Little Shop of Horrors (Musical) - Halloween Review
Do you ever recall that sweet sound that stays in your head forever? The kind where it conveys that precious ring in your ear, whose vibrations sift throughout your head and leave you swept off your feet with the level of complexion they express every time it’s audibly noticeable?
I recall such noises whenever I listen to or even think of the musical Little Shop of Horrors.
Let’s jump into the story first. Set in a dingy, downtrodden neighborhood in New York City called Skid Row, a young, nerdy man with glasses named Seymour Krelborn worked in a struggling florist shop, Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists, alongside his fellow coworker, Audrey, and under his unorthodox employer, Mr. Mushnik. The shop was on the brink of folding when Seymour proposed to Mushnik that they revitalize it with a so-called ‘strange and interesting plant’ that he found: a plant that resembled a Venus flytrap and which Seymour decided to nickname Audrey II, after his coworker. To their surprise, once Seymour displayed it on the front window, it became an instant hit. Many customers walked in intrigued by the plant Seymour found, leading to the shop’s most plentiful, bountiful sales they’ve had in probably a long time.
There’s a catch, however. After trying and failing to keep the plant healthy with water and whatever other minerals Seymour could’ve gathered, Seymour discovered that the plant was alive and moving and had a most off-putting appetite: it lived off human blood. Once Seymour caught on to this, he willingly fed it what it craved at the cost of his blood supply, and in doing so, the plant continued to grow bigger and bigger, leading to the once-forgotten Mushnik’s now gradually regaining attention and more flourishing business than ever.
After a while, the now-dizzy Seymour could have barely kept himself healthy without succumbing to blood loss because of Audrey II’s hunger. Then, suddenly, Audrey II started talking. Of course, what Seymour discovered of Audrey II once he started speaking to him took on a whole other purpose. Audrey II was aware of the attention he brought to Mushnik’s shop and was willing to repay Seymour with whatever he desired. So, what did the plant propose Seymour do for him because of Seymour’s blood loss?
Well, it involved Seymour’s coworker, Audrey, because he had a longtime crush on her but was too meek to admit it to her. Not only that, but Audrey already had a boyfriend, but not the kind that someone like her deserved. Her boyfriend happened to be a psychotic dentist with a twisted sense of treatment for his patients, plus his worrisome ways of tormenting and beating poor Audrey down. It’s clearly shown when she came to work with a black eye one day and her arm in a cast in another. For this reason, and because Audrey II grew so large that it would no longer have lived off of Seymour’s blood droplets alone, Seymour got a sliver of an idea of how to keep Audrey II satiated, as he suggested earlier.
What’s Seymour to do? And what would’ve happened to him and Audrey II as he continued to do the plant’s will?
Before I get into specifics regarding the musical, I must mention that unlike the rest of the musicals and plays I reviewed, where I critiqued both the contents of the production and its local elements – down to the location in which it was performed and its actors – here, I might be addressing the musical more than I would its location. That’s because I have seen this musical twice so far: the first time eleven years ago in the Greer Garson Theater at what used to be the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and the second time just recently at the Magic Circle Players Theater in Montrose, where I had also seen Fiddler on the Roof and Amadeus.
And frankly, I don’t want to compare the two productions since I understand that the level of greatness to be evaluated in the performances and set pieces depends entirely on the size and scale of the theater in which it’s performed and its location. Of course, knowing that each theatrical production has varying qualities, I still can’t pass up the opportunity to mention them, if for no other reason than to demonstrate the physical versatility of the musical and its components.
Returning to the musical, let’s look at what gave it a widespread, potentially deserved reputation. Originally, Little Shop of Horrors was based on a small B-movie released in 1960. Shot with a budget of only $28,000, this film used recycled sets to tell the story of a young, timid man feeding a hungry plant blood to keep it healthy. Despite its relatively minuscule presentation, its oddball premise and cheap-ish effects and props nonetheless lent it its reputation as an underground classic.
When adapted into a musical, it carried the same storyline while being amplified with its musical numbers, a more potent focus on its grittier elements, a heightened sense of conflict, and a more colorful palette to highlight the more elaborate or murkier locations visited throughout the musical.
It started small when it premiered off-off Broadway in 1982 at the WPA Theater in New York City. Later that same year, it went up to being played off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theater, and the musical became a widespread sensation, dazzling and spooking its audiences with its tunes and message. Then, ultimately, after its reputation blossomed, so to speak, Little Shop of Horrors reached Broadway itself in 2003, becoming a sensation all over again. Talk about the little musical that could!
Now, what was it about the musical that became such a sensation to so many people?
Let’s look at the characters first.
Seymour Krelborn, the hero of the story, was a generally meek guy who you’d be quick to identify as a slightly awkward but clumsy young man. But when he witnessed Audrey II suddenly provide extra business for Mushnik’s, he thought he stumbled into a streak of good luck. However, as he continually tried to keep Audrey II healthy and happy, his further collaborations with him only put him into a deeper pickle than he bargained for. So, for all of Seymour’s humility and innocence, if any, Seymour was also easily manipulated and prone to go through extreme measures to keep Audrey II well-fed and, as Audrey II insisted, keep Audrey herself happy. Even if he started questioning or doubting Audrey II’s legibility and whether to abide under his rule of thumb any longer, he still gave in to the plant’s increasingly barbaric methods. Sometimes, even without the plant, he’s been thoughtless, too. For instance, he showed Audrey his ‘new jacket’ to wear when it was technically Orin’s black jacket that he took from him after he chopped him up, and this triggered Audrey a little since she was still reeling from Orin’s disappearance. So, it sets him apart from the audience, who can already tell he isn’t perfect and might be performing some tasks he shouldn’t be doing. And once his actions started to come back to bite him, you’d feel sorry for him but also understand why so much hurt, anarchy, and chaos came about to him and those he cared about. This character’s general clumsiness tossed in some endearing qualities to him, but his progressively unscrupulous methods and actions taken on Audrey II’s behalf added complexity to his character, thus making him an even more compelling figure whose heart was in the right place despite his methods of action not always being on point.
His employer, Mr. Mushnik, seemed like a gruff guy, and not helping matters was how he generally treated poor Seymour. He had his moments of empathy, like with Audrey when her boyfriend gave her bruises – and with Seymour, too – but his general demeanor was not always the rosiest there was. Despite taking Seymour in, he mainly had him work his butt off, making his guardianship over Seymour come across as more negligent instead. As Seymour put it about how he treated him throughout his life:
Seymour: I owe him everything. He took me out of the Skid Row Home for Boys when I was just a little tyke. Gave me a warm place to sleep – under the counter – nice things to eat like meatloaf and water, floors to sweep, toilets to clean, and every other Sunday off.
As far as his florist shop was concerned, that’s where his flaws were most apparent. When his shop was on the brink of closing, he lamented its current condition and contemplated closing it off for good after getting almost no customers. But as Mushnik was over the moon about Audrey II giving his shop more business than ever, he proposed to adopt Seymour and make him his legitimate son/business partner. But was it out of any shred of closeness he felt with Seymour?
It stemmed more from the sudden profits Audrey II helped rake in from his customers. Given how close he was to closing his shop, I started to understand where he was coming from, but I also felt uncomfortable about how Mushnik ‘looked after’ Seymour before and after the financial gains he received because of Audrey II were within eyesight.
And when Mushnik caught wind of Seymour’s victimization of Audrey’s boyfriend and noticed bloodstains on the floor and ground, instead of asking and questioning Seymour about it as any reasonable father figure might have, he instantly accused him of his murderous tendencies. He attempted to turn him into the police despite expressing slight concern and hesitation. Regardless, it’s clear he was mostly in it for the money, making him far from an ideal employer or father figure to someone like Seymour.
Seymour’s coworker, Audrey, was a generally ditzy but considerate and regrettably helpless woman. If you thought Seymour was down on his luck, she had a constant streak of bad luck falling on her lap. No matter what happened to her, she always put up with whatever misfortune came her way with either indifference or just a simple tolerance since she didn’t feel like she deserved any more than what she had or had to put up with, even if Seymour would’ve begged to differ. Audrey lived most of her life as a prostitute in The Gutter, as she told Seymour eventually. So, Audrey would’ve dealt with multiple guys who were after her. But when she started dating the next character I’ll address soon and see what effects this had on her, I looked at her like I wanted to help her, just as Seymour wanted to do. But once Seymour took the measures to do so, only then would I be left wondering whether there would’ve been any healthier, better ways to help Audrey out of her predicaments if any could’ve been found. I can’t help but feel sorry for her, even when she’s not always the brightest of bulbs.
As for her boyfriend, Orin Scrivello DDS… simply put, he was just a maniac. While he took his professionalism as a dentist with pride, he expressed such equal glee over the torturous activities he inflicted on his patients with his more unorthodox, unprofessional methods. I was weirded out and disturbed enough by his treatment of his patients as a dentist, but it was his treatment of Audrey as a boyfriend where I knew he was trouble. When Audrey started dating him, she thought she had found the right match, given his career, position, and moneymaking capabilities. But that only made things bleaker for Audrey, for he constantly abused her and ordered her around like a dog. Outside of that, of course, Orin also tended to get off on nitrous oxide, which, back in the day, he was usually supposed to use on his patients. Instead, he lived off them, thinking it gave him the utmost pleasure whenever he enacted pain onto his patients, so it was like a borderline drug for him.
As for the plant himself, Audrey II, he – or is it ‘she’? I honestly can’t tell – was just a jiving, fast-talking, and appropriately enough, theatrical character. His manners of speaking and methods with which to entice Seymour lent him a reputation as a plant with sass, never minding the more devious measures he took to exercise them. His attitude remained the same throughout the musical, outside of expressing a dirtier mouth as he grew and how his hunger grew with him. His mannerisms were such that you’d enjoy watching him in song or do his thing but also feel more on alert or worried when his influence and manipulations started to take hold and unleash more havoc for the characters than they ever anticipated, like it was all going according to plan for Audrey II.
The three storytellers of the musical, Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon, were savvy, energetic girls who jazzed up the musical in terms of telling the story or commenting upon the conditions a-brewing. They sang the songs and told the story to the audience. Sometimes, they played a part in the musical, such as when they were general street urchins living in Skid Row, running into the main characters and talking with them occasionally. So, it made them feel more like the Greek chorus of the piece, and they were just an upbeat trio to spice up the musical.
But that’s not the only thing to write home about regarding the musical. The themes and style of this musical carried an early-60s tempo beat that reflected the original Little Shop of Horrors’ release year, but this rendition of the story amped the early ’60s vibe with musical styles that hearkened back to that era. The narrators of this musical were even named Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon, after the music bands The Crystals, The Ronettes, and the Chiffons. To me, that added a distinct flavoring to this otherwise unhealthy, almost morbid musical about the unspeakable horrors lurking underneath your nose.
While Little Shop of Horrors feels like another alien invasion story, at its core, it turned out to be a generally potent tragedy. You have Seymour Krelborn, who was down his luck and trying to either escape Skid Row or tell Audrey that he loved her. But because of his intimidation, his hesitation to tell Audrey, and the fact that she wouldn’t have admitted that she was horsed around too much by Orin Scrivello, Seymour took drastic measures in the hopes of winning Audrey over, plus remaining successful in his efforts because of him keeping Audrey II alive. However, as the audience caught on, and as Seymour learned too late, fame and success aren’t the keys to winning a girl’s heart, for Audrey did love Seymour all along but was uncertain to tell him so because of both her devotion to Orin and her belief that she didn’t deserve nice guys like Seymour. So, the circumstances before and after Audrey II came into the picture shaped and influenced the characters’ improper decisions because they believed they would’ve been the answer to their problems when, really, all they did was amplify them or take them in directions they never meant to take them. So, this was a pure morality play on the main characters, which is why certain aspects of their decision-making showcased how much harm that could do to those making such decisions. For Audrey, it was a hesitation to admit her conditions and feelings. While that’s the case with Seymour, his main problem stemmed more from making morally sketchy actions under the impression that those would’ve helped tell Audrey how he felt about her when that was far from the case. When they caught on this, Seymour’s actions’ consequences came down on them hard, culminating in Seymour being the final victim in the show to end up in Audrey II’s belly. These even helped the musical embody some of the horror elements that such stories as this would’ve entailed. So, for all that the musical is, whether it was relating to what was popular in the 60s or just another flashy, bouncy, darkly humorous musical, its human dilemmas and moral storytelling were put forth in the spotlight and helped elevate this musical into something special and meaningful.
My God. Where do I begin with these?
For those who don’t know, this was one of composer Alan Menken’s earliest and most successful ventures into musical theater, and he had done so while collaborating with his friend and co-partner, Howard Ashman, whose hand in writing the lyrics of the songs and the story and dialogue of the musical were just ingenious. His wordplay, rhyme schemes, and the constant fluidity of his prose were pure, literal works of art to me. On top of that, this was Menken and Ashman’s first significant collaboration before they eventually joined Disney to pen the songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and even a good portion of Aladdin. Unfortunately, Howard Ashman died of AIDS before he could finish all the songs for Aladdin, so Menken took care of the rest with Tim Rice. So, having been firmly acquainted with the tunes in all those movies, I felt the same musical glories and richness shining through in the tunes from this musical, too. Half of these served as character exposition songs, which made them feel and sound more marvelous.
The first song, the titular song, provided just the proper introduction for a musical filled with 60s-inspired pop themes, complete with a dark, lurking stream of suspicion brewing about. The song, sung by the Greek chorus, provided the bouncy attitude necessary to transport us back into a time when such music of this genre was potentially everywhere. At the same time, the lyrics, though still catchy, clued us into the sneaky, underhanded, suspicious occurrences that were about to creep up throughout the musical.
‘Skid Row,’ while still thriving on some of its upbeat nature and passionate urges, expressed a more frustrated notion as all the residents of Skid Row, including Audrey and Seymour, complained about the horrid conditions apparent throughout such a rundown neighborhood to a point where anyone living there would rather have been anywhere but there. As Seymour sang his verses in this song, he also shed light upon his background, part of which tied into his rejection of Skid Row.
‘Da-Doo’ was a catchy tune with the background vocals being provided by the Greek chorus as Seymour explained how he found Audrey II. The origins surrounding Seymour and Audrey II crossing paths carried enough whimsy to demonstrate it lightheartedly. However, the implications concerning how Audrey II made its noticeable entrance slightly touched upon what kind of ‘strange and interesting plant’ Audrey II really was.
‘Grow for Me,’ the song Seymour sang as he tended to Audrey II, conveyed all the right meekness and soft desperation as Seymour pleaded with Audrey II to grow after it continued to wilt, even if, little did Seymour know, that it was due to lack of blood. Plus, this was where Seymour discovered his thirst for blood, and it only added a touch of triumph to the song as it reached its climactic finish.
By the time the audience got to know Audrey more, what she desired out of life could be best expressed in her signature song, ‘Somewhere That’s Green.’ It was a very heavenly and pretty cute song about Audrey’s desire to live in a simpler, more pleasant household. At least, compared to how she lived in Skid Row. Of course, given what she wanted compared to what the average American did in the early ’60s, it did seem rather simplistic. Plus, her ideas of accommodations and entertainment felt a little, let’s face it, behind the times; they felt more like something right out of the 1950s than the early 1960s. Instead of watching I Love Lucy like she imagined watching, I could see her watching The Dick Van Dyke Show. And instead of the kids watching Howdy Doody, I could see them watching something like Rocky and Bullwinkle. And instead of a 12” screen TV, I could see them enjoying a color TV. But who am I kidding? If I was enduring a miserable life with a horrible date and living in a hellhole like Skid Row, I think anything and anywhere would’ve been better than this.
However, because of Seymour’s actions, Audrey ended up becoming one of Audrey II’s victims, and as she neared death, she sang a reprise of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ that shed light on what she now wanted and asked Seymour to arrange on her behalf. The idea of something like ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ now taking on such a profoundly tragic turn of events with this reprise made it sound most disheartening.
‘Dentist’ also did an excellent job of unveiling the character’s motivations for us, just like what ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ did for Audrey. In this case, it’s for Orin Scrivello, DDS. When I heard him tell what he had done throughout his childhood and why he chose his profession – part of which involved encouragement from his late mother – it only added to the sadism and collective wackiness that this character expressed throughout the musical. It helped shed some light on the insanity that’s to be expected out of a character as demented as Orin.
‘Feed Me (Git It)’ felt like a character-exposing song, too, although one that fits Audrey II. Once he talked, he got Seymour in the know about his capabilities, what he plotted to arrange for Seymour’s benefits, and that Audrey II could’ve provided anything Seymour wanted if he kept him well-fed. It started lively, if also a little suspicious, before gradually taking a more morbid turn as Seymour and Audrey II came to a mutual understanding of what Audrey II could do for Seymour when he saw Orin beating up poor Audrey once again.
‘Suppertime,’ the next song Audrey II sang, carried a more sinister, suspenseful tone, as Seymour was on the verge of being turned into the police by Mushnik before Seymour eventually led him to his demise awaiting him inside the hungry Audrey II’s jaws. The suspense throughout the song was on-point, and the general tone it exhibited throughout the piece as Seymour discreetly made dinner out of Mushnik for Audrey II perfectly encapsulated all the uncertainties, nervousness, and conflicted nature apparent from Seymour as he did Audrey II’s bidding. It also highlighted Audrey II’s more predatory instincts as he awaited his next victim to lurk closer to him, especially as Audrey got closer to him during its reprise.
‘Suddenly, Seymour’ left me swooning over Seymour and Audrey as they, too, came to a mutual understanding about each other’s feelings. The amount of heart and soul put into the performances as both Seymour and Audrey came clean about how they felt for the other was rhythmic, upbeat, and soaked in the pure romantic ethos that accompanied Seymour and Audrey throughout the musical.
‘The Meek Shall Inherit,’ at first, started pretty whimsically, with Seymour being approached by one interested representative after the next as they all expressed their offers to Seymour in an uncomfortably sensual way. Then, the rest of the song was a prime guilty conscience song that reflected the inner demons Seymour had to confront because of his continuous deeds with Audrey II and the guilt mounting inside him because of that. At first, Seymour pulled himself through to try to stop himself and Audrey II dead in their tracks. But he backtracked when he feared that Audrey wouldn’t have fallen in love with him if that were to happen, even though, as Audrey said in ‘Somewhere That’s Green,’ that’s not the case. It only added to the tragedy of the piece, as Seymour was willing to do anything it took to keep the plant well-fed and his business financially afloat if it meant keeping his girlfriend happy, amplifying his insecurities given the circumstances he found himself in.
‘Mushnik and Son,’ sung by Mushnik and Seymour, carried the same enthusiastic vibes as the many other songs. It also expressed a great deal of companionship between Mushnik and Seymour, while parts were also laced with a more self-righteous demeanor on Mushnik’s part, which helped this song highlight how he felt about Seymour. It also showcased Seymour’s insecurities, for while he and Mushnik prepared for their adoption papers to be approved, Seymour was hesitant to seize the opportunity he thought this would’ve opened for him.
And finally, the finale song, ‘Don’t Feed the Plants,’ felt almost like a reverse of the opening title song, where it’s the sinister, suspicious vibes that took center stage while its upbeat vibes were now reduced to the song’s undercurrent. It took on a more observant, uproarious demeanor while demonstrating what happened throughout the musical and why the actions enacted were the wrong steps to take. It’s saying that anyone in similar predicaments to what the main characters went through should watch what they’re doing before it gets out of hand and unleashes something far worse than they imagined enduring. Plus, some of the lyrics in the last half of the song felt like a rebuttal against ‘Feed Me (Git It),’ where instead of glamorizing the offers that Audrey II made, this song shot down those ideas and instead warned us against fulfilling those desires. Of course, there is something humorous about the song talking us out of giving in to temptation by saying, ‘Don’t feed the plants,’ as if not feeding any plant life at all would’ve been the answer to our problems. Fantastical allegories aside, however, this song did its job very effectively and made for a rousing concluding number to wrap up the story and musical.
The rest of this review will go back and forth between the two presentations I have seen so far of the musical, so forgive me if this is about to look redundant or all over the place.
To start with, I’m going to talk about the sets. When I saw this musical back at the Greer Garson Theater, the stage it played on was massive and so widespread that the locations for Mushnik’s shop and Orin Scrivello’s dentist’s office possibly shared the stage. That did mean having to turn off the headlights and reposition them to focus on whichever designated spot it sought. However, the staging and scenery still got the job done appropriately, and it helped hone the proper effects and transportation.
When I saw it at the Magic Circle Players theater, the sets were instead portrayed arguably like how the musical’s scenes were meant to be displayed: with Mushnik’s shop on one side of the wall and Orin Scrivello’s dentist’s office on the other side. And for what the Magic Circle Players theater mastered of the sets, they did a remarkable job. When I saw the musical at the Greer Garson Theater, there was a certain grandness to it, mainly thanks to the size of the theater and stage. Outside of Mushnik’s shop and Orin’s dentist’s office, this production also constructed a large portion of Skid Row around them, allowing its players to wander around and strengthen their visual identities as Skid Row residents. Yet, I remember the interior portrayals of Mushnik’s and Orin’s dentist’s office carrying a little too much simplicity. With the Magic Circle Players theater, the sets conveyed the locations just as effectively, with desks, a clock, and a shop sign, with a more unnatural-looking office for Orin. Outside of expressing a certain untidiness with his office, as I can tell from the crooked letters on Orin’s head description, the potential stains and murkiness of his office helped give the proper first impressions. Heck, from the moment the scenery shifted to Orin’s office, we first see Orin working on a poor kid’s mouth until the kid leaped out of his seat and ran past the audience, screaming for mercy. It was crazy to watch, but this would give you an idea of what kind of sicko Orin was.
Plus, both the Greer Garson Theater and the Magic Circle Players Theater honed the illusion of Mushnik’s shop, despite its openness, carrying a seclusion in its position, as all the actors and characters who walked around the shop would potentially have been outside the shop before walking in or out. Like many good stage plays and musicals, Little Shop of Horrors helped demonstrate the illusion in terms of location and setting, and it has done so with Mushnik’s florist shop and Orin’s dentist’s office.
Also, let’s look at the puppetry used throughout the musical. The engineering and craftsmanship put into the puppets that conveyed Audrey II were one of the main reasons the musical became so successful. They helped hone the illusion of the plant having come to life and acting, and maybe reacting, the way it had throughout the stage. Whenever it was small, the plant had to be moved around a little and raised a little to heighten the impression that it could move, yearned for blood, and grew when it had its fill.
And, as the plant matured and became a much larger, more dangerous carnivorous plant, its mouth had to be moved up and down a lot to give off the impression that the plant was talking. I can only imagine how much work it’d have taken for the puppeteers to work their magic on Audrey II, not to mention how crucial it was. I think if one flub happened that made the puppet work differently than how they planned it, it’d potentially throw the experience out of whack. So, potential precision must be exercised on the puppets to demonstrate the plant’s mobility, methods, growth, and overall presence. So, I applaud whatever puppeteer had the fortune, if not the burden, of bringing Audrey II to life as the character should be brought to life. They were among the few artists involved in the musical that played a big part in making the magic come alive.
Before I rack my brain on the actors who participated in the musical, let me start with my experiences with my first viewing of the musical at the Greer Garson Theater.
I’m afraid to say that I don’t recall who among the college students participated in the production I saw of Little Shop of Horrors in SFUAD. Still, there had been some lucky coincidences concerning who I knew who participated in the musical.
Because I was a freshman and still trying to be the outgoing kind of guy when I wasn’t busy with my studies, I was invited by one of my friends to attend a theatrical production he would have participated in. For the sake of anonymity, I’ll mention him only as Malcolm. At first, I thought it was separate from Little Shop of Horrors, which I wanted to see badly, but I was still intent on catching both performances. What I didn’t realize until either during the musical or after it was that Little Shop of Horrors was the theatrical production my friend spoke of that he invited me to attend. Go figure! The theatrical production my friend invited me to see him participate in was the same musical I wanted to see so badly! It couldn’t have played out more perfectly if I tried! He played one of the minor characters in the musical; I’m going to guess it was one of the assistants during the ‘Meek Shall Inherit’ number. Still, it was trippy to think how it all went out as smoothly as it did.
As for the actors who played the main parts in the musical, the actress playing Audrey and the actor playing Orin Scrivello DDS felt like the natural highlights in the musical. They honed their performances to match the ditzy personality of Audrey and the wild and crazy antics of Orin.
The actor playing Seymour displayed a somewhat goofy personality, which was fitting for Seymour’s character. However, I can’t recall whether it subdued or complimented his gradually murderous frenzy when he made meals out of his victims to feed Audrey II.
However, I will say the actor playing Mushnik in this production seemed like he wasn’t anywhere close to being the type of employer Mushnik was supposed to be. I can’t explain it; he didn’t seem to convey the more authoritarian aspects of an employer, especially one who employed both Seymour and Audrey.
Now, the actors who played in the Magic Circle Players Theater? Those will be easy for me to identify, especially since, also serendipitously enough, I recognized some of them from previous productions.
To start, Dalyn Pearson, who, admittedly, I thought was Kenny Easton from Fiddler on the Roof, played Mr. Mushnik, and he nailed it in this role! He captured Mushnik’s frantic tendencies as his store was about to close or when he straddled between keeping busy customers satisfied and putting up with Seymour’s and Audrey’s more insignificant problems. Sometimes, he conveyed some comedic personality to him as well, especially during the ‘Mushnik and Son’ number, and he did a terrific job straddling the fine line between upholding his comedic aspects and displaying his more thoughtless behavior towards Seymour.
But he’s just the first highlight among several I’ll mention here soon.
The actress playing Audrey, Jordyn Fess, I will say, provided a unique take on Audrey…compared to what I’ve seen so far of Little Shop of Horrors in all its incarnations. Every time she played her, she conveyed her with a bit of confidence in her voice and the slight clumsiness she struggled with throughout the musical. At first, I was worried that she portrayed her character as too confident like she played Audrey with her head held high. But I also understand that a performance as Audrey could easily have backfired if she was portrayed as too clumsy and ditzy. Fess managed to convey both personas at just the right amount, and the confidence she gave Audrey arguably helped make her conditions in Skid Row, especially as Orin Scrivello’s girlfriend, a lot more heartbreaking and discouraging.
The next highlight I am also looking forward to discussing is the actor who played Orin, Riley Little. He utterly owned his role in this musical! Whenever I saw him playing his character, he looked like he was having fun with his performance, and in doing so, he made Orin look like the most deranged, mentally unhinged dentist imaginable. Whenever he sucked up his nitrous oxide and gave out his cackling laughter, I could’ve felt he got off on it too much for anyone’s liking. And when I saw him around Audrey or even mentioning her, you could feel his high-and-mighty attitude and how much pain it was inflicting on other people, whether it’s on Audrey herself or especially on his victims, especially the one my girlfriend and I’ve seen running past us away from him. His electrifying performance made me enjoy and despise this character all at once.
The next highlight is Jonathan Heath as Seymour Krelborn. Now, this guy I recognized from Fiddler on the Roof, specifically as Motel. And he conveyed the same meekness quite adequately as Seymour. He displayed Seymour’s uncertainties over his life conditions, especially when it was all thrown out of whack when Audrey II came into the picture. His general clumsiness may have looked a bit too fabricated, but it’s largely overshadowed by his personality and how unsure he felt about his actions and feelings. It all did justice to Seymour’s character, conveying him to a point where I was uncertain whether to feel sorry for him or feel repulsed by his gullibility and foolish actions.
Before I address the other major highlight of the performances, I must mention the actresses who played the Greek chorus: Janel Culver as Ronette, Gabrielle Lewis as Chiffon, and Eliana Masters as Crystal. Much like Jordyn Foss as Audrey, they also provided a more unique take on the characters than what I’m used to so far. They all did a neat job conveying them as street-smart girls with a surefire knowledge of the goings-on in Skid Row, especially with the unhealthy habits concerning Orin. And when they acted as the musical’s narrators, they still displayed their omniscience as only they would’ve conveyed it. Half the time, their voices seemed relatively soft, but they did the job nicely and hit the right notes.
But now, let’s shift our attention to the other major highlight of this performance: Donny Morales as Audrey II.
I never would’ve guessed this, but Donny, a local musician where I live, performed as Audrey II before, and that was when it last played at the Magic Circle Players Theater around 30 years ago. It just blew my mind when I first heard that. Not only was I astounded by the idea of a musical like Little Shop of Horrors having not played in this designated theater for a long time until just recently, but I am also impressed with how the same player who performed a specific role had returned decades later to do it again, even if it was just a voice performance.
And for what he displayed of Audrey II here, he was a total knockout! If anything, he might have perfected it a little. He captured the frivolous activity in Audrey II’s voice as he jive-talked with Seymour about his deepest desires and lured Seymour into his antics in a very sweet-sounding but primarily suspicious and sickly manner. His colorful expressions, so to speak, also contributed to bringing this character to life, and not just the puppetry. And, by the time he sang his musical numbers, I could tell just how good a signer he’d become just from listening to his voice as Audrey II. On top of that, when you hear his laughs, if something like Little’s laughs brought forth the insanity through Orin, Donny’s laughs carried the lively yet sinister vibes that demonstrated what kind of plant we’re dealing with. So, in my book, he nailed it as Audrey II…twice over, I’ll wager!
Of course, outside of the sets and the actors, I have witnessed a few variations that differed between the Greer Garson Theater and the Magic Circle Players Theater, some good, some questionable.
For example, when I saw the ending of ‘Suddenly, Seymour’ at the Magic Circle Players Theater, the actors playing Seymour and Audrey lunged each other into a tight embrace to highlight how much Audrey and Seymour love each other. However, when I saw this at the Greer Garson Theater, the actors playing Seymour and Audrey did more than embrace; they also locked lips. And once they did, the crowd around me just erupted, like they were cheering more for the smooch and not just the song.
But now, let’s get to one difference that didn’t feel like enough thought was put into it.
In the Greer Garson Theater, I remember when Audrey II munched down Audrey, leaving her to lay crumpled in Seymour’s arms as she struggled to sustain or position herself as she sang the reprise of ‘Somewhere That’s Green.’ And just as she finished up, she died and was possibly carried off by Seymour into Audrey II’s jaws. It seemed like the standard procedure of the scene as it went in the musical.
At the Magic Circle Players Theater, however, the execution there felt a little off. It started when Audrey II was munching on Audrey. After Seymour came in, pulled Audrey out, and cradled her, Audrey told Seymour about what Audrey II told her about Orin and Mushnik. In this case, I don’t recall hearing the plant mention it to her unless that was during Audrey II’s munching of Audrey, and it was too loud for me to have caught it. And, while Jordyn Fess did show some struggles as Audrey tried to sustain herself, her death looked weird. When Audrey finished her reprise of ‘Somewhere That’s Green,’ Fess was standing up, and then, she was holding hands with Heath when she slipped herself into Audrey II’s jaws. I don’t know; something about this death looked too graceful to me. It looked more like a suicide than succumbing to her wounds and becoming the plant’s next meal.
On the other hand, what I saw during the ‘Don’t Feed the Plants’ number at Magic Circle Players felt a bit inventive. In the Greer Garson Theater, Audrey II and the leading players all emerged as was customary in the finale of the show: Audrey II emerged in its threatening presence, and all the players who starred as Seymour, Orin, Mushnik, and Audrey all emerged as buds blooming forth with their faces painted green. Next, the platform they were all on would’ve crept closer to the audience to make us feel like they were coming for us. But in Magic Circle Players, because the Audrey II puppet they had wasn’t large enough to afford extra buds sprouting forth around it, the main actors emerged alongside Audrey II. But they didn’t do so as blooming buds, but rather green all over and with mossy clothing, as if to demonstrate the likelihood that they each grew up to be individual Audrey IIs themselves. That, I thought, felt very clever. It was one of those instances where I thought the musical, based on the setting and theater in which it was performed, made so much out of whatever little it had.
Also, here’s something else I noticed at the Magic Players Theater that was quite interesting. When my girlfriend and I sat for the musical, there were two large TV screens, one on each side of the theater, and before the show began, it was showing advertisements for the Magic Circle Players and its upcoming events. But as the musical reached its finale, the screens showed footage from the ending of the director’s cut of the Little Shop of Horrors movie, along with footage of the Audrey II puppets in motion and the various other productions of Little Shop of Horrors, to display the aftereffects of Audrey II after it ate off Seymour and started getting sold, clipping by clipping, across the country and into the initially enthusiastic world. It felt like an avant-garde add-on to heighten the illusion, but I wonder how the musical’s finale went either before the movie came out or without the TV screens to display the aftereffects. My guess is they roped in the extras who starred as the residents of Skid Row or Mushnik’s customers to play the gleeful shoppers who wanted the Audrey IIs that were sold. No matter how the climax went, it still honed the illusion pretty much as it should for me.
No matter how the musical is seen, though, Little Shop of Horrors is just a musical extravaganza. It took what started as a weird, campy B-flick and revitalized it with bubblegum-pop-inspired music, colorfully flawed characters, fantastic puppetry, extraordinary performances, the proper rundown atmosphere, and, impressively enough, a monster story of almost Shakespearean proportions. Hands-down, this is one of my all-time favorite musicals, and while I’ll reserve my judgment until I see it, I’ll wager that what The Rocky Horror Picture Show is to many people, Little Shop of Horrors is to me.
Readers beware: this will grow on you.
A low A
Ashman, H. (2012, April). Little Shop of Horrors. Santa Fe; Greer Garson Theater.
Ashman, H. (2023, October). Little Shop of Horrors. Montrose; Magic Circle Players.
Hawkes, L. F. Musical Theater. DesignHawkes. http://www.designhawkes.com/
Magic Circle Players. The crowd of customers hustling about at Mushnik's. Facebook, October 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=795997788990825&set=pcb.795999355657335
Magic Circle Players. Janel Culver, Gabrielle Lewis, and Eliana Masters as the Greek chorus. Facebook, October 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=806406764616594&set=pcb.806407227949881
Magic Circle Players. Jonathan Heath as Seymour as Dalyn Pearson as Mr. Mushnik. Facebook, October 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=806406357949968&set=pcb.806407227949881
Magic Circle Players. Jordyn Fess as Audrey handing the lucky customer his $100 worth of roses. Facebook, October 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=806406554616615&set=pcb.806407227949881
Magic Circle Players. From left to right: Jordyn Fess as Audrey, Audrey II, Riley Little as Orin Scrivello DDS, and Jonathan Heath as Seymour. Facebook, October 2022. https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=806406517949952&set=pcb.806407227949881