Little Shop of Horrors is a hard show to f*ck up. The doo-wop music by Alan Menken keeps your toes tapping, and the sweet and salty lyrics by Howard Ashman are matched by his equally snappy book. Familiarity also helps. I know we all know the show — or have at least seen the movie (warning: the stage version’s ending is much darker than the sunny film’s conclusion). In fact, both myself and my theatre companion were involved in high school productions: she painted sets, I operated a plant arm. Oh, and the teens around us last night knew the show as well — a fact they kept reminding us with each time they sang along. Until we told them nicely to STFU.
Thankfully, La Costa’s ramshackle production doesn’t f*ck it up. In fact, it succeeds quite nicely.
While the scenic elements are rather ugly and unimaginative and the entire evening is marred with distracting sound issues (please turn off the mics when the actors are speaking; there’s no need for muffled reverb in book scenes, especially in a small venue like La Costa’s), the first-class performances across the board overcome these obstacles and deliver this story of desperation and soul-selling with a great deal of heart and humor.
Jonathan Hymen is an ideal Seymour, full of nervous nebbishness and adorable adoration for Audrey, who is played with fragile vulnerability by Ashley Bush. Both actors have a great set of pipes, which always helps sell that big duet — an overplayed favorite at your local piano bar.
As the trio of sassy backup singers, Erin Elle East (Chiffon), Irene Patino (Crystal) and Jill Valentine (Ronette) are fun and unique. I particularly enjoyed Valentine’s smokey vocals — she’d make a good Paulette in an Off-Loop production of Legally Blonde: The Musical.
But the real star is the plant, and Paul Glickman works hard to wrestle that giant, rented foam costume as best he can. Kudos to him. And Brian-Alwyn Newland has the required vocal chops to give the puppet personality.
The five-piece band, under the direction of Ryan Brewster, sounds great — probably the best Little Shop pit band I’ve heard, and that includes the disappointing Broadway tour that stopped at the engulfing Auditorium Theatre a few seasons ago.
Check out this fun production of a favorite show. You can’t help but enjoy yourself.
“Little Shop of Horrors” plays through July 11 at the La Costa Theatre, located at 3931 Elston Ave. More info here >