“Little Shop of Horrors” is a quirky little musical based on a B horror movie.
In his preshow remarks on opening night, director L. Thomas Lueck called the show “wonderful, tacky and cheap.” He meant it all in a good way.
I had seen a couple versions of the show, but until I saw Sunset Playhouse’s version I never realized just how much fun the characters are — and not just the main characters — how clever the lyrics are, and what lovely songs it contains.
All those wonderful elements come through in this very polished, high energy show that features some outstanding lead performers, as well as excellent performances in every single role. Musically, this show is top-notch, led by music director Mark Mrozek and a fine group of musicians.
The show, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, features a meek young clerk named Seymour (Landon Quinney), who works at a Skid Row flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Dick Katschke). Also working in the shop is Audrey (Katie Katschke, Dick’s daughter), who is dating a physically abusive dentist name Orin (Eric Safdeih-Nelson). Seymour is in love with Audrey.
Business is nearly nonexistent at the shop until Seymour buys a strange little plant from a Chinese vendor that looks something like a Venus Flytrap and puts it in the window of the shop. Passersby start to notice. When the plant begins to grow to monstrous proportions, it becomes big news and the shop’s business is booming. The only fly in the ointment is that the plant has a very peculiar diet.
To sate the horrible creature’s vicious appetite and maintain his and the shop’s status, Seymour has to resort to drastic measures. As Seymour says about the plant’s diet: “It’s a secret formula, but not hard to come by.”
It is all very macabre but in the expert hands of the Ashman-Menken writing-music team it is pure camp. And Sunset handles all the campy comedy beautifully.
While the evil plant is being nourished, the audience is being fed a steady diet of the dangers of giving in to the evils that surround us.
Quinney heads cast
Heading this stellar cast is Quinney as Seymour. Quinney has a boyish appeal and a pleasant singing voice in tunes like “Grow for Me.” I really enjoyed his limber, Gumby-like movements, which added to the campy quality. In “Suppertime,” Quinney's Seymour comically squirms atop the flower shop’s counter, his physicality displaying the moral dilemma he’s been given by the devious plant he’s dubbed Audrey II.
Katie Katschke as Audrey is sweet and likable, with a pure, lilting voice (especially in the lovely “Somewhere That’s Green”). In that tune she really caresses each phrase to get the full effect of the clever lyrics that reference life in the ’60s, with mentions of Donna Reed, Lucy, Pine-Sol, plastic-covered furniture, tract housing, and TV shows “December Bride,” “Father Knows Best” and “Howdy Doody.”
She and Quinney work well together and execute the fast-paced juggling of several phone receivers in the Act 2 opening, “Call Back in the Morning,” flawlessly.
Katie’s dad, Dick Katschke, is an equally wonderful Mushnik. He, Quinney and Katie really nail their roles, and interactions. The “Mushnik and Son” tango with Seymour is great fun.
As Orin, Safdeih-Nelson doesn’t hold anything back with his sadistic dentist role. He is evil personified as he, with fiendish delight, inflicts pain whenever he has the chance. He gets his comeuppance amid fits of laughing gas-induced laughter at the end of Act 1, in one of the most unusual bits of tragic comedy you’ll ever see on stage. Safdeih-Nelson milks it shamelessly.
Trio lifts show
But what really elevates this show is the sardonic trio of Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette (Kayla Atadero, Ava Thomann and Ashley Levells), a modern version of a Greek chorus. This group is lathered in attitude as they state their case with bold, sharp, in-sync moves and pronouncements. Right out of the gate the three explode onto the stage with the ominous lyrics to the prologue, foreshadowing the “deadly threat” and “terrifying enemy” as they totally rock out.
And what a fabulous, soulful voice Dominic Russo gives the gigantic plant, Audrey II, channeling his best Barry White, working up to a fever pitch in “Suppertime.” While Russo handles the monster’s voice, Mikhela Rosko has the challenging task of the monster’s actions.
First-rate performances for the smaller roles, which buoy the whole show, include those of Shawn Schmidt, Brett Fong, Todd Herdt, Keith R. Smith, Alli Williams and James Donaldson.
The show has a crisp tempo, pacing that is very controlled but fast moving with every scene and performers doing their job like a finely tuned piece of machinery.
Choreography by Reginald T. Kurschner is well-executed with a fine ensemble, especially in the Finale, which also features some nifty costuming by Joanne Cunningham.
Sunset’s “Little Shop of Horrors” is a wonderful feast of a musical for anyone with an appetite for a wacky, Twilight Zone-type romp.
If You Go
Who: Sunset Playhouse
What: “Little Shop of Horrors”
When: Through March 19
Where: 800 Elm Grove Road, Elm Grove
Tickets/Info: 262-782-4430, SunsetPlayhouse.com