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One Stop ‘Little Shop’ of Campy Musical Fun

Inspired by a B movie, Little Shop of Horrors has arrived in all its zany sci-fi/horror comedic song and dance glory at Sierra Repertory Theatre’s Fallon House Theatre stage.

Known and loved by many, the story, inspired by a B movie, has been an off-Broadway stage play, feature film, Broadway show, and is a regional and school theater staple.

“We’ve been waiting patiently to be able to present this show. It was included in our (COVID-19) canceled 2020 season but hasn’t been available to license again until this year,” show director and SRT Artistic Director Jerry Lee said, explaining about the timing of its scheduling early in the company’s 2024 season. He added, “(The story) feels like a living cartoon to me and that has been the inspiration for our production — it’s a romp but with a lot of heart and some incredible talent!”

For those who have not seen or heard of it, Little Shop is a bit reminiscent of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in that it is a campy, rock and rollish doo-wop musical with a definite sci-fi element that may not be readily discernible; there are characters who are plainly outrageous while others are pressed into becoming so; that they are all given to suddenly breaking into song as the sordid tale continues to grow, swell and careen out of control, led by a most hideous lead villain character.

Efficiently and compactly staged, the action centers in and around a Skid Row florist shop. It is where Seymour Krelborn, a timid, sad sack employee, lives and labors in depressed obscurity until it is revealed that he has recently taken possession of a seemingly an incredible find; a mysterious plant he came upon after a key moment of a solar eclipse when he happened to be doing some customary searching for odd flora at a street market.

Bringing it home to the shop, the poor chap, who as it turns out is an orphan that the cranky shop owner, Mr. Mushnik took in as a young child to sweep floors and sleep under the cash register, grows attached to the seemingly benign, malnourished plant and names it Audrey II after his co-worker and secret crush. The weird growth is not responsive to various nurturing techniques until it happens to catch a drop of blood from a chance cut to Seymour’s finger.

Desperately co-dependent, Seymour is soon sporting two hands full of bandaged fingers and suffering from near fainting spells as he tries and fails to keep up with Audrey II’s apparent hunger for hemoglobin. It is not long before this most peculiar plant reveals initially just to Seymour that it is a sentient, talking being, albeit, with both a distinctly sociopathic bent and a lust for blood and human flesh.

News of the extraordinary plant draws customers and fame to Seymour, who is torn between growing doubts and a burning desire to impress his co-worker Audrey. The object of his desire, has a secret crush on him but is dating Orin Scrivello, a sadistic dentist who belittles and abuses her. His boss, Mr. Mushkin, has his eyes on milking all the mounting good fortune. There’s also a colorful cast of cameo characters that pepper the action along with Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon, a trio of street-urchin singers, who through their quips and musical numbers, help interpret, portend and drive the story.

With the score created by the multi-award-winning Alan Menken (his numerous credits include Disney’s Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast et al) and lyrics and book by Howard Ashman, the production is directed by SRT’s Artistic Director Jerry Lee. He does a superb job and the artistic staff fully delivers for their part: the choreography is by Tracey Freeman-Shaw; musical direction by Joanna Li; scenic design by Josh Christensen; costumes by Janetta Turner; Audrey II puppet design by Matt McGee; hair and make-up by Brenda O’Brien; sound by Tatiana Covington-Parra; and stage management by Michael Laun.

The ensemble cast for this campiest of musicals is also top-notch. All four of the leads are Actors Equity Association (AEA) members. As Seymour, NorCal actor Romar De Claro in his SRT debut, perfectly portrays Seymour as he grows in a sort of Revenge of the Nerds way from a meek mouse into an unlikely almost-hero.

SRT artist-associate Camryn Elias (Cinderella, Sunday in the Park with George, Elf, Jersey Boys) is mesmerizing in her role as sweet, vulnerable and slightly ditzy Audrey, a former child of the streets caught up in a dancing-with-the-devil relationship that looks to become deadly. She and De Claro, who both have plenty of opportunity to show off their stellar pipes, make quite a dynamic pair, crackling with kinetic stage presence while completely embodying their roles.

Guest artist Cody Gerszewski (The Play That Goes Wrong, Sunday in the Park, Love/Perfect/Change) shows off impressive chops playing Orin the evil dentist and while jumping in and out of several other eccentric character cameos. An SRT favorite, John Jay Espino (Elvis the Musical, Man of La Mancha, A Funny Thing Happened…, Greater Tuna) delights as meanish Mr. Mushnik and gives superb voice to the merrily malevolent and altogether murderous Audrey II. Matthew Rose (Daylight to Booneville, Deathtrap, Into the Woods) serves as the Audrey II puppeteer and production’s property master.

Making their SRT debuts as the Urchins trio of waifs dubbed Ronette, Chiffon, and Crystal, Destini Stewart, Hannah-Kathryn Wall, and Janaysia Gethers are solid singers and actors who gel well together and are very entertaining to see and hear.

Little Shop of Horrors plays at Fallon House Theatre in Columbia State Historic Park through April 28. Evening showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. with matinees beginning at 2 p.m. on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and noon on Wednesdays. For more information and to purchase tickets visit SierraRep.org

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