Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at Westside Theater

By Jonathan Spira on 22 October 2019
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Theatergoers may flock to “Little Shop of Horrors” – a doo-wop musical based on Roger Corman’s low-budget horror movie about a flower shop assistant who cultivates a plant that feeds on human blood – to see the tantalizing combination of Jonathan Groff, Christian Borle, and Tammy Blanchard on stage, but the real star is the set of four puppets that portray Audrey II, the carnivorous plant.

Michael Mayer’s splendid revival of the 1982 musical, which opened last week at the Westside Theater, features Groff as Seymour, the nerdy florist who loves strange and interesting plants, Borle as the sadistic dentist, Dr. Orin Scrivello, and Blanchard as his hapless and abused girlfriend who is also Seymour’s co-worker.

As Seymour’s fame for his plant grows, the shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnik, played by a rather agreeable Tom Alan Robbins, adopts him, changing the shop’s name to Mushnik & Son.  Meanwhile, we learn that the nitrous oxide sniffing dentist’s relationship with Audrey is fraught with peril, something that causes Seymour to take the matter into his own hands, killing two birds with one stone or, in this case, one plant.

The four puppets that portray Audrey II – Seymour named the plant after his colleague whom he has a crush on – range from a 12” sprout to a massive multi-tentacled creature that’s as big as a Smart car.  Nicholas Mahon, who based the creature on the original by Martin Robinson, a Jim Henson alumnus who designed, built, and performed the Audrey II puppets in the original production.   Aside from the Audrey II puppets, Tom Broeckner created the evocative vintage-looking costumes.

In contrast to the Audrey II that appeared in the 2003 Broadway production, whose hydraulically powered tentacles reached far into the audience, the current Audrey II is entirely puppeteer operated, here by Eric Wright and Teddy Yudain. Wright operates the smallest Audrey II, while Groff brings the second smallest to life.  Wright and Yudain then take turns on animating the third largest, while the final Audrey II is a four-armed and four-legged puppet whose rather animated movements require the puppeteers to strap themselves into their seats.

The team syncs Kingsley Leggs’ soulful bass voice to Audrey II’s big mouth brilliantly – the voice clearly seems to emanating from the massive green creature – and do an excellent job of ingesting the various cast members who – in Seymour’s eyes – had fallen out of favor.

The setting – the 275-seat Westend Theater – is far more intimate than recent productions of the show in New York, and Julian Crouch’s period Skid Row set practically invites the audience into the florist shop.  You should definitely consider seeing this production of “Little Shop” – just don’t feed the plant.

THE DETAILS

Little Shop of Horrors
Westside Theatre
407 W 43rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10036
www.littleshopnyc.com

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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