Don’t Feed the Plants, Do See the Show: Little Shop of Horrors at Trinity Rep is Fantastic

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors. Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman. Music by Alan Menken. Directed by Tyler Dobrowsky. Set design by Sara Brown, costume design by Andrew Jean, lighting design by Dan Scully, and sound design by Peter Sasha Hurowitz. Puppets provided by Monkey Boys Productions. Photo by Mark Turek.

By Kimberly Rau

They say the meek shall inherit, and boy, does the mild-mannered Seymour Krelborn get more than he ever bargained for when he purchases a mystery plant from a street vendor during a solar eclipse. The weird little seedling brings new business to the failing flower shop where Seymour works, gets him attention from the lovely Audrey (his unlucky-in-love coworker) and even garners him some praise from the shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnik, who until now has been content to use Seymour as his verbal punching bag. There’s just one tiny problem. The plant, christened Audrey 2, can only survive on blood. Human blood. And eventually, she gets too big for Seymour’s myriad paper cuts to sustain her. There’s just one solution…and even though you know it can only end badly, “badly” is quite the understatement.

Written by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, Little Shop of Horrors is a love story, a kitschy sci-fi romp, and, at its core, a story of man destroyed by the very thing that was supposed to save him. And at Trinity Rep under Tyler Dobrowsky’s direction, it’s riveting from start to finish. Even a slight technical issue that wound up halting the show for a few minutes on opening night couldn’t dampen the cast’s, or audience’s, spirits, and the standing ovation at the end was well-deserved.

Jude Sandy plays Seymour, who is adorably awkward and clumsy, often literally tripping over his own two feet. He has a good voice, though there may have been some sound system issues as sometimes he was hard to hear in certain numbers. He plays well against Rebecca Gibel, who is the kind but often misguided Audrey. She believes she deserves the nasty hand life has given her and never considers that someone as good as Seymour could ever love her. When they finally come together in Act 2’s “Suddenly Seymour,” the moment is electric. Their extensive character work pays off in an extremely believable pairing. Gibel’s vocals are perfect too, and her accent doesn’t veer into the obnoxious. Stephen Thorne is the S&M-obsessed dentist Orin, who dates Audrey and has no problem taking out his aggressions on her…and all of his patients. Thorne handles the role well, keeping Orin seedy and unlikeable, but also playing into his more comedic moments to keep things (relatively) light. Stephen Berenson is the world-weary and money-hungry Mushnik, who goes so far as to adopt the adult Seymour when Audrey 2 starts garnering his shop some income. It’s not the biggest role in the show, but Berenson is well-cast and consistently funny in it.

Carla Martinez, Elexis Morton and Kedren Spencer play Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette, respectively, who act as a kind of Greek chorus throughout the musical. Together they are a powerhouse. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear much of Martinez in terms of solos, but Morton and Spencer are both delightful in their standout moments, and all three are a pleasure to watch.

Being Trinity, there are some twists and turns. The ever-growing Audrey 2 is portrayed, as is typical, by a series of larger and larger puppets, physically handled by Ted Chylack. But while Rachel Warren lends her voice to the demanding flytrap, she also gives an incredible performance as the personification of everything the plant holds over its hapless owner. The promise of a better life, of finally getting the girl, of finally getting out. And all it’ll cost him is his conscience, a few bodies, and everything he’s ever wanted. Warren’s voice is a powerful weapon in this show, going from seductive and sultry to scary and demanding when it’s time to get what she wants, and as always, her acting is superb. The original script is content to leave the person voicing Audrey 2 in the shadows; Kudos to Dobrowsky for this refreshing take.

Overall, this is a great rendition of an old favorite, with all of the traditional touches that make the show a classic and all of the quirky additions that make it wholly Trinity Rep. Catch it before it closes, but stay away from the plants.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 12 at Trinity Rep, 201 Washington St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at www.trinityrep.com or by calling 401.351.4242.

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