Last week I was having lunch with a friend of mine who was in the original cast of ‘Evita' on Broadway and our discussion turned to shows that opened when we were in our teens that our now considered classics. With the first revival of ‘Evita' now on Broadway (after 33 years), we started to point out other shows that were new in our youth that have now taken on the title a ‘classic' and sure enough, ‘Little Shop of Horrors' was right at the top of the list. ‘Little Shop' even paid my rent for over a year back in the late 80's! Because of its small cast and musical accompaniment, ‘Little Shop' has become the modern day ‘Fantasticks' with nary every high school and community theatre group taking its shot at producing the show, usually with very limited success.
As what usually happens with classics, they get ‘re-imagined' and that too can cause great suffrage for those who like to stick to the creative team's initial intent for the show. I am usually on that band wagon, but after seeing Street Tempo Theatre's newly staged Rocky Horror meets alien plant concept, I can say, much can be said for re-imagination. Gone are the puppets (Hasty Pudding Theatre Company's when I did the show) and gone are the three African-American doo-op girls. Here the plant is played great affect by Candace C. Edwards who obviously is having a great time chowing down on the part. One of the three Motown girls is now in the very capable leather clad persona of Will Hoyer who belts as well, if not better than his compatriots.
As campy as "Little Shop" is, the morality of the musical is about how wealth and fame can change the core of a human. It also deals with abuse, both physical and emotional intertwined with self esteem and class issues. Without these relationships and flaws of the characters at the forefront, "Little Shop" can easily be dismissed. Street Tempo Theatre directors Brian Posen and Kory Danielson do a yeoman's job in the casting department. John Sessler is an engaging and lovable Seymour who hits all the right emotional notes throughout the production. Erin Creighton gives us a cross between Ellen Green and Edith Bunker in her Audrey and her show stopping, ‘Somewhere That's Green' packs the necessary emotional punch that song intends.
The issue with the production, and it is big one, is the horrific sound imbalances with the band that almost derails the entire production. There are moments where entire verses are inaudible from every character. Seymour almost has to scream his notes to be heard in some numbers; Ms. Edwards' lower register is inaudible and Patrick Cannon's dentist is totally lost. If this issue isn't resolved, you are going to have actors out of commission for vocal damage. Each lead is miked so it is a simple matter of balancing, not hard to remedy.
It is in the songs that the characters find their arch and without being able to hear the most intricate nuances in the lyrics, the truth of who they are is only half exposed. Once this issue is fixed, and I am sure it will be, this is a "Little Shop" that can surely be a beacon for others to follow.
Street Tempo Theatre's "Little Shop of Horrors" runs through May 13th at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago. For tickets please call (773) 327.5252 or visit