A crew of iconic characters (Seymour, the ne'er-do-well attendant, Audrey, his put-upon co-worker, her sadistic dentist boyfriend Dr. Scrivello, and store owner Mr. Mushnik) are in for a strange ride as a total eclipse brings a rapidly growing, talking, (and hungry) alien plant to a skid row florist.
It's all for laughs in this Little Shop of Horrors, a classic Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid) musical, based on the 1960 Roger Corman cult film about a carnivorous plant with a taste for humans.
The Contemporary Theater Company has mounted a deliciously dark, toe-tapping production that careens gleefully from parody to pathos with fine acting, brisk staging, and excellent voices that make the show sparkle. And the plant puppets, wow, those plant puppets are spectacular.
Dean Hernandez is spot-on as the hapless Seymour, torn between conscience and his dream of impressing Audrey as his alien plant, dubbed the Audrey II, lures the world to their flower shop. The three skid-row urchins Ronnette (Morayo Akande), Chiffon (Alijah Ileana Dickinson), and Crystal (Jess Ring) who serve as the show's narrators and "Greek chorus" bring captivating presence and beautiful harmonies. And Sophie Pearson shines in her turn as the meek, tragic Audrey with a powerful show-tune-perfect voice ("Somewhere That's Green" is a standout number.) Jeffrey Oulette plays Mushnik with bluster and empathy, and Brad Kirton's over-the-top dentist join a solid ensemble in bringing the show to life.
Chris Simpson's direction, as always, is brisk and inviting, often threading the cast out through the audience in a stylish, effective use of the Contemporary's space. Musical director Jean Maxon-Carpenter has coaxed excellent vocal performances, and the pit band does a fine job.
Special mention needs to go to Rebecca Magnotta, who both designed and runs the Audrey II puppets, from the table-top potted plant to the human-eating critter at the end. The centerpiece of the show, these are intricately beautiful and flawlessly functional. This is no mean feat when (without too many spoilers) several of the characters end up as, well, plant food. Magnotta's energetic puppetry combines with Jason Quinn's charming, chilling, off-stage voice to bring Audrey II to life.
Little Shop of Horrors performances Thurs-Sat evenings Nov 3, 8-10, 15-17 at 7pm, Sunday matinees Nov 11, 18 at 2pm. Tickets ($25/$15 student) available on www.contemporarytheatercompany.com or by calling the box office at 401-218-0282.