Fresh Talent Takes on a Quirky Hit in Loxen’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
Especially considering this is my first exposure to their work, I definitely wasn’t expecting to be quite as entertained as I was by Loxen Production’s version of Little Shop of Horrors, a classic musical that seems to have become one on its own decidedly quirky merits and not by mere happenstance. Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, the same winning team that would later go on to Disney fame, this brilliant show centers around a dorky-beyond-belief every-guy named Seymour, who is just going about his business as a clerk at a flower shop on the downtrodden skid row until he stumbles upon a particularly peculiar little plant.
He names the plant Audrey 2, after a sweet but ditzy coworker he’s been long infatuated with, and it almost immediately starts to garner positive attention for himself and the shop, enough so that shopkeeper Mr. Mushnik offers to adopt him and make him a partner in its ownership to ensure he will not leave with his treasure. However, Audrey II has a dark secret—it can only grow and thrive if given regular feedings of fresh, human blood.
When offering up his own to sate the plant’s appetite becomes unsustainable, sacrificing Audrey’s good-for-nothing abusive dentist boyfriend starts to sound like a promising option; but, of course, the plant’s thirst in no way ends there, and Seymour is coerced into ever more unforgivable acts to appease Audrey 2.
In case I’ve made the above story sound anything like a downer, the first thing you should know is that it’s actually a riotous comedy, thanks to its witty script and over-the-top satirical style. But while the show’s humor is what leaves the biggest impression, the script is also full of enough genuine emotion to ensure the audience feels a genuine connection to the initially-likable main characters. Yet it’s also, in a sense, a rather traditional tragedy; one in which the protagonist’s fatal flaw of being too eager for riches and attention is ultimately one that costs him everything.
Since this is actually the first time I’ve seen a full-scale (as opposed to student) version of the production, part of the reason I found myself so wowed may simply have been that this is the first time I saw the show staged in all its spectacular glory, which it owes quite a bit of to the set design of team Nobarte and lighting designer Ernesto Pino. Director Damaris López Canales was also able to tap into Miami’s wealth of fresh young talent in order to procure an talented, eager ensemble, who deliver engaging choreography by Imran Hylton in absorbing group numbers like the opening “Skid Row.”
It’s this grim number that sets the scene for the show, establishing an urban slum where the “folks are broke” “food is slop” “cabs don’t stop,” and, perhaps most affectingly, where “depression’s just status quo.”
But the show also had some quite phenomenal leads, most notably Corey Vega as unlikely “hero” Seymour, who gives the perfect nebbish energy to the role that provides quite a few of the evening’s plentiful laughs.
Meanwhile, his counterpart Chantal Bonitto as Audrey not only brought an incredible voice to the part but gave her character an endearing vulnerability, though she sometimes seemed too unsure of herself to truly nail all of her character’s comedic moments. Bonitto and Vega were also able to convey enough chemistry to give their character’s relationship the needed emotional power to electrify memorable Act 2 number “Suddenly Seymour” and ensure the impact of the story’s dark ending.
Frank Montoto is hilariously disturbing as dentist-from-hell Orin Scrivello, and also gets a chance to showcase his versatility when he reappears as a few sleazy salesmen eager to capitalize on Seymour’s earnestness and Audrey II’s appeal. A narrating girl-group trio of street urchins played by Maryah VanPutten, Fabiana Cueto, and Amanda Lopez also get to add plenty of fun and impressive vocal stylings to the proceedings.
Puppeteer Justin Rodríguez and voice actor Mikhael Mendoza also do a great job of animating the aforementioned plant, though there were still a few occasions where its vocals and the movements of its gaping mouth were a bit out of sync. And though Craig Dearr delivered some quite nice acting as shopkeeper Mr. Mushnik, he seemed to lack the vocal talent to rise to the occasion of his character’s singing sections. I also noticed a few sound glitches (though these may have indeed been opening night hiccups), all flaws I mention less because any were seriously detrimental to the show’s overall entertainment value than out of some sense of obligation to be as comprehensive of an observer as I “should.”
But as high as that entertainment value is, the intelligent and thoughtful core of this show also feels like a fairly obvious message that still rings true. In illuminating the potential cost of the selfish ambition that threatens to plant itself in us all, not only does Little Shop of Horrors remain a fable for our times, but has perhaps become even more relevant given today’s social media attention economy and over-instagrammed world.
Perhaps Menken and Ashman’s prescient vision has endured because morality tales are easier to swallow when delivered with an abundance of catchy tunes and a dose of zany comedy, and best told in the form of a fever dream from Planet X. But, enough about Audrey II and Seymour; I’m definitely hoping to “see more” of what Loxen Productions is capable of after enjoying the heck out of this production, and think this show is one well-worth checking out before it closes this April 16th!