Review by Kelly MacBlane
With about 15 minutes left in a recent performance of Little Shop of Horrors at the Mercury Theater, I leaned over to my 10 year old son and whispered in a panicked voice “I don’t remember how this ends!” And as fans of the cult classic musical and film remember, it doesn’t end well. However, my son and I still left the theater feeling good as this production of Little Shop of Horrors was 2 hours of dark comedy fun.
Both the show and the theater are places I have visited but long ago. And my spoiled theater-kid son has mainly been lucky enough to see theater productions at the large theaters in Chicago’s theater district. So both of us were pleasantly surprised by the amazing and detailed set and the intimate feel of the Mercury Theater. It is such a different experience to be so close to the stage and the actors, particularly in such a gruesome show. We connected to the life changing moral decision Seymour (Christopher Kale Jones) must make by being able to see his hands tremble. I couldn’t help but get choked up as I watched tears glistening on Audrey’s (Dana Tretta) cheeks as she sings about her difficult life. And of course, being able to see the funny, nuanced puppetry performance of Audrey II (voice: Jonah Winston, puppet: Sam Woods), the alien plant, helped put the comedy in this dark show.
Little Shop of Horrors is a dark comedy ironically written by the famed Disney animated composing team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. Important to the story is an understanding of the terms Skid Row and sadist, which I explained to my son on the drive down. Seymour and Audrey work at Mr. Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop which doesn’t see a lot of business until Seymour introduces the new and unusual plant he has been cultivating in the back- Audrey II. Literally immediately after the plant is put in the front window, customers begin pouring in. Unfortunately, Seymour discovers the only way to keep Audrey II alive and thriving is by feeding the plant human blood and as the plant gets bigger and bigger, the blood demand grows along with it. Seymour is faced with a moral dilemma- at what cost is his new fame, fortune and relationship with Audrey worth compromising his views of right and wrong?
As with all dark comedies, the audience in the Mercury Theater finds itself laughing uncomfortably, as the show becomes more and more gruesome and Seymour, who remains loveable until the very end, makes more and more terrifying choices. Without clearly defined performances, this show would just be plain strange. However, the cast at the Mercury Theater is fantastic and makes the show enjoyable. Jones reprises his role as Seymour which he once performed at the Ford’s Theater in Washington D.C. for President Barack Obama. Jones brings the right amount of loveable nerd to the performance while at the same time horrifying the audience as he flushes his morals down the toilet. Tretta’s Audrey gives the audience a great stereotypical floozy while at the same time eliciting complete sympathy at her low self-esteem which causes her to stay with the sadistic dentist (in fact, I felt worse about my 10 year old seeing the dentist (David Sajewich) slap Audrey in the face than anything else in the show). On the topic of Dr. Orin, the dentist, Sajewich was significantly mean and creepy. The supporting cast of Mr. Mushnik (Tommy Novak), and the trio of “street urchins,” Crystal (Nicole Lambert), Ronnette (Adhana Reid) and Chiffon (Shantel Cribbs) keep the shows energy up and the laughs coming.
Despite the gory themes of the show, the audience can’t help but smile at the end as the cast dances us back to feeling good. For an intimate look at a cult classic full of laughter and blood, check out Little Shop of Horrors playing now at the Mercury Theater.
Little Shop of Horrors is now playing at the Mercury Theater , 3745 N. Southport Ave., Chicago, through April 28. Performance times vary; check the website at Mercury Theater. Find more information about current play on our Current shows page and attheatreinchicago.com.