Street Tempo’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is filled with killer surprises

Erin Creighton and John Sessler in Street Tempo Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors.” Photo credit: Linda Gartz

You think you’ve seen Little Shop, right? You’ve probably even been involved in a production or two at some point. I know I have — I was the left arm of the giant plant puppet in Alpena High School’s 1995 production. Perhaps you’re familiar with my work?

However, if you are able to catch Street Tempo Theatre’s wildly inventive production of this beloved thriller musical, you’re in for some killer surprises. Co-directors Kory Danielson (who also serves as the show’s music director) and Brian Posen have re-imagined this show as a dark, nearly Rocky Horror-esque adult production filled with wit, dark satire and off-color humanity.

I don’t want to give too much away here, as part of the delight of this production is in the ways they’ve rethought some key pieces, including that mean green mother from outer space, Audry II.

Ok, I’ll just say it: the plant is played by a woman and there isn’t a single puppet to be found onstage. Some Little Shop purists might be rolling their eyes right now, and sure, it can be considered a cop-out to go this route, but the intense Candace Edwards (Audry II) climbs up to the challenge (even quite literally in this production as she scales the back wall trellis to simulate her growth). However, because the score was written for a big baritone/bass, many of the lyrics in “Feed Me” were lost, due to a combination of vocal projection, sound design and a rocking, if overpowering band. And, yes, some of the comedy is sacrificed when Seymour is negotiating with a flesh-and-blood actress dressed up like Poison Ivy from Batman vs. a strangely cute fabric puppet.

So, yeah, that’s one big change. But it’s a choice, and I went with it.

In addition to the plant being female, the menacing lead-in narration that opens the show is provided by none other than Hollis Resnik (who originated the role of Audry in the Chicago premiere of Little Shop at Candlelight Dinner Playhouse back in 1986), which establishes that this is very much a girl power production. Women will overrule the world one day, alien plant form or otherwise. But we already knew this, right?

As the central ill-fated love story, we are offered a heartbreaking Seymour and Audry in John Sessler and Erin Creighton. Both are well-paired, and sound great together in their big duet, “Suddenly Seymour.” Creighton, though, is difficult to understand at points — her excessively timid, tender characterization could use a little more articulation (she tends to swallow the ends of phrases and words). But, still, a touching performance. Patrick Cannon and Scott Olson offer dark comedic relief as the sadistic motorcycle-riding dentist and the weary flower shop owner, respectively.

But the real stars of this show (as is usually the case in Little Shop) are the three urchins (Krystal Metcalfe, Will Hoyer and Sharriese Hamilton). Here, they’ve been upgraded from truant schoolgirls to sassy prostitutes in black bustiers (and, hey, one of them’s a dude in drag). They sound spectacular together and keep the show hurling forward with big attitude.

Sure, I could go on outlining what I did and didn’t like in this production (particularly, the dancing ensemble, which was one element too many), but I just suggest you check it out for yourself. This is unlike any production of Little Shop you’ve probably ever seen and you’re sure to walk away with some sort of strong opinion.

“Little Shop of Horrors” plays through May 13 at Stage 773. More info here >

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