Review: 'Little Shop of Horrors' Is Perfectly Creepy — and Surprisingly Deep

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Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "Little Shop of Horrors" is a creepy, campy, cult favorite, usually played for broad laughs. Of course it is. It's about a giant, carnivorous plant that manipulates a young man into killing people so it can eat them. It's ridiculous.

Except — maybe it's not. In this delightful and yet more serious production, performed upstairs at the small Westside Theatre, the show is more clearly a metaphor for the rapacious greed for celebrity and money, and what people will do to get them.

But don't worry. Christian Borle's sadistic dentist is still a pretty campy bad guy.

Directed by Michael Mayer, this Little Shop feels fresh and timely. It's still very funny — the plant is played by an ever-growing series of fantastic puppets with terrifying teeth — and really, really fun. But it also has a vulnerable heart. Tammy Blanchard is astonishing as Audrey. When she sings about wanting "somewhere that's green" we see a woman who's been beaten down by life, and yet still has room for a little hope.

And Jonathan Groff's Seymour is not a bumbling nerd, but a grateful orphan with a green thumb who's working hard to make make something of himself — and to win the love of Audrey.

One warning: some under- 10-year-olds in the audience were begging to go home at intermission. This Little Shop of Horrors is not a cartoon — it has a kind of earnestness that makes it genuinely scary. "Horror" is in its name, after all.

But grownups enjoy it. This is a perfect production. I can't imagine one better.

"Little Shop of Horrors" with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, directed by Michael Mayer, at the Westside Theatre Upstairs through January 19.

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