Ah. The snowbanks are melting, temps are soaring (sort of), the sun has a delicious new bite. There will be no more snow. In honor of the new season, CTC is producing Annie, Penumbra is exploring the music of Nat King Cole and the Guthrie is doing…Shaw. Well, not everyone can get in the swing of things, but certainly Mu Performing Arts is the first out of the blocks with their delightful paean to spring, Little Shop Of Horrors (at the Ritz Theater, 345 13th Ave NE, through April 3).
In 1982, composer Alan Menken and lyrics and book writer Howard Ashman watched Roger Corman’s deservedly obscure 1960 film (shot in two days) about a plant that noshes exclusively on fresh-killed human meat and decided that it could be the basis for an extremely funny musical. Whatever they had for dinner that day, I want some, because Little Shop Of Horrors, with simplistic but sturdy and tuneful classics like, “Suddenly, Seymour,” “Dentist!” and “Feed Me” has over the years received thousands of productions. Menken and Ashman (who died in 1992) went on to become auteurs of Disney animation (The Littlest Mermaid, Aladdin, et al). But this musical has become a cult classic.
Mu offers up an all-Asian production. Which signifies…nothing. One notices the Asian-ness of the show, thinks about it for perhaps 5 seconds, and then, in the face of director Jennifer Weir‘s blazing exuberance and energy, forgets about it. Weir produces Little Shop on a small budget and the production feels a touch rough around the edges, but this only adds to its charm.
Luckily for everyone, the two leads, Randy Reyes and Sara Ochs, are marvelous. Reyes amazes: thrilling as the Peking Opera star in the Guthrie’s M. Butterfly, he directed Mu’s difficult WTF with understated intelligence. Here he’s a natural, stumbling through the play with a charming Cheshire Cat smile. He plays Seymour with a befuddled and goofy dignity. His sweet tenor is perfect for the music.
And Ochs, wow. This performer has a depth and a quiet presence that makes it hard not to watch her constantly. Exquisite in last year’s Flower Drum Song, Ochs’s Audrey is, in equal parts, intelligent, masochistic, confused, sexy. And utterly in love with Seymour. Their duet, “Suddenly, Seymour” electrifies.
Nice work is also done by the reliable Kurt Kwan as the crusty Mushnik, by the tattoo’d Eric “Pogi” Sumangil as the viciously lovable Orin (you’ll cheer when the plant, Audrey II, eats him), and by Sheena Janson as the sinuous and carnivorous Audrey II. The “Girl Group” – Katie Bradley, Molly Pan and Suzie Juul – are excellent, though perhaps they could display a bit more NYC toughness. There, I said something critical; it’s a small point, and they are all very good singers. Indeed, everyone in this show is good.
Denise Prosek provides good musical direction and Maria Kelly‘s choreography is spot on. The designers, led by the indefatigable Joseph Stanley (now averaging a show every two weeks; give this man some oxygen) are terrific.
Recommended. And leave your jacket in the car.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.