I went to the Off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors with an open mind. This quirky 1982 musical about a plant that demands human blood has a cult following and is even loved by critics, at least most of them, but I have never seen the appeal. The current production at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs didn't change my mind, even though the show, under the direction of Michael Mayer, is top notch in every way.
The silliness of the story doesn't feed me for two hours. I use the term "feed me" because as devoted fans know and love, this is an oft-repeated line of the murderous plant, Audrey II. She is brought to life by puppet designer Nicholas Mahon with Kingley Leggs's rich bass voice. The musical, with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, is based on Roger Corman's 1960 film. It spoofs old time horror movies and sappy ballads.
While the show is tedious to me, this production's components couldn't be better. It's always a joy to see Christian Borle, especially when he can fully exercise his comic chops the way he does here. He pops on and off stage in a variety of roles, including the leather jacket-wearing, motorcycle-riding, girlfriend-abusing dentist, Orin, and a Life magazine editor's wife in a pink suit and high heels. He seems to be having a blast and it was fun to see who he was going to come out as next. He certainly must have good dressers backstage transforming him from character to character so quickly.
Not surprisingly, Jonathan Groff gives a strong performance as Seymour, the downtrodden clerk in a Skid Row flower show who becomes famous for the unusual plant he nurtures to enormous size, fed by the humans who get in his way. Tammy Blanchard handles the role of Audrey, Seymour's fellow clerk and the object of his longing, with just the right amount of campiness and sensitivity, especially when she sings the show's funniest song, "Somewhere That's Green." I was equally charmed by the chorus of Skid Row Urchins played by Ari Groover, Joy Woods and Salome Smith (pictured left to right with Groff) who do a great takeoff of 1950s girl groups with some nice Motown moves thrown in. A nod to choreographer Ellenore Scott and to costume designer Tom Broecker for those shimmering red dresses they wear for one number.
Scenic designer Julian Crouch offers a Skid Row that looks more like a set for "Sesame Street," which I liked. Little Shop works better with this kind of simplicity that a small Off-Broadway stage provides rather than a full-scale Broadway production like the one in 2003.
Being able to give this much praise to a musical I don't even like is a tribute to all the folks reviving it. True fans will be in heaven.