Blood-thirsty plant scares up cheers at the Merriam

Plants that are strong, large enough to swallow a man whole and sing as smoothly as Isaac Hayes – that’s what you’ll find in Little Shop of Horrors, and you’ll never look at plants the

Plants that are strong, large enough to swallow a man whole and sing as smoothly as Isaac Hayes – that’s what you’ll find in Little Shop of Horrors, and you’ll never look at plants the same way again after you see it.

On March 15, Howard Ashman’s sci-fi musical comedy premiered at the Merriam Theatre on one of the stops of its Broadway national tour. The play, featuring Jonathan Rayson and Tari Kelly, maintains a $10 million budget. It has been hailed with favorable reviews and provides the audience with an enjoyable night of theatre.

Little Shop of Horrors, which some might remember as the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, focuses on a florist’s shop located on the impoverished Skid Row. In the play, the meek Seymour (Rayson) is cultivating a “strange and unusual” plant, which he discovered during a “total eclipse of the sun.” In the process, he also attempts to woo his co-worker, the effervescent Audrey (Kelly), who is currently involved in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist (also a laughing-gas junkie). The plant gains quick fame for Seymour and advances his relationship with Audrey. However, the burden of the demanding diet for Audrey II (his plant, named after his love) grows heavier on the timid botanist’s shoulders, for only he knows the secret recipe the plant needs to grow: human blood.

Upon viewing this production, one cannot help but be struck by the overwhelming and consistent talent that is shared among the entire cast. Rayson is given the formidable challenge of portraying Seymour as well as Moranis did in the film, and amazingly, he surfaces with a brilliant performance. Rayson is a tremendous geek on stage who emits astonishing vocals. His romantic interest, Kelly, does not produce a carbon copy of the film Audrey (Ellen Greene). She cleverly builds off of and adds her own style to what the film character portrayed and garners an abundance of laughs from the audience. Kelly, however, is able to set aside her comedy and effectively deliver some of the famous solos, including “Somewhere That’s Green.” James Moye has the difficult task of portraying Orin, the joyous pain-inflicting doctor of dentistry. Moye’s acting is terrific; his disadvantage lies in the incredible popularity of Steve Martin’s portrayal in the film. Moye’s role is given extra substance, as he plays numerous characters in addition to Orin, and in shockingly quick succession.

Interestingly, the best actors in Little Shop</i? are the three gospels, Yasmeen Sulieman, Iris Burruss, and Latonya Holmes, who respectively play Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette. The three street girls act as the story’s narrators, as well as communicate with the principal characters. Their voices reverberate throughout the theater beautifully and their comedy is just as effective. The moments they are on stage are filled with animation and panache. They simply tower above the rest of their talented cast.

While the acting in director Jerry Zak’s play is wonderful, what truly sets this dark musical comedy apart from all other current productions is how the $10 million budget is put to use. Scott Pask’s set designs are reminiscent of scenes from a comic book and convey great depth and dimension. The scenery makes use of gorgeous colors; however, they are subdued and darker instead of having a more vibrant tone.

The true genius of this play comes from the puppetry of Audrey II. The Jim Henson Company built the man-eating plant and created a puppet for every stage of its rapid growth. Initially, Audrey II, a.k.a. “Two-ey,” is in a pot that Seymour carries around. It is remote-controlled, enabling the strangely adorable plant to move and interact with Seymour’s actions. Upon Two-ey’s first appearance, I found myself wanting my own, because it was so cute. As the play progresses, new puppets are brought in. The detail of the puppet makes it a work of art and a technological masterpiece, as the animatronic plant is able to rear its enormous head swiftly and realistically. The head becomes so large that actors are able to step inside and be swallowed whole.

Little Shop of Horrors is undoubtedly one of the best shows I have ever seen. Although its popularity currently does not match that of Wicked and Avenue Q, the rave reviews and standing ovations will ensure this sci-fi musical comedy’s place in audience’s hearts. Upcoming stops on the national tour include Baltimore from April 14 to May 1 and Boston from May 3-15. If anyone can scrape up the money to see this show, it is advised to do so, as it is laden with superb talent and ingenious special effects. And remember, “Don’t feed the plants!”

Jesse North can be reached at

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