From its modest origins as a low-budget 1960 cult film (directed by Roger Corman), to its splashy reincarnation as an off-Broadway musical in 1982 and its subsequently mainstream 1986 movie version (featuring songs by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman), “Little Shop of Horrors” certainly has stood the test of time.
By now, for better or worse, most of us have seen and heard it all before — this campy black comedy about the hapless clerk in a Skid Row florist shop, where, “like something out of Edgar Allan Poe,” a bizarre total eclipse of the sun has created a veritable Frankenstein monster in the form of an otherworldly overgrown plant with an insatiable thirst for blood, set to a lively score of familiar doo-wop-inspired tunes.
Rick Lombardo, who chairs the Kennesaw State University theater department, directs the current Actor’s Express staging of “Little Shop.” To his credit, he does what he can to put an original spin on it, more effectively in some cases than in others.
Casting one of the show’s trio of street urchins/back-up singers with an actor in drag (Trevor Perry, working alongside Brittani Minnieweather and Kiona D. Reese) may be a bit kitschy. But Lombardo’s use of the actress Kandice Arrington to literally personify that horrific plant — traditionally represented only by an enormous puppet and a disembodied male voice — is rather novel, sort of a cross between a Venus flytrap and a Venus on the half-shell.
Most refreshing of all is the leading performance the director gets from Juan Carlos Unzueta as Seymour, the “misfit employee”-turned-“scientific genius.” The part, usually portrayed as an overbearingly caricatured nebbish, remains a lovelorn nerd at heart, but Unzueta invests him with a spirited sincerity that’s uncommonly honest and humanizing.
Among other characters — and potential plant-food sacrifices — in the ensemble, Kylie Brown adds nothing new to Audrey, the squeaky-voiced dumb-blonde object of affection (possibly excepting an incongruous tattoo on one of her forearms, an admitted pet peeve of mine). William S. Murphey brings his customary skill to the role of Seymour’s harried boss and father figure, but Clint Clark misses the mark as Audrey’s creep of a boyfriend, a sadistic dentist.
Music director Amanda Wansa Morgan (on piano) heads a four-piece band, accompanying solid production numbers of “Suddenly Seymour,” “Downtown,” “The Meek Shall Inherit,” “Mushnik and Son” and “Somewhere That’s Green,” in addition to the title tune. The suitably squalid scenic design is by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay.
Regardless of your predisposition to the show, this latest “Little Shop” will neither blow you away nor turn you off. In the end, it mainly just is.
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