Review by Samantha Robison
I may have a slight obsession with the Alan Menken classic “Little Shop of Horrors.” I’ve attended live productions of the musical sensation several times in my life, I performed in it once, and I’ve choreographed various numbers for the stage. And of course, my children and I are big fans of the 1986 flick starring America’s favorite nerd, Rick Moranis. The musical is wrought with hilarious one-liners, doo-wop beats that you simply can’t resist tapping your toes to, and an unimaginably creative storyline.
With all its appeal and pull to keep me going back for more whenever there’s a production within driving distance, I was giddy to experience “Little Shop” in the unique setting of Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest. The intimate, black-box setting offered a completely new experience of the show. At first glance of the modest set, which was on full display with the absence of a stage curtain, I questioned the small cast’s ability to bring Seymour and Audreys’ story to life with all the Skid Row glory it deserves. My initial skepticism was quickly remedied when the set cleverly opened up to reveal the interior of Mushnik’s flower shop. Thanks to Eric Luchen’s keen set design, the audience was ushered in and out of the shop with ease. Matthew Silar’s direction was masterful, successfully utilizing the layered set pieces to ensure the action could be enjoyed from every seat in the house, which wraps in a shallow horseshoe around the stage. The production team, combined with the extraordinary talents of the nine-person cast, drew the audience into Skid Row for two fabulous, fun-filled hours of pure entertainment.
I had an unexpected and pleasant reaction to one of my favorite numbers, sung by Danielle Pike in the role of Audrey. Audrey is so often played as a “dumb blonde,” reminiscent of Ellen Greene on the big screen. And while we instantly fall in love with her tender heart and kind nature, she can easily be dismissed as empty-headed. Pike brought a refreshing twist to Audrey’s personality. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” was so much more than a daydream ballad. There was heartache in her voice, in her expression, and in her thoughtfully placed phrasing of the lyrics. She opened the door to a deeper layer of Audrey’s untold story.
Each actor was genuinely impressive and beautifully cast. What struck me as even more impressive was their ensemble success. The street urchins, played by Ania Martin (Chiffon), Sabrina Edwards (Ronnette), and Isis Elizabeth (Crystal), have the difficult task of blending their tight harmonies to an audience who is seated so close to the action. They shook off what may have been some opening night jitters in the first number and settled into their well-rehearsed stride shortly thereafter.
I was wishing for an encore of Alan Ball (Mushnik) and Sam Shankman (Seymour) in “Mushnik And Son.” I thoroughly enjoyed the belly laughs they elicited during their tango, with a side of “Fiddler” flare, thanks to Lexie Bailey’s fabulous choreography, brimming with superb comedic timing and well-placed asides.
Another notable standout was the marvelous coordination of Aaron Reese Boseman and Michael Dias as the voice and puppeteer of Audrey II, respectively. It is no easy feat to persuade a live audience that an 8-foot tall flytrap is fully alive, with enough sass and spunk to fill Carnegie Hall.
As the show neared the end, it occurred to me that there are a number of small roles that would need to be filled during “The Meek Shall Inherit.” To the audience’s pleasant (and hilarious) surprise, Philip C. Matthews, who was absurdly hilarious as pain-loving Orin Scrivello D.D.S., took on every role. With rapid quick changes & a knack for swapping accents even faster, he was in and out with lucrative offers for Seymour.
For current and future fans of this cult classic, Citadel’s production of “Little Shop” is truly a treat. It tickles all the funny bones, with splendid comedic timing and just the right amount of audience interaction. The show runs through October 16 in Lake Forest. Tickets are available at www.citadeltheatre.org. For other reviews, see chicagoonstage.com or theatreinchicago.com.