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Little Shop of Horrors

Director, musical director, and costume designer Bret Runyon has a whole lot of experience with the 1982 Howard Ashman/Alan Menken musical Little Shop of Horrors. His past incarnations of Audrey II, the carnivorous plant puppet that feeds on human blood, have toured to perform in many a production of the camp parody of science fiction, horror, and B movies. Runyon recycles every trick he’s learned and has packed some new ones into the current rendition of Little Shop at Alt Theatre in the Great Arrow building. The result is a murderous yet life-affirming romp through a panoply of musical and film clichés that is appealing and entertaining.

Runyon, whose biography reminds us that he is master of this genre, having shepherded productions of The Rocky Horror Show and Evil Dead: the Musical, is blessed with perfect performers for the leading roles.

Matthew Mooney excels as Seymour Krelborn, the amateur botanist who develops the homicidal plant and finds overnight fame when he convinces his boss, Mr. Mushnik, to place it in the window of his Skid Row flower shop. Singing with confidence, dancing with finesse, and managing to imbue this nebbish of a guy with sex appeal, Mooney is the perfect match for the perfectly delightful Susana Breese, who plays his unaware love interest, Audrey Fulquard, for whom he names his deadly plant.

Miss Breese latches onto the urban accent and girlish vulnerability of her character, launching into her numbers with a soaring voice and oversized personality. There are two basic ways to play Audrey—good-hearted tramp or downtrodden nice girl. In this production, we decidedly see the latter interpretation as Sandra Dee hits Skid Row. It’s as endearing as it is hilarious, and Breese is careful to land all of Ellen Greene’s most adored readings on lines like, “You don’t meet nice boys when you live on Skid Row, Mr. Mushnik.”

Dudney Joseph gives a splendid performance as the tyrannical voice of the plant, adding great merriment to the deadly tale.

Unlike Rocky Horror, which I have often seen stumble into overproduction with a layer of gloss that destroys its tacky soul, directors generally are wise enough to keep Little Shop grimy. (The exception would be the 2003 pre-Broadway production that I saw in Coral Gables, Florida, from which everyone but Hunter Foster was fired—including the director.) This Little Shop is definitely still located on Skid Row and populated with a cast that lends the show a wayward East Village sensibility that draws the audience in with its let’s-put-on-a-show earnestness. John Kreuzer and Chris Andreana are deliberately and delightfully miscast as Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, and Mr. Mushnik, the conniving shop owner. Kreuzer also plays “everyone else” a parade of improbable and laughable characters.

Maria Droz, Christina Elise Hamilton, and Lisa Dee provide fine vocals as a backup chorus of street urchins. Zachary James Haumesser, Patrick Caughill, and Adam Kreutinger, operate the truly exquisite plant puppets with precision and personality.

This is a highly pleasing rendition of Little Shop of Horrors that showcases its comically gruesome plot and irresistible score admirably.

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