Seymour Krelborn, a put-upon floor-mopper in a flower shop, finds a “strange and interesting plant” after a total eclipse of the sun and, suddenly, things begin to turn around at 1313 Skid Row.
Customers come. Newspaper and television reporters clamber for interviews. Even his big crush, Audrey, takes notice.
Of course, there’s a hitch. Success comes with a price. The plant has a taste for blood. Human blood.
What’s a nebbish to do?
If you think you know the answer because you’ve seen Frank Oz’s 1986 movie, think again.
Things are darker in the stage version of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s remake of the 1964 Roger Corman b-movie. Things are closer to Corman than the later Hollywood effort.
Director Patricia Wilcox, who led last season’s “Aida” at WBT, has a firm grasp on the pacing and mood of the musical – and works with a first-rate cast.
As Audrey, Julie Connors brings flexibility and a rock-solid believability to a character with serious self-image problems. Her timing is impeccable, her voice strong.
Her Act 1 solo on the ballad “Somewhere That’s Green” is heartfelt, sweet and affecting. In Act II, she belts the duet “Suddenly, Seymour,” showcasing a powerful voice.
As Seymour, Eric Santagata is slightly less compelling, choosing a voice that sounds like it comes from Adam Sandler’s bag of tricks. His voice at times is overpowered by the five-piece pit band.
It’s a tough task, to make a nerdy character – someone people overlook – memorable and believable. While he and Connors connect and share the stage well, when Santagata has the stage to himself, the action tends to droop a bit.
As Mushnik, Bob Arnold – a WBT regular, last seen as Moonface Martin in “Anything Goes” – seems to find and lose his accent, alternating between Yiddish and Russian. But his characterization is otherwise strong.
Gary Lynch impresses in several parts, large and small. The program lists him as playing “Orin, Bernstein, Snip, Luce and Everyone Else.”
He plays the evil Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., an NBC executive, an editor’s wife a la Dame Edna, a hipster radio guy, a William Morris agent, a cowboy entrepreneur and a button-down flower-shop customer. He makes the most of each part, particularly as the laughing-gas addict Orin, conjuring up Jim Belushi at his most madcap.
The street urchins – Ronnette (Jalynn Steele), Chiffon(Talana Deshaies) and Crystal (Kimberly Hamby), named for three ’60s girl groups – are in fine voice, even when they obscured by an overactive (and unnecessary) fog effect in the opening title song.
But when the fog cleared, there was plenty to like about director Wilcox’s take on the show that launched the career of Menken, a New Rochelle native.
No review of “Little Shop” would be complete without a mention of Audrey II, the man-eating plant at the center of the action.
Voiced by Terri White – credited as the only woman to play that role in a professional production – and operated by Bill Diamond, Audrey II is a fully realized member of the ensemble, and a creepy one at that.
Gail Baldoni’s costumes are perfect, the set by George Puello and Steven Loftus is suitably Skid Row and Gerard Kelly’s hair and wig designs add to the production’s polish.
The story has had several incarnations through the years, beginning with Roger Corman’s 1960 cult classic, “The Little Shop of Horrors,” which included a 23-year-old Jack Nicholson as a man who loved the dentist’s chair.
Then came Ashman and Menken’s musical adaptation, which opened at Off-Broadway on May 6, 1982, and transferred to the Orpheum Theater, where it ran for more than 2,200 performances.
Oz’s 1986 movie musical starred Rick Moranis as Seymour and Ellen Greene as Audrey. Bill Murray made the most of the Nicholson part, a role that doesn’t appear in the stage show.
“Little Shop” made it to Broadway in 2003, with Hunter Foster as Seymour and Kerry Butler as Audrey. (Butler now stars in the unexpected Broadway smash “Xanadu.”)
The key to the show’s appeal is the music – a bouncy, catchy mix of rock, doo-wop and Motown with music by Menken and wonderfully clever lyrics by Ashman, who died in 1991.
When Orin, the evil dentist, gets trapped in his laughing-gas helmet, he asks Seymour to help him:
“Though I giggle and I chortle,
Bear in mind I’m not immortal.”
“Little Shop” is a cautionary tale, but one with great heart and songs you’ll leave the theater humming.
If the ending isn’t rosy, well, what Faustian tale ends happily?
(Photo of Julie Conners as Audrey, by John Vecchiolla.)