4 Stars out of 4
Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s musical Little Shop of Horrors is the Faust legend updated and set to catchy tunes—a little man, frustrated with his life, sells his soul to a kind of devil and ends up gaining and losing everything. It’s a cautionary tale, and in this somewhat terrifying and yet wholesome envisioning, with a man eating plant as the demon, this musical with its “moral of the story” ending, renders the lesson far better than the original film it is based on. The film cops out with a happy ending—in the musical nothing ends well for these misguided souls. In the joyful hands of Mercury Theatre director L.Walter Stearns, in the intimate setting of this Southport gem theatre, this over the top, kinda campy musical about an alien in the form of a human eating plant takes on a gorgeous surrealistic tinge and comes into its own.
Golden voiced and suitably nerdy Christopher Kale Jones is the Everyman Seymour who raises a plant Audrey II(marvelously brought to life by designer Martin P. Robinson, puppeteer Sam Woods and voiced by Jonah Winston)with a taste for blood. Dana Tretta is the tragic Audrey who always falls for the wrong guy and ends up paying for those mistakes with her life. Tommy Novak is a sympathetic and still cruel Mr. Mushnik. David Sajewich steals the show as the sadomasochistic dentist boyfriend and EVERYONE else in this economical and yet lush musical. The Urchins: Crystal (Nicole Lambert) Ronnette (Adhana Reid) and Chiffon(Shantel Cribbs) need their own after theater set down the street at a local cabaret: they deliver Christopher Chase Carter’s delicious choreography with sparkling aplomb, and they sing like angels. They also look perfect in Serena Sandoval’s period costumes. Music director Eugen Dizon makes this show feel huge without overwhelming in the compact Mercury. The band is somehow tucked away invisibly on Alan Donahue’s compact, economical and realistic set—his use of texture is magical at creating the gritty nature of skid row.
The beauty of this production is how up close and personal you are with the entire experience. Chicago has become a home for a kind of storefront/small theatre musical, from Porchlight to Pride Arts, Mercury to Music Theatre Works to Writers: in this town you can see a full production musical in an intimate house many days of the week: it’s a golden age in Chicago for Musical Theatre. This Little Shop of Horrors is a traditional interpretation, done top notch, setting a high bar. If you love musicals, this is one to see, with every aspect of the production flawless. And the cast is having a great time too.
Little Shop of Horrors is playing til April 28 2019, Wednesdays through Sundays at the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport in Chicago.For tickets and information go to www.MercuryTheaterChicago.com or call 773-325-1700.