Sara Ochs as Audrey and Randy Reyes as Seymour in the Mu Performing Arts production of "Little Shop of Horrors."
Photos by Michal Daniel
Mu Performing Arts presents the cult classic "Little Shop of Horrors" at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis through April 3. Thinking about seeing the show? Check out these excerpts of reviews below, or click on the links to read the full reviews.
Some day we will look back on these days as the golden era of Mu Performing Arts. That shouldn't assume some future collapse, but in years hence the mind will fondly recall that group of Asian-American actors who cemented Mu's place in the Twin Cities theater ecology.
This wistful mood is brought to you by Mu's delightful production of "Little Shop of Horrors," which opened Saturday at the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis (and let it be said that the Ritz feels great as a venue for this show).
It's tempting to point at Randy Reyes, whose career has blossomed, as the reason for Mu's emergence. Reyes is a cuddly, lovable Seymour -- the nebbish who occupies the center of "Little Shop." Down on his fortunes, Seymour has nursed an oddball plant (with a taste for blood) to health and the resulting fame lifts the fortunes of his employer, Mushnick's Skid Row Floral Shop. Reyes' comic chops and timing have developed razor-sharp acuity, yet he retains an everyman charm.
To pin it all on Reyes, though, would ignore (speaking of charm) Sara Ochs as Audrey. Ochs shines as the fragile street girl who can't catch a break with men. Her previous work with Mu ("Flower Drum Song," "Walleye Kid") revealed a tender, sweet quality coupled with a lovely singing voice. Here, she loosens up her vocal chords -- particularly with "Suddenly Seymour" -- and we see another dimension. Ochs is the real deal.
...Lest there be any doubt, the work is unabashedly ludicrous, a knowingly absurd musical that derives endless mirth from unhinged eccentricity. Honoring that spirit of brazen bizarreness, Mu Performing Arts has launched an adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors at the Ritz Theater that thrives on quirkily macabre humor.
...Dedicated to presenting work from an Asian American cultural perspective, Mu Performing Arts doesn't initially seem a likely fit for Little Shop of Horrors. The original work, after all, designated roles to very specific character types; from a bubbly blond as Audrey to the trio of corner singers modeled after the African American girl groups of the 1960s. By using an all Asian American cast, however, Mu Performing Arts has not only defied stereotypes, but shown that richly realized characterizations mean more than surface appearances.
Directed with energetic wit by Jennifer Weir and supported by the melodic verve of musical director Denise Prosek, Little Shop of Horrors adheres closely to the original production. The most conspicuous difference relates to the setting, freshly imagined through the foggy lens of steampunk, a science fiction subgenre that incorporates archaic technology into more contemporary (often incongruent) worlds. While the setting makes for an intriguing diversion, the work's driving force remains the offbeat narrative and unexpectedly sympathetic characters.
...Mu Performing Arts' new adaptation of Little Shop of Horrors doesn't attempt to radically alter the work. Instead, the production serves as a reminder that an exceptionally talented cast and crew - regardless of specific ethnicity - hold the power to transcend a work's cultural assumptions. Seems like a lot to ask of a musical about a man-eating plant, but Mu Performing Arts achieves the task with a thoroughly entertaining mixture of lofty romance and ghoulish laughs.
Randy Reyes stars as the down-and-out florist Seymour Krelbourn and Sheena Janson portrays the famous man-eating plant, Audrey II in Mu Performing Arts production of "Little Shop of Horrors."
If you're in the mood to call out differences, you could note that Mu Performing Arts' production of "Little Shop of Horrors" features an Asian-American cast and that the role of homicidal houseplant Audrey II -- usually voiced by a deep-voiced male -- is played by a sultry femme fatale.
But if you're simply in the mood to enjoy a top-notch production of Howard Ashman's comedy-horror musical about a nerd, a beauty and a beastly plant, then nothing in the paragraph above matters.
Borrowing costume, setting and mood from the science-fiction subgenre known as steampunk, director Jennifer Weir announces immediately that her production of "Little Shop" will have a different look and feel: The raggedy costumes are earth-toned, gritty and anachronistic to the show's early-1960s setting. The sets are minimalistic and intentionally drab. And as famished flora Audrey II grows, her appendages are suggested by coils of foil-covered flexible ductwork.
...In many "Little Shop" productions, the performer singing the role of Audrey II is heard but not seen, hidden while stagehands manipulate the constantly growing botanical baddie. Here, Sheena Janson -- sporting a Medusa-meets-Miracle-Gro hairdo -- is prominent, and her bitchy, seductive and nicely sung performance affirms director Weir's decision to release the performer's light from its bushel.
... On balance... Mu's "Little Shop" is a terrific staging that acknowledges and honors the show's familiar history, even as it gamely, creatively and successfully subverts it.
In 1982, composer Alan Menken and lyrics and book writer Howard Ashman watched Roger Corman's deservedly obscure 1960 film (shot in two days) about a plant that noshes exclusively on fresh-killed human meat and decided that it could be the basis for an extremely funny musical. Whatever they had for dinner that day, I want some, because Little Shop Of Horrors, with simplistic but sturdy and tuneful classics like, "Suddenly, Seymour," "Dentist!" and "Feed Me" has over the years received thousands of productions. Menken and Ashman (who died in 1992) went on to become auteurs of Disney animation (The Littlest Mermaid, Aladdin, et al). But this musical has become a cult classic.
Mu offers up an all-Asian production. Which signifies...nothing. One notices the Asian-ness of the show, thinks about it for perhaps 5 seconds, and then, in the face of director Jennifer Weir's blazing exuberance and energy, forgets about it. Weir produces Little Shop on a small budget and the production feels a touch rough around the edges, but this only adds to its charm.
Luckily for everyone, the two leads, Randy Reyes and Sara Ochs, are marvelous. Reyes amazes: thrilling as the Peking Opera star in the Guthrie's M. Butterfly, he directed Mu's difficult WTF with understated intelligence. Here he's a natural, stumbling through the play with a charming Cheshire Cat smile. He plays Seymour with a befuddled and goofy dignity. His sweet tenor is perfect for the music.
And Ochs, wow. This performer has a depth and a quiet presence that makes it hard not to watch her constantly. Exquisite in last year's Flower Drum Song, Ochs's Audrey is, in equal parts, intelligent, masochistic, confused, sexy. And utterly in love with Seymour. Their duet, "Suddenly, Seymour" electrifies.
So, have you seen the show? If so, what did you think? Share your reiew in the comments section.