Hilariously Haunting Horticulture at The Public’s “Little Shop of Horrors”

If your New Year’s resolution involves mutant shrubbery, murder and unabashed love, Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s classic tale, “Little Shop of Horrors”, might get you one step closer to living your best life.

Staged in the picturesque Skid Row, New York, Little Shop follows Mr. Mushnik (Marc Moritz), a struggling entrepreneur, and his rag tag staff, Seymour (Philippe Arroyo) and Audrey (Lauren Marcus) as they try to navigate operating a flower shop in the geographic armpit of the city.

Plagued with dwindling business, Mr. Mushnik reaches his boiling point and decides to shudder the operation. But before he does, Seymour and Audrey plead with him to give the business one last hail mary marketing strategy, a unique plant that is sure to draw customers in.

Hesitantly, Mushnik obliges, and it unleashes a Pan’s Labyrinth of fame, fortune and untold truths. As Mr. Mushnik becomes more successful, he and Seymour become enthralled with mirroring an ascent into financial immortality, only to be foiled by greed, lust, and evil deeds.

Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Marya Sea Kaminski with musical direction by John McDaniel. Scenic Designer Tim Mackabee transported the audience to Skid Row with a set that seemed to envelop the theater.

(left to right) Melessie Clark, Abigail Stephenson and Tavia RiveƩ

The narrative vocal trio of Melessie Clark (Ronnette), Tavia RiveƩ (Crystal) and Abigail Stephenson (Chiffon) added humor, flavor and spunk as they lead the audience through the roller coaster of emotions being felt by Mushnik and his crew. While all powerhouses, they worked in perfect unison, each one piquing during the show to highlight their vocal prowess. It was a feast for the ears.

Marc Moritz as Mr. Mushnik hit a home run with his overall annoyance of life, and the pursuit of not being annoyed by his employees. He neither waxed or waned in his steadfast dedication to work, and provided an uncomfortable level of enthusiasm in order to achieve the success he so desperately sought.

Lauren Marcus as Audrey tip toed into our hearts as the downtrodden slow getter who just wanted a simple life full of love, green pastures…and a massive 12-inch TV. Her character struggled to find her place in the world, and never truly understood her worth, or what she did and didn’t deserve. Perhaps the most tragic character of the production, Marcus held the stage with poise and grace.

Lauren Marcus and Patrick Cannon

Philippe Arroyo as Seymour bumbled his way right into the horticultural history books. What started as an innocent pet project, quickly turned into a psychological thriller that asked and answered the question, how far would you go to have it all? Seymour’s reluctance to indulge in debauchery simply masked the awful truth that he was the monster all along. Arroyo played his character with a mastery of lustful angst.

Patrick Cannon as Orin (and everyone else) nailed his role as an abusive Dexter-like dentist with an affinity for motorcycles, leather, and laughing gas. Orin is the guy we love to hate, and in the end, he would get the last laugh…literally. Cannon, who also played five other roles, offered a diverse repertoire of ridiculousness that the audience seemed to appreciate.

Monteze Freeland as the voice of Audrey II worked seamlessly with puppeteer J. Alex Noble to provide a gut busting baritone concerto of sarcasm and salience. The role also gave a haunting new meaning to plant-based diet.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is a robust production layered with masterful vocals, quirky comedic musings, and dramatic self-reflective undertones. It was delightfully playful, even while toying with serious issues like domestic violence.

Artistic Director, Marya Sea Kaminski, continues to delight with her play selection, as well as casting. Theater means alot to the Pittsburgh infrastructure, and when I surveyed the crowd, I noticed a younger, more diverse audience truly having fun. I also believe this injection gave theater regulars new found vigor for the performance.

As we all know, theater fodder is a plentiful, pre and post show. I saw a couple sprinting up the hallway, saying, “hurry up, the beginning is the best part.” I also heard a woman say to her friend, “This is the most fun I’ve had at a show in a long time, I would come back and see it again.”

To me, that’s what theater needs, people who want to fan the flame of excitement to the rest of the community. With Kaminski’s demographic scaling down, social media becomes a powerful tool for ushering in the arts to a new audience of theater lovers. “Little Shop of Horrors” runs through February 23. Visit The Public for more information.

Philippe Arroyo and Lauren Marcus
Photos by: Michael Henninger

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