OK, English majors. Imagine the Faust legend. Only substitute a nerdy botanist for Faust and a man-eating plant for Mephistopheles. Now add catchy tunes! The result might resemble “Little Shop of Horrors.” Yes, it’s a money-making idea, but composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman thought of it first in 1982. Their hit Broadway musical is playing now in a Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe production.
Seymour Krelbourn (Michael Mendez) is the nerdy Faust in question. He works at a wilting flower shop in New York City’s Skid Row. His boss, Mr. Mushnik (Michael Kinsey), is ready to close the shop for good.
Miraculously, Seymour discovers what looks like a giant Venus flytrap. He puts it in the shop window and gawking customers magically appear. Seymour names the plant Audrey II in honor of Audrey (Marta McKinnon), his nubile co-worker and unrequited love interest. At first, he feeds it his own blood. Later, he feeds it the sadistic dentist (Earley Dean) who’s been using Audrey as a punching bag. Before too long, his boss is also plant food. Soon after that, the plant is feeding itself.
In case any of this is unclear, a Supreme-ly entertaining girl group trio (Ariel Blue, Naarai Jacobs and Tsadok Porter) explains what’s happening, baby. Their songs are pitch-perfect pastiches of Motown and doo-wop Top-40 hits. The world ends. Not with a bang. Not with a whimper. But a shoo-bop, shoo-bop.
Armageddon was never so much fun. This musical is a hoot and Harry Bryce directs accordingly. Aside from being damn good, the singer/actors all seem to be having a good time. Dean revels in his sadistic creepdom. Mendez and McKinnon are lovable as their doomed, sweet characters. Kinsey’s Mushnik isn’t really such a bad boss. And — somewhere backstage or writhing inside a foam and polypropylene prop plant, puppeteer Santoy Cambell and voice actor E. Mani Cadet give the vicious vegetable life. Now, let’s put this monster in context …
The original Broadway play was an adaptation of Roger Corman’s low-budget shocker from 1960. The musical celebrates its schlocky sci-fi and horror origins and that time in American cinema when Earth (or, at least, Southern California) was constantly being invaded by aliens, blobs, robots, giant ants and giant spiders. But this was also the time of “I Love Lucy,” “Father Knows Best” and “Leave it to Beaver.” The musical celebrates that too — and that’s its genius.
Seymour and Audrey are the heroes of the show. They’re two sweet kids. As sweet as Lucy, Ricky Ricardo or the Beaver. (Poor, innocent Seymour gets to play Faust, though he meant well. He just didn’t read the fine print.)
So, essentially, the lovable characters from early-1960s-primetime-TV America are forced to match wits with the evil monsters of B-movie science fiction. I don’t want to spoil the ending, kids …
But you can guess.
IF YOU GO
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through Nov. 16, at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Call 366-1505 or visit wbttroupe.org for more information.