Off-Broadway Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (Conrad Ricamora joins cast at the Westside Theatre)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on February 15, 2022

in Theater-New York


Audrey II is back and New York’s got……Him? Her? It? Hard to tell, especially since this giant-alien-Venus Flytrap has an insatiable appetite for human flesh. And a great singing voice. And impeccable comic timing. And an energetic new production from which the plant continues to grow and grow – until it achieves World Domination!

Joy Woods, Salome Smith and Aveena Sawyer

Currently playing off-Broadway at the Westside Theater in New York City, this welcome revival of Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is a joyous production that may help us to escape our own little shops of horrors created by two years of COVID restrictions and isolation. Crisply directed by Michael Mayer and comically choreographed by Ellenore Scott, the show retains its popular elements — the clever songs, the comic book skid-row set, the lovable Urchins girl-group, the absurdly horrific story and hilarious performances (two words: Christian Borle). But there are some changes in this production that make it a bit more realistic (as realistic as a man-eating E.T. plant can be, that is) and, perhaps, a bit more poignant.

Conrad Ricamora
Conrad Ricamora and Audrey II

One immediately noticeable change is Tammy Blanchard’s stunning, deeply felt portrayal of human punching bag, Audrey. Blanchard does not present a cartoon, musical comedy version of an abused woman. Her Audrey is very much a real human being, trapped in a cycle of abuse and, to her mind, powerless to change her situation. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” nearly stops the show. Coming out of Blanchard’s mouth, the song is simultaneously a painful acknowledgement of how bad her situation is, her desperation to leave it and a resignation that she can’t change it. This revelation of Audrey’s psychic and emotional pain is almost too much for us to bear but Blanchard reveals it anyway, while still hitting all the required comic beats. Her reprise of “Somewhere That’s Green” towards the show’s end, before she literally goes somewhere that’s green, is as sad as it is darkly funny. That this the only way to truly escape abuse for her is a hard truth to see — but it’s probably a familiar consideration for many real-life Audreys.

Christian Borle
Tom Alan Robbins, Aveena Sawyer, Joy Woods and Salome Smith

Another immediately noticeable change is that Seymour is no longer a chubby schlub. This Seymour is quite handsome and athletic looking as embodied by Asian-American actor, Conrad Ricamora. As with Blanchard’s Audrey, Mr. Ricamora’s Seymour is also more about the internalized shame and doubt that keep him bound to his situation, which helps to explain the connection they feel for each other. By the time his Seymour meets the talking hungry plant, Ricamora has established his own powerlessness to shift his life. It makes warped sense that a Faustian bargain with Audrey II is his only way out, at least to his mind. Ricamora only joined the cast a couple weeks ago and still seems to be finding his way a bit in the role. Though no doubt this two-time Grammy nominee and Broadway performer will overcome that quickly as he is a very good actor with a strong singing voice.

Conrad Ricamora and Tammy Blanchard

Christian Borle portrays multiple roles, most notably the abusive dentist Orin Scrivello, and is simply hilarious. His characterizations are all distinct and full and he has the funniest dental demise scene probably ever acted onstage. The Urchins portrayed by Tatiana Lofton, Aveena Sawyer and Joy Woods are all teenage girlishness but with great singing voices. It’s charming to watch them giggle their secrets, stand up to authority, show their smarts, back down quickly, have fun and even doubt themselves, you know, just like teenage girls. Tom Alan Robbins is solid as Mr. Mushnick and he mostly talk-sings his songs. It’s a nice touch that helps to ground the play in a more realistic sense of life in poverty. After all, Mushnick is a longtime struggling florist on Skid Row, not an ex-song and dance man.

Conrad Ricamora and Audrey II

As the voice of Audrey II, Aaron Arnell Harrington is powerful, funny and a bit scary. The design of this Audrey II seems influenced by aquatic life, even with what look like small fins rising from the back of the giant mouth, uh, head. Combined with the excellent puppetry of Eric Wright, Teddy Yudain and Chelsea Turbin, it can be genuinely creepy at times to hear Harrington’s booming bass voice coming out of this demented dolphin.

Conrad Ricamora, Christian Borle, Tammy-Blanchard

Yes, Little Shop of Horrors is happily back and New York is lucky to have it. Catch Audrey II and the other singing denizens of Skid Row at The Westside Theater before it’s too late. And whatever they offer you — don’t feed the plants.

Tammy Blanchard

photos by Emilio Madrid

Little Shop of Horrors
Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd St
open run
for tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit Telecharge

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