As a kid I had a love/hate relationship with the movie version of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a sci-fi rom-com horror musical about a geeky flower shop employee and the alien, man-eating plant that takes over his life.
I loved the special effects of the talking, singing Venus flytrap, but at the time I hated the ‘50s doo-wop style of the movie’s songs.
Decades have gone by and my tastes have changed, so when I heard that the Albuquerque Little Theatre was putting on its own stage version of the cult classic, I just had to check it out.
ALT’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” was equal parts silly and sweet, with large portions of skillful puppeteering and soulful singing. Hearing the songs and watching a giant monster plant dance and sing onstage evoked strong memories of the grainy VHS tape of the film I would watch as a kid.
The curtain raised to reveal a creative and well-executed set, depicting the inside of Mushnik’s Skid Row Flower Shop and the grimy alleyways around it.
In the show’s opening number, the time and place are set up: skid row, New York City, in a decade not too long ago. The show’s “chorus,” three street girls who act as narrators throughout the story, get things going with an upbeat doo-wop number.
The music I once despised in my youth turned out to be my favorite part of the show. The street girls, played by Kayla Fallick, GiGi Guajardo and Adrianne Valdez, really impressed, with sweet harmonies and tremendous energy. Valdez shone in particular, delivering her singing lines with power and perfect pitch.
We are then introduced to our heroes — the nerdy and unsure Seymour, played by Ron Gallegos, and Audrey, the ditsy blonde knockout and apple of Seymour’s eye, played by Emily Melville. The two had good chemistry, creating entertaining though somewhat one-dimensional characters.
The thing that really made the show stand out, and what got the biggest reactions from the audience, was Audrey II — the talking, man-eating plant that drives the story. The cartoonishly evil, cackling Venus flytrap from space was depicted using three puppets that grow bigger as the show goes on, the last one being so big that it literally ate several characters whole.
Mickey Gammill, who built and controlled all three puppets, brilliantly brought the character to life, but the best part about Audrey II was his voice. Moe Copeland’s booming baritone commanded the audience’s attention and got a lot of laughs with the famous line, “Feed me Seymour!” This show was the ALT debut for Gammill and Copeland, and they knocked it out of the park.
Another standout was Nicholas Handley, who played Orin, Audrey’s sadistic leather-clad boyfriend, who also happens to be a dentist. He was deliciously creepy and easy to hate, but still managed to get some big laughs, a feat that is not easy.
Later in the show, Handley plays a series of different characters in quick succession, running off the stage and appearing seconds later in a different costume. His scenes were some of the funnest of the show.
The actors were all well-rehearsed and gave solid performances, and despite some sound issues and crackling mics, the performance went off without a hitch.
Overall the tone of the show was a little cartoony, which made for a fun night. For a story about a man who is convinced to basically commit murder and feed human beings to a diabolical plant, it all felt very low-stakes.
One could argue that Seymour’s inner struggle could’ve been played a bit more passionately, but honestly, I didn’t mind the silly, light-hearted take on the material.
One thing that was very different from the movie of my childhood was the show’s ending. In the movie, the evil plant is destroyed and Seymour and Audrey live happily ever after. ALT director Henry Avery chose to stick with the writer’s original ending, which is much darker and more ironic, but just as satisfying.
The final number, “Don’t Feed the Plants,” featured the whole cast and sent the audience home with smiles on their faces. All in all, “Little Shop of Horrors” is a fun way to spend a Saturday night.
The show runs through Oct. 30. For tickets, visit albuquerquelittletheatre.com. Student prices are $20 a ticket.
Jonathan Baca is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @JonGabrielB.