Little Shop of Horrors – Lyric Stage Company – September 2019


I saw this in September but only decided to write about it now. I’ll explain why in a bit.*

The only time I ever saw Little Shop on stage was back in the mid-1990s when a friend’s nephew played the Dentist in his high school production of the show. I remember very little about that production except that there were four girls instead of three playing the Urchins and they were all white. This is where, if I wrote this on Twitter, I’d insert that giant bug-eyed emoji.

But the original, non-musical, film was a family tradition in my home and the musical film with Rick Moranis is still a favorite of mine and my mother’s. The first time I ever heard a song from Little Shop was in the late 1980s when I was attending weekly viewings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in Cambridge. They often used Suddenly Seymour as one of the pre-show songs and I was hooked. I’ve since discovered that it’s Howard Ashman’s lyrics and the way he turned a silly story about a people eating plant into a beautiful tale of a sad man just looking to be loved that make me adore this show and its music.

(As an aside, it will always be a regret of mine that I never got to meet Howard Ashman and tell him that I absolutely adore him and that I wish I had the kind of brain he had for writing lyrics. So if Heaven has Internet access and he decides to Google himself, I hope Howard Ashman finds this and knows at least one stranger thinks about him almost every day.)

The opportunities to see it on stage never presented themselves until last fall when the Lyric Stage Company presented their version of Little Shop in September.

Lyric Stage has one of my favorite theaters in Boston. It’s small but not suffocating. You are extremely close to the stage without feeling like you’re intruding on the production. It’s a truly wonderful place to see a show. So I was excited for the opportunity and it absolutely did not disappoint.

It’s been almost six months since I watched it so some of the details are fading (curse of my truly terrible memory – which is one of the reasons I decided to blog about all the shows I saw this year – so I can remember them!) but I do remember being blown away by the level of talent on stage. A lot of people think this kind of regional theater doesn’t attract top-level, professional actors and those people are so very wrong. I’d put this cast up against some of the better shows I’ve seen in New York and they’d come out on top.

It occurs to me that if I’m comparing shows I should mention that Dan Prior as Seymour and Katrina Z Pavao as Audrey are both fabulous and have chemistry out the wazoo (that’s a theater term). Pavao’s voice brought me close to tears more than once, and Prior made for a perfectly adorable nerdy Seymour. The entire cast, again, was so bloody fantastic.

What really sticks in my mind, though, and which, given the ladies room conversations post-show, a lot of people don’t realize because of the film version, is that this show is goddamn DARK.

If you watch the Roger Corman version of the film, you know the story is dark, but he adds so much humor into it that the funny is what you remember when it’s over. (Although admittedly I used to have nightmares about the end of that movie for YEARS when I was a kid.) The musical takes out almost every truly dark aspect of the show (sure, there are murders, but it’s for LOVE, and everything works out in the end)!

That last part is a bold departure from the actual story, and if you forget that, seeing it on stage is a cold reminder. Everyone in this show is poor. Everyone is either sad or angry and everyone makes such god-awful decisions (even poor Audrey, possibly my favorite musical theater character).

The combination of doo-woppy, 1950s-style, happy music and the reality of how dim and sad these characters’ lives are something less talented people would botch. Not Ashman and Menken, though, and in this case not the cast of the Lyric Stage Opera. Even the (relatively) silly ending felt creepy and unsettling and I loved every moment.

Two productions of Little Shop of Horrors cropped up not soon after I saw this one. At the Pasadena Playhouse a truly unique take on the show starring George Salazar and Mj Rodriguez as Seymour and Audrey that I wish I could have seen before it closed. In New York, still playing, is a new off-Broadway production that starred Jonathan Groff as Seymour. When I finally get to go see it in April, it’ll be Jeremy Jordan (continuing a bit of  baffling trend of casting stereotypically handsome actors in a role where the character is NOT supposed to be stereotypically handsome, but that’s a rant for another day). That’ll make 2 trips to skid row in less than a year. Then this coming September, almost exactly a year to the time I saw it at the Lyric Stage, I’ll be seeing it at the North Shore Music Theatre. Because I really love this show and as long as there’s an opportunity to see it, I’m there!

*So I decided to write this up and compare (event just with my vague recollections) the three.


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