Monstrous plant brings local theater scene back to life

The choral ensemble of Lauren Sidwell, Ashley Hodges and Tiffany Snell are drop-out street kids in the ongoing Music Theatre West production of the off-beat musical "Little Shop of Horrors."

LOGAN – The ongoing production of the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” by Music Theatre West is a hoot from start to finish. The opening night audience at the Ellen Eccles Theatre loved it and you will too.

After a year in pandemic limbo, Cache Valley theatergoers would undoubtedly have warmly greeted any full-scale musical production that signaled the revival of our local performing arts scene. But there’s nothing to settle for in “Little Shop of Horrors.” Like all MTW productions, this show is brimming with talent and is rousingly performed.

The musical “Little Shop of Horrors” is loosely based on a 1960 low-budget sci-fi black comedy directed by schlock-master Roger Corman about a lovesick florist who reluctantly raises a monstrous man-eating plant. With music and lyrics by the Disney musical giants Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, “Little Shop of Horrors” premiered to wild success off-Broadway in 1982 and went on to become a movie and enjoy a Broadway revival.

But there’s no confusing the music of “Little Shop of Horrors” with the traditional schmaltz that Menken and Ashman subsequently created for “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” Here, the tunes are toe-tappingly pop-oriented with witty lyrics and are brilliantly performed by a jazzy live orchestra under the direction of the incomparable Jay Richards.

Cameron Neeley heads the versatile MTW cast as Seymour, a down-on-this-luck nebbish who trades his soul for a shot at true love and ends up losing both.

Seymour’s would-be heart-throb is Audrey, fetchingly played by Melinda Richards.

Seymour is pathetic and Audrey is prone to victimhood, but Neeley and Ms. Richards make genuinely beautiful music together on tunes like “Suddenly Seymour” and “Somewhere That’s Green.”

In a distastefully unhealthy portrayal, Logan McKenna is way over-the-top as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello. His rendition of “Dentist!” is a show-stopper, but (spoiler alert!) you really can’t help but look forward to the monster plant to eating the abusive jerk.

Despite his manipulative ways, Brad Noble is likeable as the flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik. He and Neeley join in a hilarious Yiddish tango while singing “Mushnik and Son.”

The teenage drop-outs who serve as the choral ensemble for “Little Shop of Horrors” are amusingly played by Lauren Sidwell, Ashley Hodges and Tiffany Snell. The trio memorably performs the show’s anthems “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Skid Row.”

Good as all the real-live performers on the stage are, the highlight of the show is naturally the bloodthirsty alien plant Audrey Two. Skillfully crafted by local special effects wizard Tyler Whitesides, Audrey Two is played by four interactive puppets that represent the psychotic plant’s stages of growth throughout the play. The audience responded with well-deserved spontaneous applause each time a new incarnation of the plant was revealed.

The funky, soulful voice of Audrey Two is supplied by Clifton Richards from off-stage.

Kudos to Danny Rash for the show’s appropriately gritty stage design.

“Little Shop of Horrors” has been variously described as a tragic urban romance, a Faustian morality play and a musical indictment of unbridled capitalism. All of those descriptions are critical navel-gazing at its worst. This musical has no more social pretensions than Corman’s original $28,000 movie. It’s just loads of fun.

What makes “Little Shop of Horrors” such a guilty pleasure is that the show is so politically incorrect nowadays. We shouldn’t laugh at Audrey’s plight as a woman trapped in an abusive relationship. But we do. We shouldn’t root for Audrey Two to begin munching on characters left and right. But we can’t wait for that to start happening right before our eyes. After all, like the chatty plant says, don’t we all know somebody who really deserves to die?

Evening and matinee performances of “Little Shop of Horrors” will continue at the Ellen Eccles Theatre in downtown Logan through Mar. 13.

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