everything is just fine. There is no contrast between the physical presence and depth of the characters and the beautiful music and satirical lyrics they sing, to provide the jolt needed to drive the message home as you are distracted by the brilliant performances. To simplify, it looks like Disney, a fantasized vision of reality, all squeaky clean. Even the street urchins who act as the Greek chorus are coiffed and fashionable as they collect money for giving directions and comment on the action in true doo wop form.

The stellar cast is more than competent but seems to have succumbed to the heavy handed, muddled and indistinct direction of Michael Mayer. Mr. Groff is delightful to watch but lacks the depth of an emotionally scarred introvert coerced into committing evil acts to attain love and approval. As always, his vocals are a gift to cherish. Ms. Blanchard delivers an Audrey that is the closest to reality but in contrast to the other characters, she appears to be out of place in a rather cartoonish environment. Christian Borle is absolutely hysterical as Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, the menacing, sadistic dentist, Orin and every other character he portrays. Although all the characters he depicts are exaggerated stereotypes, they could have and should have been a source of fantasy and comic relief, but rather appear as parts of the assembly of caricatures, therefore loosing part of the impact. Mr. Borle is a joy to watch implementing his impeccable comic timing and executing his quick changes with ease. Tom Alan Robbins is fully capable as Mushnik the owner of the flower shop but produces a pedestrian character that lacks any intrigue.

Even with the fore mentioned problems this production manages to provide a good evening of entertainment mostly due to the book, lyrics and music of a legendary team of musical theatre aficionados. The fact that it diminishes some horrid social issues that are so relevant today may provide a pleasant escape and a chance to experience the talent of some remarkable Broadway stars.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

The cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” includes Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Christopher Borle, Tom Alan Robbins, Kingsley Leggs, Ari Groover, Salome Smith, Joy Woods, Stephen Berger, Chris Dwan, Kris Roberts, Chelsea Turbin, Eric Wright, and Teddy Yudain.

The creative team for “Little Shop of Horrors” includes Scenic Designer Julian Crouch; Lighting Designer Bradley King; Costume Designer Tom Broecker; Sound Designer Jessica Paz; Puppet Designer Nicholas Mahon; Puppets by Monkey Boys Productions; and Music Supervisor, Orchestrator and Arranger Will Van Dyke. Casting is by Jim Carnahan, CSA, and General Management is by Live Wire Theatrical/ Chris Aniello.

“Little Shop of Horrors” runs at the Westside Theatre (407 West 43rd Street) through Sunday, January 19 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7:00 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 800-432-7250, and at the box office. For further information, visit www.LittleShopNYC.com. Running time is 2 hours including one intermission.

Photo: Jonathan Groff and Tammy Blanchard in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Credit: Emilio Madrid-Kuser.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, October 18, 2019