Little Shop of Horrors by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is the most famous (and perhaps only) musical ever written about a man-eating plant. The IPFW Department of Theatre's production of it, running through April 29, is as fun as it could be.
One thing about having seen quite a bit of theater through the years is that I often forget elements of a play. In the case of Little Shop, I had completely forgotten how it ends. Since its ending is unlike any other, and completely unexpected, I was glad to have forgotten it and truly surprised during the last few minutes, as many in the audience seemed to be.
The plot, well known to most after frequent stage performances and a 1986 film version, centers on the discovery by Seymour, a clerk in a flower shop, of a bloodthirsty plant he names Audrey II after the woman he silently loves. As Audrey II grows larger and increasingly hungry, the plot thickens.
The cast and crew of IPFW's production, directed by Beverly Redman, clearly have a great time with this play, and the elements of it come together remarkably well. The sets work beautifully for the various scenes and the props are extremely well chosen and integrated.
Before the play begins and throughout it, cast members playing Skid Row drunks wander through the audience. This choice can be a little jarring, but it works to make us feel a part of the scene. Had I forgotten that one especially menacing character comes to a well-deserved gory ending, violence against heroine Audrey would have been a little more disturbing than it was, but it ended up feeling worth the moments of uneasiness just before the intermission.
The musical numbers from Little Shop are interesting, and very few have a traditional feel. "Somewhere That's Green," "Dentist!" and "Suddenly Seymour" are especially strong.
The cast is led by graduating senior Ethan Lichtle as Seymour. He makes one of the nerdiest nerds ever a delight to watch from the first scene until his final one just before the play closes. As Audrey, IPFW sophomore Megan Buss is the right mix of ditzy and endearing. She also has the perfect voice for the role.
Robert Shoquist, whom I don't think I've seen on a Fort Wayne stage, makes the role of Orin, a sadistic motorcycle-riding dentist, his own. He also takes on a large variety of other supporting characters and shows incredible range. An actor who has played countless roles here through the years and is always fun to watch, Gary Lanier, makes a fine Mr. Mushnik, owner of the flower shop in which most of the action takes place.
Redman, who also serves as chair of the Department of Theatre, said in a whatzup interview last week that students had chosen this play to round out the season. They made an excellent selection and she did well to approve it.