Review | LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Mercury Theater Chicago

Review | LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS at Mercury Theater Chicago

Photo: Sam Woods (Puppet) and Christopher Kale Jones | Brett Beiner

by Elizabeth Ellis

The Mercury Theatre made a wise choice with this season’s LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. Not only is it a wonderful and timely metaphor about the temptations of greed, fame, and fortune, L. Walter Stearns’ superb production boasts an excellent cast and terrific music, and moves far beyond the limits of traditional musical theatre.

Curmudgeonly Mr. Mushnik (the wonderfully grumpy Tommy Novak) owns a flower shop on Skid Row, and it’s about as successful as one might imagine a flower shop in a seedy part of town would be. His assistant, the sweet and nerdy floral Seymour Krelborn (Christopher Kale Jones, an adorable nebbish) has eyes only for his sweet coworker Audrey (the wonderful Dana Tretta, far more than a pretty airhead), who can’t extricate herself from her nasty sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin Scrivello (the perfectly horrible David Sajewich). When the blackout during a solar eclipse brings a bizarre new plant to Mushnik’s, Seymour christens the strange new plant Audrey II (voiced by Jonah Winston with movement by Sam Woods, both excellent), and life changes for everyone, literally. Seymour shockingly discovers that Audrey II needs a lot more than water to survive, and has no issue about communicating her needs. When Audrey II sees how abusive Orin is to Audrey, it slyly suggests to Seymour that Audrey II can make all of Seymour’s dreams come to fruition—if Seymour makes sure Audrey is fed (“feed me” means a lot more than Miracle-Gro). The rapacious Audrey II keeps her promise, and while Mushnik’s becomes wildly prosperous and profitable, it all comes at a price,—fresh meat. Orin, Mr. Mushnik, Audrey (the original), and even Seymour aren’t safe from Audrey II’s jaws, and no one can vanquish the alien plant’s evil and devious plot to conquer the planet Earth.

Stearns has accomplished the difficult task of keeping the whole event a fully-realized dramatic story with scene perfectly blending with song. Eugene Dizon’s inspired music direction makes the Motown and early-1960’s inspired songs shine throughout. The three stellar background-singers-as-Greek chorus Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (Shantel Cribbs, Nicole Lambert, and Adhana Reid, respectively) help move the affair along beautifully and perform Christopher Carter Chase’s gorgeous and vivacious choreography to perfection. While the cast does terrific work on all the musical numbers, several stand out: Audrey’s paean to suburban domesticity, “Somewhere That’s Green”;  “Dentist!” Orin’s salute to his painful profession; the raucous “Feed Me (Git It),” with Chiffon, Crystal, Ronnette, Seymour, and Audrey II; and the surprisingly touching “Suddenly Seymour” with Seymour and Audrey. Alan Donahue’s wonderfully crowded and dingy Skid Row set (including a misspelled sign: “Victory Bar/Air Conditoned”) seems to blend seamlessly with the Mercury’s exposed brick walls, giving the feeling that the entire theatrical space is part of the dark urban landscape.

This production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is so well executed that it should inspire not only discussion about the fantastic depth of talent in our fair city, but also how this piece fits in with current events, politics, the overwhelming desire for so many people to become celebrities of every stripe. Faust would love it.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS plays through April 28. Tickets and more info at mercurytheaterchicago.com.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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