Little Shop of Horrors combines a modern-day Romeo and Juliet narrative with the ambitions of a sassy plant intent on taking over the world.
The horror comedy musical, which The Dolphin Show chose for its 75th Diamond anniversary show, is set in a flower shop in a dumpy neighborhood, and follows three main characters, Mr. Mushnik, the shop owner, and his two employees, Audrey and Seymour.
Audrey, who has low self-esteem and comes from a shady past, dreams of living domestically in a suburban house, eating frozen dinners and going to sleep at 9:15. Instead, she’s with her abusive boyfriend Orin Scrivello, a “semi-sadist” with the most ironic, hilarious profession that perfectly explains his personality. Megan Orticelli, who plays Audrey, perfectly embodies that meek, girly personality essential to playing the female protagonist.
Meanwhile, clumsy and insecure Seymour has a penchant for strange plants. One day, a mysterious green light shines down and a strange Venus flytrap-looking plant materializes in front of him, so he takes it back with him to the shop and eventually presents it to Mr. Mushnik as an option to bring some livelihood and enthusiasm back to the shop.
Though the plant has been drooping more and more ever since Seymour picked it up, it immediately catches the eye of a passerby, who pays Mr. Mushnik his first profit in a long time. Mushnik encourages Seymour to cultivate it and advertise his shop. Desperate for success and praise, Seymour affectionately names it Audrey II and soon discovers that the plant lives off blood.
Over the weeks, as the plant flourishes, it draws business for the flower shop and catches the attention of local organizations, which eventually start approaching Seymour with business deals promising fame and fortune.
All the while, Audrey seems to become more infatuated with him.
Easily, the most underestimated part of Little Shop of Horrors is the three-dimensional narrative value that the three “street urchins” Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette bring to the musical. In a way, Allie Woodson, Emma Griffone and Brianna Dorn remind me of the muses from Disney’s Hercules, acting as the little voices in Seymour and Audrey’s heads. They seem to just want the best for them, befriending Audrey and warning her that Orin is bad news, confronting Orin when he first visits the shop, and egging Seymour to sign business contracts. Moreover, they provide a sense of relief and musical depth that helps round out the rest of the musical.
And as always, the orchestra plays an essential role in setting the emotional tone for many scenes throughout the play. It narrates certain playful episodes with upbeat, jazzy tunes, but also chronicles Seymour’s internal struggles with antsy, stressful harmonies.
One of my favorite performances is the dancing scene between Seymour and Mr. Mushnik, “Mushnik and Son,” in which Mushnik considers forming a strategic, familial alliance and ponders adopting Seymour for his newfound success. They break into various styles of dance as Mushnik courts Seymour, reciting lines like, “I want to see you climbing up my family tree // I used to think you left a stench // but now I see that you’re a mench // so I’m proposing be my son!”
Little Shop of Horrors manages to create deep and complex storylines for its characters as well as tackle many moral dilemmas such as murder and death by neglect. At first, Seymour tiptoes the line between right and wrong, but he also steps way over it at some parts. He struggles to identify what really matters to him – love and success, among other things.
As the play progresses, dark and sobering details about the past lives of Seymour and Audrey emerge, such as that Mr. Mushnik picked up Seymour from an orphanage years ago, or that Orin has some serious mommy issues.
And the plant, as it grows, becomes hungrier and greedier, exuding a stronger influence on Seymour, and ultimately breaks out into song. She – yes, evidently the plant is a she – claims that she brought him success and capitalizes on his biggest insecurities, screeching, “I made you, and I can break you.” With her sassy tone, she guilts him into feeding her by howling, “feed me!” and constantly challenges his masculinity.
Audrey II is the perfect personification of a bad habit that’s dangerous to maintain. She feeds on temporary satisfaction and just keeps growing and hurting other areas of Seymour’s life, until the end, during the final scene, when sh*t hits the fan.
All in all, a hilarious and well-performed musical with some cool stage props like the chair that descends from the ceiling and the massive flower pot that the plant comes to occupy. Go check it out while you can.
The Dolphin Show is America’s largest student-produced musical. Little Shop of Horrors runs until January 28, 2017, in Cahn Auditorium at Northwestern University.