I get really lucky sometimes. A couple months ago, I received an unexpected loan from my coworker L, who may well be my culture soul mate - she and I are both crazy for museums, musicals, libraries, classic Hollywood films and Cole Porter. Anyway, one day she randomly offered me the soundtrack from the original production of Little Shop of Horrors. My only prior exposure to this show was through my older brother's audiotape soundtrack for the 1986 film version with Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, and that one episode of Head of the Class. I quickly fell in love with several of the songs and became very curious about the story that was told in the lyrics. I promised myself that I would keep my eyes open for the next local production.
I got a work email on Monday offering free tickets to the opening night of Little Shop of Horrors at the Performance Network, so of course I immediately nabbed a pair for Dan and myself. What a blessing! This show is so much fun. It reminds me a lot of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, with it's sci-fi horror story and catchy numbers, but the music is more girl group/R&B oriented. Since Dan and I love to nerd out on that sort of music, it was the perfect show for us to see together.
I have to believe the best part of any production of LSOH is the R&B chorus. I thought that the three super hot black women who performed on Friday night definitely stole the show. With their girl group inspired names, Chiffon (Sharon L. Brooks), Crystal (Sharriese Hamilton) and Ronnette (Diviin Huff) sang the story with big, soulful voices, wearing cool Supremes style costumes and wigs as they danced circles around the dramatic leads. The critic for annarbor.com (I can't believe I'm linking to this mostly useless "news" site, but this review is actually decent) felt that the trio was a bit stilted in the beginning, and I have to agree with that. But their doo wop singing style and their personalities were so infectious that I couldn't help looking forward to their appearances the most.
You see, Little Shop of Horrors isn't a perfect musical like, say, Guys and Dolls, which has no bad songs. I'm not a fan of the ballads in Little Shop, and beyond its story-driving purpose, I flat out dislike "Suddenly Seymour". That's too bad, because it represents this exciting turning point in the story when awkward, nerdy Seymour (Jason Richards) has finally worked up the courage to woo his beautiful, beloved Audrey (Courtney Myers). Sadly, it's the sort of song that manages to be overwrought and dull simultaneously, like one of those terrible Disney film themes that won an Oscar in the '90's. Sitting in the theater at that moment, I felt like Spike in the musical episode of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" when the characters are singing the tragic finale, "Where Do We Go From Here?". At the point in the song when they all join in unison, with the cheesy hand gestures and melodramatic, faraway glances, Spike mutters, "Bugger this" and takes off. That's exactly what I wanted to do.
Fortunately, Richards and Myers got better opportunities to demonstrate their vocal chops with some bubblier songs like "Closed for Renovation" and my favorite, the sad but rollicking "Skid Row". But certainly the showstopper was Aaron Moore's "Dentist!". In addition to playing every other supporting role in the show (including a woman) Moore portrayed Audrey's sadistic boyfriend Orin and belted out this number with spot-on rockabilly flourishes and a truly frightening snarl. I especially loved the way he played off the backup trio, who complimented his voice perfectly despite being completely repulsed by him; much of their accompaniment consisted of screaming.
In fact, I couldn't help noticing the best numbers are also the most upsetting. I guess you need the more victorious songs like "Suddenly Seymour" to balance the scenes that put you on edge, like when the mutant plant Audrey II (Naz Edwards) sings a very funky "Feed Me" in an attempt to get Seymour to feed her human blood. Nevertheless, the latter song is, in my opinion, much better.
All of this tension leads to a more disturbing ending than I had expected, but it is a horror story, after all, and a pretty great one at that. Again, it isn't the perfect blend of song and story that I find in Guys and Dolls or Singin' in the Rain (though I caught a pretty terrible stage version of that a couple months ago... I just don't think anyone should bother staging SITR). Yet, I'm sure there are other perfect musicals out there for me to discover and in the meantime, I will gladly settle for highly enjoyable ones like this.
And as long as I'm lucky, I just want to add that I will also gladly settle for a conveniently located revival of "Ain't Misbehavin'". Did you hear that, Universe?