Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Broadway Center Stage:
Little Shop of Horrors

Kennedy Center
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's review of How I Learned to Drive


Josh Radnor and Megan Hilty
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
The Broadway Center Stage production of Little Shop of Horrors now at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in Washington answers a question that probably never occurred to fans of the 1982 musical: can the rapacious plant Audrey II be performed successfully by an actor rather than by a puppet with an offstage actor providing the voice? The answer is yes, if the actor is as charismatic as Michael James Leslie.

This semi-staged production allows Leslie, who has been the voice of Audrey II in full productions (on tour and as an understudy in the Broadway cast), to be seen as well as heard. He's tall and imposing, and costume designer Jen Caprio has dressed him in a succession of luscious green costumes (eventually including a shimmering cape with pinkish lining) and sparkly, long-taloned green gloves. Does he carry it off? Absolutely, at first while being wheeled around on an office chair, then sitting up straight, then rising to his full height and extending his arms.

The opening performance had a few ragged edges, lost lyrics, and dropped lines, but the performers' commitment to the material is never in doubt and the audience was thrilled and delighted throughout.

As absurd as the idea of a rock musical about a murderous plant from outer space may have seemed 36(!) years ago, Howard Ashman's book and lyrics and Alan Menken's music stand up beautifully. Director Mark Brokaw keeps things streamlined as the actors occasionally refer to scripts and costume changes are minimal. The members of the rocking orchestra sit on a raised platform at the center of Donyale Werle's scenic design, while Alex Basco Koch sets the scene with atmospheric projections of New York in past decades, and Cory Pattak's lighting design clarifies the mood shifts from humor to horror.

Josh Radnor, while not known as a musical performer (he was originally cast in the 2016 Broadway revival of She Loves Me, but left before the show began), is sweetly appealing as Seymour, the Skid Row flower shop assistant who enters a Faustian bargain with Audrey II. His quiet style meshes well with Megan Hilty, a delightful Audrey who may be facing bad times but isn't defeated. She brings real yearning to "Somewhere That's Green," her ode to life in the suburbs, and intensity to "Suddenly Seymour," her duet with Radnor.

Nick Cordero, who has played Broadway-style tough guys in Bullets Over Broadway and A Bronx Tale, is a perfect fit as Orin, Audrey's boyfriend and a cheerful sadist who has found that inflicting pain can be profitable. Lee Wilkof, who originated the role of Seymour off-Broadway, is now playing Mr. Mushnik, the hilariously dyspeptic florist and father figure to Seymour and Audrey. Amber Iman, Amma Osei, and Allison Semmes make a big impression as the doo-wop Greek chorus.

Kennedy Center
Broadway Center Stage: Little Shop of Horrors
October 24th - 28th, 2018
Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith
Audrey: Megan Hilty
Seymour: Josh Radnor
Audrey II: Michael James Leslie
Orin Scrivello, Narrator, Wino #2, Customer, Radio Announcer, Bernstein, Mrs. Luce, Skip Snip, and Patrick Martin: Nick Cordero
Mr. Mushnik: Lee Wilkof
Crystal: Amber Iman
Ronnette: Amma Osei
Chiffon: Allison Semmes
Director: Mark Brokaw
Choreographer: Spencer Liff
Music director: Joey Chancey
Eisenhower Theater, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
2700 F St. NW, Washington, DC
Ticket Information: (800) 444-1324 or (202) 467-4600 or www.kennedy-center.org


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