Little Shop Of Horrors Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman. Music by Alan Menken. Directed by Jerry Zaks. Choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Set design by Scott Pask. Costume design by William Ivey Long. Lighting design by Donald Holder. Sound design by T. Richard Fitzgerald. Orchestrations by Danny Troob. Cast: Joey Fatone, with Jessica-Snow Wilson, Robert Evan, Michael-Leon Wooley, Carla J. Hargrove, Trisha Jeffrey, DeQuina Moore, Martin P. Robinson, Anthony Asbury, Bill Remington, Matt Vogel, and Rob Bartlett.
Never let it be said that the bloodless can't return at least partially to life.
The Broadway incarnation of Little Shop of Horrors at the Virginia Theatre is still not a perfect production of the winning 1982 Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical comedy. But despite its flaws, the Broadway production has, since its opening last October, begun to find much of the giddy entertainment that once eluded it.
That's vital for any production of Little Shop, a lovable wisp of a show with a story revolving around a bloodthirsty alien flytrap with world conquest on its mind. Though the peppy Ashman-Menken score, which includes such modern classics as "Skid Row," "Somewhere That's Green," and "Suddenly Seymour," is roughly equal parts comedy and drama, the production now embraces it in a different way. There's a stirring sense of foreboding about everything, and an urgency that suggests the characters are singing and dancing about their joys and woes while unconsciously aware that the end of the world is just around the corner.
This new energy stems, in no small part, from the recent re-casting of Joey Fatone as nebbishy "experimental botanist" Seymour Krelbourn and Jessica-Snow Wilson as his abused but good-hearted co-worker Audrey. These performers' acting and singing skills never seem quite as polished as those of the roles' originators in the revival, Hunter Foster and Kerry Butler, but Fatone and Wilson have a rough-edged earnestness and more primal sense of fun that their predecessors. That gives this production something on which it can thrive.
Fatone, in particular, has done what Foster couldn't and found his inner nerd. Never is Fatone's portrayal false, and the vocal strength (if not luster) he displays in his songs and spoken lines never once feels affected. His performance may lack layers, shading, and adventure - he finds nothing new in Seymour - but he works hard and proves well-suited to the role. Wilson finds far more laughs in Audrey than Butler did, and she makes a more effective transition from a battered innocent to a self-aware woman.
Also new is Robert Evan, who has replaced Douglas Sills as the demented, nitrous oxide-addicted dentist Orin Scrivello. Evan brings an intriguing, quiet sadism to Orin that makes him less overtly threatening and even believably human toward his usual enemy, Seymour. While it's a welcome surprise to see such unusual colors in Orin, Evan's broad acting becomes more exhausting - and less interesting - as he plows his way through the numerous smaller roles he also essays throughout the show.
Remaining from the original company are Carla J. Hargrove, Trisha Jeffrey, and DeQuina Moore as the Greek chorus of three girl-group-inspired urchins, and Rob Bartlett as Mr. Mushnik, the owner of the flower shop at the center of the action. While their performances have loosened up a bit, they're all still basically fine. So is the work of Martin P. Robinson, Anthony Asbury, Bill Remington, and Matt Vogel as the manipulators of the increasingly large Audrey II plant puppets, and Michael-Leon Wooley as the voice that emanates from it, promising fortune and fame one moment and complete destruction the next.
Numerous problems with the production remain: Scott Pask's towering, sprawling set often dwarfs the actors; many of the songs - while well performed by the cast and the band (under Henry Aronson's musical direction) - can't fill the theater; and Jerry Zaks's direction remains overly cartoonish, sacrificing much of the show's inherent heart for cheap laughs. But somehow the chemistry between the new cast members makes these issues matter less overall; it's easier to sit back and absorb what's happening onstage without being aware that things really aren't quite right.
In that way, at least, the Broadway production has unlocked some of the magic Little Shop is capable of generating. If the production remains less than ideal for the purists who'll want the show more honest and forthright, it at least now successfully functions as a couple of hours of enjoyable (and mostly family-friendly) entertainment. Perhaps, as far as this particular Little Shop of Horrors is concerned, that's good enough.