Little Shop of Horrors (Pre-Broadway?) at the Berkshire Theatre Group

by NANCY SALZ,  JULY, 2016

Scene from “The Little Shop of Horrors” by the Berkshire Theatre Group. Photo Tyler H. First.

Scene from “The Little Shop of Horrors” by the Berkshire Theatre Group. Photo Tyler H. First.

Little Shop of Horrors Meets Kinky Boots
At the Berkshire Theatre Group

Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Direction by Ethan Heard
Choreography by Parker Esse
Music direction by Rick Bertone
Scenic Design by Reid Thompson
Costume Design by David Murin
Audrey II Design by Mio Guberinic
With Stanley Bahorek, Linsday Nicole Chambers, Stephen DeRosa, Taurean Everett, James Ludwig, Bryonha Parham, Alia Hodge, Kay Trinidad, Jalise Wilson

Something rather curious happens in the middle of Little Shop of Horrors now at the Colonial Theatre. Audrey II, the ultimate diva of human-eating plants, turns into a real-life drag queen.

Since this overtly misogynistic yet exceptionally popular rock horror musical was first produced off-off Broadway in 1982, Audrey II has (to the best of our knowledge) always been played by a puppet or some form of animated inanimate creation. Making the plant human changes everything. Suddenly a small, satirical, tuneful, black comedy goes over the top. Drag Queen Audrey II changes the mood, the proportions and the scope of the show. In many ways, she overshadows the characters who are tongue-in-cheek, sweet, real-live people to whom we can relate. There is caricature next to real-live humans.

And yet, much to our delight, it all works. The Berkshire Theatre Festival’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is great fun, even when it’s being purposely revolting. The show itself shocks and makes one smile at the same time. Before exploring the many reasons why this production is so good, let’s review the weird plot.

Seymour, young and shy, works as the constantly denigrated salesman at Mushnik’s failing, skid row flower shop. He’s in love with Audrey, a salesgirl at the shop whose boyfriend, a sadistic dentist, beats her. (No. Not funny at all.) Seymour finds a strange plant, brings it to the store, names it Audrey II, and the plant becomes a center of attraction bringing in customers and money. Seymour makes a Faustian bargain with Audrey II. If he feeds her her favorite food—blood and humans—she will make him rich and beloved by Audrey. As Audrey II literally grows from the blood of Seymour’s pricked fingers, she needs more and more food. “Feed me. Feed me,” she commands. The first human to be food is the dentist. Audrey II, now tall and green, opens a large, below the waist cavity, all red with sharp white teeth (You don’t have to be Freud to figure this out.), and in goes the dentist, dead and digested. Next is Mushnik, then the real Audrey and finally Seymour himself. The End.

Can you believe this show is one of the five most popular presented at high schools?!

This BTG production has been cast with outstanding actors. Stanley Bahorek is a shy, nebbishy, funny Seymour. Lindsay Nicole Chambers belts out the beleaguered Audrey with a huge voice inside her thin, small frame. Stephen DeRosa as Mushnik is great at shtick. James Ludwig is hilarious as the dentist and other comedic characters. Tauren Everett, pantomimes and lip-syncs Audrey II with great ghoulishness. His unseen voice is a terrific Bryonha Parham.

The uncomplicated songs—music by Alan Menken and lyrics (and book) by Howard Ashman—go down easily. Some of the rhymes are particularly hilarious: Putz/King Tut’s! Many of the songs are backed by a talented trio of ladies, Alia Hodge, Kay Trinidad, Jalise Wilson, early 1980s style.

Parker Esse’s 1980s choreography is spot on. You want to get up on the stage and dance with these people. It looks like such fun.

The costumes by David Murin are beyond outstanding: Colorful and glitzy when required. Audrey II’s costume is particularly inventive. They all must have cost a fortune.

The scenery, by Reid Thompson, is tawdry skid row buildings surrounding a store that turns into other locations as needed. It sets the mood perfectly.

Finally, most credit must go to Ethan Heard, the director. The pace keeps building until it is over the top. At the end the tall, free drag queen, unencumbered by her green plant costume, is showing long, stockinged legs atop shiny, shimmering, pink platform boots … a la Kinky Boots.

Most sane adults abhor misogyny and gore—of which this show has plenty—but it is in good fun, as much as it could be. Little Shop of Horrors may be popular, but it is no musical classic by any stretch. But I had a fine time anyway. It is a super production of a silly, little show.

Little Shop of Horrors at the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, MA through July 23.