You might never have imagined it, but I saw a pretty solid production of “Little Shop of Horrors” in a tiny, un-air-conditioned theater in Lehi last week.
The fact that it’s not air-conditioned shouldn’t matter, but man, was it ever hot. Don’t wear a shirt and tie if you see this show, but by all means, see this show, because it’s actually quite entertaining.
The cast consists almost entirely of teenagers, some of whom are lacking in stage experience but who make up for it in sheer braveness. The performing area is very small, but director Melody Johnson has them using all of the available space, including getting right up next to the audience. As if performing weren’t enough, standing a foot away from your audience is even worse. Oh, and they’re singing too, which would make things even more nerve-racking. But with only one or two exceptions, the cast handles these challenges remarkably well and never seems to feel embarrassed or awkward.
The show was written in the ’80s by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who later did the songs for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and most of “Aladdin” (Ashman died mid-way through the production of that film, and Tim Rice took over). The show is based on a 1960 shlock film of the same name from master shlock director Roger Corman, who is well-known to fans of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” for his dozens of truly lousy films. The musical was meant as a parody of B-movies and was itself made into a film starring Rick Moranis, though the ending was changed considerably.
The plot has a skid-row flower shop employee named Seymour (played here by Nathan Christiansen) finding an unusual Venus fly-trap plant, which he names Audrey II, after his voluptuous fellow employee (April Deimler). He soon learns that when he feeds the plant blood (or, eventually, human flesh), it grows at an astounding rate, making him and his boss wealthy and helping him win the love of Audrey. Seymour has to kill people in order to keep the plant alive, which in turn keeps him famous, which in turn, he thinks, keeps Audrey in love with him.
Obviously, the plot is absurd, and the show is a comedy, albeit a very dark one. And yet when it’s done right, as it is in Lehi, there are some very real human emotions involved. None of us have ever been forced by an evil plant to murder our enemies, but we’ve all had to make decisions in which both choices seem unappealing. We’ve all had to struggle with our morals and our sense of right and wrong, and we’ve all felt, at one time or another, unsure of why our loved ones really love us.
These feelings come through when the cast gives it their all and really commits to the goofiness of the play, and though their technique may need some polishing, the Lehi cast does just that. The scene in which Audrey is attacked by the plant and Seymour must make a decision (I won’t ruin it for you, but it’s different from the movie) has more emotion in it and is more affecting than all of the Capitol Theatre’s “Grease!” combined. The whole situation is ridiculous, but again, underneath it all is a universal theme.
Some technical notes on the show. Avoid sitting near the pianists or else the music will occasionally drown out the singing. Also, the directors should get microphones for any actors speaking from offstage (such as the voice of the plant), as they are often difficult to hear. And if Jared Evans seems to be too energetic, too hyper, and too outlandish in his portrayal of his many characters in the show, rest assured that he grows on you after a while and that you may not want to kill him anymore by the time the show is over.
There is a great deal of raw talent in this show, a lot of dedication, and a fun, lively musical score to play with. An enjoyable family event, although very young children may be bothered by the fact that the plant eats several people. Explain to them that it’s just a big ol’ puppet, and that there’s a guy inside of it, sweating even more than you.
"Little Shop of Horrors" has always been one of my favorite plays (although I didn't care much for the watered-down, lightened-up movie), and I was glad to have a chance to see it again. Read my review of "Grease!" for a comparison. "Grease!" was certainly a more professional show, but "Little Shop" was by far the more passionate and sincere of the two.