Little Shop of Horrors is probably better known by non-theater goers for the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. Also, know to a lesser degree the 1960 non-musical comedy that put Jack Nicholson on the map.

With these other incarnations of the story, it is easy for one to see the live version of the musical and have certain expectations. If you have never seen the live performance, you may be surprised by the astounding difference between Stage and Film in this instance. Director Brendan Hoyle has managed to breathe new life in a show that has been around the block quite a few times.

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If for some reason you have never heard of this musical, well maybe you’re not getting out of the house enough. It follows the ill-fated adventure of a young florist named Seymour who raises a cannibalistic plant. Seymour finds himself forced to do wicked things to appease the sentient plant, who offers to help him win the love of Audrey, a sweet girl with a checkered past and incredibly poor taste in men. If you have seen the film, don’t go expecting to see the events unravel the same way on stage.

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This production features Rashad Stukes as Seymour and Janae Thompson as Audrey. These young performers had a strong musical presence and each had an impressive vibrato. They seemed very well cast, and in addition had great chemistry with one another. I was very surprised to find my favorite performance was by Jim Farmer as Mr. Mushnik. I had always in the past thought of this character as forgettable in other media. Mr. Farmer was such a natural performer that I started to see the story through his eyes, and thus rooting for him first. Highlights include his performance of “Mushnik and Son” with Seymour (Stukes). The hardest working performer on stage was Nathan Jacques. He is responsible for playing the character Orin Scrivello DDS, the psychopathic boyfriend for Audrey and sadistic dentist.

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The set, designed by Matt Gorris, was impressive and practical. It successfully gave you the impression of a city street and the inside of the flower shop, with a rolling set piece that displayed the flower shop sign and another piece designed to look like a dentist’s office. The costumes, unfortunately, did not impress me. Audrey had a backstory that eluded to a less than wholesome lifestyle, but she was dressed very conservatively. This is a minor concern though, and I’m probably just being picky. Lighting, designed by Heather Butterbaugh, was effective and subtle enough to set the mood without being distracting, which is what you want.

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The narration of the show is handled by three singers, Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, played by Damiana Cole, Brielle Farrow, and Victoria Grace Triplett respectively. For the most part they were on their game, though in the beginning of the show they sounded slightly pitchy. They seemed to compensate for it quickly though.

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The killer plant was the real star of the show. My hat is off to the construction crew for all four puppets for Audrey II. A. Michael Singleton delivered the voice and Ginakay Howell was the puppeteer. Together they stole the show, despite only appearing on stage shortly during the opening scene.

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One of the highlights for me was being able to see the live band. They were situated above the set, made to look like they were rehearsing on the roof of the building. I was especially was impressed with the drummer Kai Bartol, who was able to keep time without dominating the sound, which is not unusual in smaller venues.

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I came to this show with high expectations, considering I’ve never been disappointed with any performances I’ve ever seen at Little Theater of Norfolk. It’s fair to say those expectations were met. There was a couple of times when it was shaky, but there were no serious problems with the performance.

Tickets are still available for the remaining performances through June 16th at the Little Theater of Norfolk box office or online here– opening weekend performances sold quickly – get them while you still can!

Originally published May 30, 2019 on AltDaily.com.

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