“Little Shop of Horrors”, currently on stage at Performance Network in Ann Arbor, is quite simply the best production of the show I have seen since the original Off-Broadway run at the Orpheum Theater in New York.
Director Carla Milarch keeps the production very true to it’s Off-Broadway roots, and infuses this production with an energy that is palpable; a creepiness factor that reminds you that this is campy horror; and an adult sense of humor that has been missing in most watered-down productions over the years (including the movie and the recent Broadway revival). But the show doesn’t stop there – the creative use of Naz Edwards as a living, breathing Audrey II brings a spirit to the show that I have not seen in others.
The cast from top to bottom is superb. Jason Richards is a fine actor in the role of Seymour, and he brings a wonderful voice to the show to boot. Courtney Myers as Audrey is an equally formidable actress, and matches him note for note. Their “Suddenly Seymour” is an emotional and uplifting musical highlight.
B.J. Love makes for an amiable Mushnik, and Aaron T. Moore is a talent trove of characters (he plays all the other parts). His rendition of “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” is one of the funniest (and dirtiest) I have seen. I loved it.
Sharon Brooks, Sharriese Hamilton, and Diviin Huff make for a wonderful trio of urchin singers, and their costumes grow increasingly outlandish with each appearance. They sound terrific together, and each is a good actress in her own right.
Which brings us back to Naz Edwards. The show delightfully veers in a unique direction from the first moment she speaks on stage. Without giving away too much, hers is an Audrey II that will knock your socks off — clever, creepy, and very fun.
The technical quality of the production itself can’t be overstated. Monika Essen’s set design and costume design is spot-on and makes use of the stage in a way it hasn’t been utilized before through changeable scenery and the unique use of a lifting wall that folds into the ceiling. Very clever, colorful, and just right. It’s all well-lit by Justin Lang who incorporates black lights and some clever use of area lighting throughout the show.
Choreographer Phil Simmons creates choreography that is instantly era-recognizable, and R. MacKenzie Lewis and his three-piece orchestra provide not only terrific backup, but Mr. Lewis has done a wonderful job with the musical aspects of the show. This cast sounds fantastic. Wise use of microphones for the entire cast is used, and it all holds together well under Ken Faulk’s expert sound design.
It all comes together beautifully on the Performance Network stage – and the show feels neither too small nor too big. In fact, it feels exactly like it did back at the Orpheum Theatre when I saw it in 1982. And that made me feel very good indeed.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 9th with tickets available at performancenetwork.org or by phone at (734) 663-0681.
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