My initial reaction to the atmosphere for “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Paramount Theatre was to be transported to another world, a pulp-novel version of Skid Row, the infamous stretch of The Bowery in New York City circa 1960.
The amount of detail by scenic designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec and lighting designer José Santiago are magnificent. Each nook and cranny is filled delicately with grime, grease and glum augmented by sheets of light of an eerie green or magenta. Fogged windows, cement seeping from between layers of bricks, a ghostly glowing neon sign advertising “Peep Show 25¢”—everywhere you look there are hidden details for the eye to find.
But does the production live up to the presentation?
Each character is expertly defined. Mr. Mushnik (Gene Weygandt), the owner of failing “Mushnik’s Flower Shop,” curses his poverty in a strong Yiddish accent. Seymour (Jack Ball) is a nasal-voiced, uneducated, bespectacled orphaned youth with nothing going for him but his job at Mushnik’s, a pathetic figure who opines for fellow employee, Audrey (Teressa LaGamba), a buxom blonde with a penchant for bad boys.
The supporting cast adds pizzazz to an already zany company of characters. Audrey’s boyfriend, Orin (Russell Mernagh)—played by Mernagh like a cross between Jim Carrey and Bert Lahr—is tall, handsome and sadistic, a motorcycle-riding tough-guy who gets his kicks by inflicting copious amounts of pain as a dentist while getting high on his own supply of laughing gas. A pop-R&B trio of street muses—Chiffon (Lydia Burke), Crystal (Marta Bady) and Ronnette (Tickwanya Jones)—frame each scene with expositional musical interludes, occasionally joined by a gaggle of decrepit winos performing well-crafted choreography by Michael George and Mariah Morris.
The character that you REALLY want to know about is the “horror” itself, the xenophobic houseplant with a taste for human blood, Audrey II, voiced by Je’Shaun Jackson with puppeteering by Adam Fane. Starting out like a medium-sized Venus flytrap, the murderous muscipula goes through several transformations, growing to enormous size and gaining prehensile vines, rows of spear-like teeth and pouting lips—an attraction that turns Mushnik’s Flower Shop from a lost cause into a thriving business overnight, but a Faustian bargain that comes at a cost!
Compared to Frank Oz’s 1986 film version, the stage production is darker and more nuanced. Seymour is less the protagonist and more a cold-blooded murderer, who, as described in the program by director Landree Fleming, “finds the murderer he didn’t know was there… Or did he?” Far from a saccharine Hollywood ending, the stage version ends with a delightfully horrific dystopian twist that serves as a metaphor for the slippery slope that is moral consequentialism.
Paramount Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” has it all—fantastic singing, fleshed-out characters, hit songs like “Suddenly Seymour” and “Suppertime” and a hyper-detailed set that draws the eye like a spread from “Where’s Waldo?” If you’re in the mood for the macabre, this is the show for you; if not, see it anyways—it’ll grow on you.
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through October 15 at Paramount Theatre, 23 East Galena, Aurora. Tickets start at $28 at paramountaurora.com.