Spooky season gets off to a fun start with Constellation Theatre Company’s highly enjoyable new production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” The outfit begins its 2019/2020 offerings with a classic, crowd-pleasing version of the horror-comedy musical.
Opening on an urban cityscape, an unseen voice, as well as a trio of doo-wopping gals (the fantastic Selena Clyde-Galindo, Chani Wereley and Alana S. Thomas), tell us we’re about to see a cautionary tale about the Little Shop of Horrors. The opener previews not only the story, but also the show’s playful genre mish-mash, part sci-fi horror, comedy, all with a Motown-infused score courtesy of Howard Ashman, who also provided the book.
We’re soon introduced to that little shop, Mushnick’s flower shop, a struggling business in Skid Row, New York City. Times are hard (the set’s rotary phones suggest a 1980s setting, around the time of the original musical’s debut), for the grumpy Mushnick (Robert John Biederman) as well as his employees, the unassuming shophand, Seymour (Christian Montgomery), and the lovely, but vulnerable Audrey (Teresa Quigley Danskey), who arrives with a black eye courtesy of a sadistic boyfriend. “You don’t meet nice boys when you live on Skid Row,” she laments.
…a classic, crowd-pleasing version of the horror-comedy musical.
The introduction underlines the show’s dark tone, and Alan Menken’s sometimes-biting lyrics are far from his work in Disney, conveying a message of class resentment and bitterness that is counterbalanced by the boppy melodies: “Uptown you cater to a million whores/ You disinfect terrazzo on their bathroom floors,” sing the disenchanted members of the neighborhood.
Ready to the close up shop permanently, Mushnick is only stopped when Seymour introduces a project he’s been working on; a strange plant that he “found” which he thinks will bring in business. Named Audrey Two (after Seymour’s crush), the plant does indeed bring business, as well as a whole host of troubles as it grows into its terrible appetites.
Constellation Theatre’s superlative production values allow the company to go big in a small space. A.J. Guban’s store-front design creates a big-city feel, and the intimate venue allows small details to pop, from the grass in the sidewalk, to the singing trio’s fabulous costume changes (courtesy of Frank Labovitz). An excellent live orchestra, lead by Walter “Bobby” McCoy, make the songs come alive that much more.
Christian Montgomery is well-cast as Seymour, the hapless hero. He makes the character’s awkwardness appealing, with floppy hair and a nervous laugh, and his affection for Audrey is nicely realized. Teresa Quigley Danskey is luminous as the tragic heroine who has a hard time believing that she deserves better; the couple’s rendition of “Suddenly Seymour” is one of the highlights of the show, showcasing significant vocal talents for both.
Audrey’s outrageously scummy boyfriend, Orin, appears as an obstacle to the couple’s happiness, and is played with a manic fervor by Scott Ward Abernathy. A sadistic dentist who enjoys other people’s pain, Abernathy’s swagger and leather jacket appear like a fun-house version of Brando’s brutality in A Streetcar Named Desire.
Nonetheless, the ultimate scene-stealer is “Audrey Two” or “Twoey,” as the plant outgrows its small pot into a wonderfully weird creation with teeth, tongue and iridescent warts (puppet design by MattaMagical). His final incarnation is fearsome, and excellently voiced and sung by Marty Austin Lamar (RJ Pavel is the puppeteer). The show’s wonderful rendition of “Git It” sees the green monster demanding a larger, meatier diet from his keeper, Seymour.
As the protagonist struggles with morals and murder, the production becomes stranger and more exciting. Sarah Tundermann’s green horror-lighting infuses Seymour’s Sweeney-Todd-like interlude with the monstrous Orin with a nightmarish energy.
It all wraps up with a bit more murder and mayhem, keeping energy high right up until the end. As an entertaining musical for adults, it’s hard to find better.
Running time: About 2 hours with one intermission.
Advisory: The production uses dry ice, haze and strobe lights. Some horror elements; if this were a film, it would be PG-13.
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through Nov. 17. For tickets or more information, click here.