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This ‘Little Shop’ Remembers the Human Touches
May 4, 2012
by Paul Donovan

Click For Full Size Spring is halfway over, and plants are growing wildly all over the metro area. As a fitting tribute, the Kansas City Repertory Theatre is closing out its season with the classic musical Little Shop of Horrors. And just like everyone loves spring, this show is always a crowd-pleaser – especially when done by one of the best theaters in the state.

For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s about the lives of three people who work in a flower shop in city slum Skid Row. Mr. Mushnik runs the flower shop; Seymour, a nerdy loser, is secretly in love with Audrey, a self-hating beauty who is in an abusive relationship with a dentist addicted to laughing gas. When the store is on the brink of bankruptcy, Seymour comes across a strange new plant that begins attracting customers. The only thing is, the plant is literally bloodthirsty. And foul-mouthed.

It’s no mystery why this show is so popular; it’s full of monstrously catchy songs, an edgy sense of humor, and clever puppetry. More than that, however, there is a real humanity to the story. It’s the archetypal struggle between character and material success – perhaps made even more poignant today, with so many Americans out of work.

It’s easy for a production of this show to spend all its attention on the songs and the plant, and lose sight of those deeper resonances. But director Kyle Hatley does a fantastic job of keeping that front and center. In addition, the cast is very well aware of it, and they do a great job of making their characters into real people.

Joseph Medeiros plays Seymour, and he is excellent as the lovesick sap who discovers the terrible price of reaching his dreams. Gary Neal Johnson, as Mushnik, and Nick Cordero, as Orin (D.D.S.), give strong performances as well.

Perhaps the most crucial character of the show is Audrey. She provides the emotional center for several characters and is essentially the soul of the play. Ashley Blanchet takes the role with both hands and runs with it. Blanchet shows Audrey’s quiet desperation. Her self-esteem wilts at the same rate that her namesake plant is blooming. During the famous number “Somewhere That’s Green” there are no set pieces to help her out. She simply sits on a trashcan in front of the curtain, and yet we can visualize everything she’s saying. Similarly, Blanchet’s duet with Medeiros, “Suddenly, Seymour” is perhaps the showstopper – both actors make their hope and vulnerability almost physical. They have a powerful chemistry together.

I would be remiss if I were not to mention the smaller, yet no less important roles of Ronette (Eboni Fondren), Chiffon (Colleen Grate), and Crystal (Jennie Greenberry). Popping in and out of various costumes in quick succession, they are the pivotal Greek chorus who provide background atmosphere and narration with attitude. And Michael James Leslie gives the plant a voice to remember. The design and puppetry of Audrey II are similar to what you would expect, but with a few tweaks here and there. Nowhere will you find a carnivorous plant with more swagger.

People who have only seen the movie should be aware that this is not exactly the same. The stage version has a much darker ending, but one that fits better with what the show is trying to say. It’s still an energetic, fun romp that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but it is also a potent reminder that there are some plants that you just shouldn’t feed.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 20 at the Kansas City Rep’s Copaken Stage. For tickets, go to www.kcrep.org or call the box office at 816-235-2700.
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