Theater Review: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (San Diego Musical Theatre in Kearny Mesa)

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by Milo Shapiro on October 17, 2022

in Theater-Regional,Theater-San Diego

PLANT YOURSELF AT SDMT

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a show about a plant that craves human blood. Oh, and there’s this nerdy botanist Seymour who raises him, whom the plant intimidates into fulfilling its needs. That shouldn’t work. That really shouldn’t work. Yet, oh, it does!

The 1982 hit off-Broadway musical (based on Roger Corman’s 1960 film with a young Jack Nicholson) shot to even bigger fame when turned into the well-known 1986 musical starring Rick Moranis as Seymour and Ellen Greene as his co-worker and unrequited love interest, Audrey. Alan Menken’s music with book writer Howard Ashman’s lyrics got piano bar lounges everywhere singing “Suddenly Seymour,” “Somewhere That’s Green,” “Downtown,” and more. This is a soundtrack to play time and again and fall in love with. But again, before there was the movie, there was the stage show and San Diego Musical Theatre is relishing sinking their teeth into it like … well … like a hungry plant.

Because the movie is so iconic, Ramiro Garcia, Jr. (as Seymour) and Lena Ceja (as Audrey) wisely choose to avoid taking the characters to such goofy extents as the movie does. The result is a more tender story about more realistic folks who are down on their luck and making the most of their rough circumstances … until the crazy plant stuff starts happening. While one could hardly say this wacky show is realistic, the less cartoony, more believable characters are a lovely fit for the stage version.

More significantly, after preview audiences saw the movie, the producers took great liberties with the second half of the plot and eliminated enjoyable songs like the rapid-paced “Call Back in the Morning” which Garcia and Ceja pull off beautifully. So if you’ve only seen the movie, you haven’t fully seen Little Shop. (Although the deleted ending, which adheres to the musical’s original, can be found on DVD.)

Director Kandace Crystal varies the pace effectively, giving us lots of fast moving action in addition to slower, sweet moments. Eliott Goretsky earns deserved laughs for his classic Yiddishe interpretation of Seymour’s cantankerous boss, Mr. Mushnik, too, but the stage stealer is actor Colden Lamb.

Stanislavsky said, “There are no small roles, only small actors.” Lamb plays at least six little parts that all got huge audience response, sometimes just from how he enters the stage.  His extremes of character work were such that, during curtain calls, this reviewer was wondering briefly, “Wait, where’s the guy who played Audrey’s boyfriend, Orin?” … only then realizing it was once again that same Mr. Lamb, in his largest role of the evening. The only small problem is that Lamb plays Orin’s abusive nature so strongly that it takes us out of the light-heartedness of the show. Steve Martin, in the movie role, was detestable, but not quite so chilling, which felt more right in the story’s overall tone.

Beyond all of this fun and excellent choral storytelling by the three neighborhood girls (Carjanae, Shanyeyah White, and kick-butt understudy Liz Williams), there are two other strengths. The rarely seen Domo D’Dante, backstage on microphone, gives delightfully creepy voice and song to the horrible plant while Luis Flores Torres works magic as the puppeteer of the numerous sized versions of the growing creature. Torres keeps us feeling like it’s a full-on character despite clearly being a plant.

While the musical is darker than the movie, it does so irreverently so it never crosses over into gloomy. Will Seymour tame the savage vegetable? Or will it be his master? San Diego Musical Theatre is the place to delight in finding out.

photos courtesy of SDMT

Little Shop of Horrors
San Diego Musical Theatre
4650 Mercury Street in San Diego
Wed & Thurs at 7; Sat at 3 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on October 30, 2022
for tickets, call 858.560.5740 or visit SDMT

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