Without “The Little Shop of Terrors,” there would be no “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” and maybe even “Frozen.” That’s because the 1982 off-Broadway satirical musical about a cannibalistic plant named Audrey II is what introduced creators Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman to Disney.
The mighty mouse then hired the duo to revive the then-fading animated series by turning these films into Broadway-style musicals. In the years that followed, Disney ran with Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Elsa, and her all the way to the bank. Listen closely to “Part of Your World” from “The Little Mermaid” and you’ll hear a revision of “Somewhere That Green” from “Little Shop”.
I won’t be alone in saying that “Little Shop of Horrors,” which opened Friday night at the Paramount Theater in Aurora, is one of my favorite musicals. Witty, sweet, strikingly original, and full of theatrical music of the best kind; A monument in memory of the tremendous talent named Ashman, who died of AIDS in 1991 at the age of 40.
Paramount’s “Little Store” isn’t that small. More like Costco compared to your local florist, it’s a huge production filled with a spectacular reconstruction of Skid Row, including a recreation of Mushnik’s store that moves back and forth across the stage with such regularity that it must be an Audrey II plant my head is spinning. Add in a sing-along cast with huge voices and enough stagecraft to fill anyone’s backyard, and you’ve got a super-sized “Little Shop.”
It’s both a strength and a weakness – you’ve rarely heard “Somewhere That Green” sung with the emotional power brought by the fine singer Teressa LaGamba. “Little Shop” has much more interesting songs than really powerful ballads, and doesn’t need the massive physical changes you get thrown at every five minutes. It’s a cynical piece, a satire of human greed, to be sure, but otherwise it’s not a show that makes many moral judgments beyond “don’t feed the plant.”
What director Landree Fleming’s production lacks is an off-Broadway comedic sensibility, but I’ll admit that’s largely a matter of taste. Fleming and his choreographers (Michael George and Mariah Morris) lean heavily into the show’s gothic qualities: The troupe at times looks and moves like zombies at a Halloween Fright Fest; most productions of this show treat them as ordinary residents of the Skid. They row away, stunned by what they see and hear.
Here the famous trio of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (played by Lydia Burke, Marta Bady, and Tickwanya Jones, respectively) sing with their faces, which is great fun to hear, but you can’t easily see them as ridiculous. students on the porch. Even Factory has trouble competing with the size of the setting and the scale of the performances: A wonderful Audrey II, voiced by Je’Shaun Jackson, is Adam Fane’s puppet, but there’s too much competition to focus on here. It’s a production in which a little too much stands out.
Anyway, it’s to my taste. The scene is definitely full of talent. Gene Weygandt plays Mushnik, and Jack Ball, a name to watch out for, makes a terrific Seymour. Ball captures the comedic style of the material best, interjecting jokes with a momentary punch and delivering the kind of sweet performance that leaves you feeling like Audrey is in good hands. Unfortunately, none of the dental stuff really works; It’s hard to remove.
Paramount is a large theater and some of these choices make sense for this show in such a large space. Fleming, a talented actor, is a relatively new director: here he is clearly brimming with staging ideas and has assembled a passionate cast that cares about the piece. But when you have an ingredient of this quality, it needs less extra nutrients than you think; A few drops of blood may spontaneously grow on the audience.
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Chris Jones is a Tribune critic.
Review: “Little Shop of Horrors” (2.5 stars)
When: until October 15
Where: Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
Working time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Tickets: $38-$79 at 630-896-6666 and paramountaurora.com