Little Shop of Horrors

by Sandy MacDonald
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 13, 2006
Audrey (Erin Tchoukaleff) and Seymour (Christian Kiley)
Audrey (Erin Tchoukaleff) and Seymour (Christian Kiley)  (Source:Lee Ross)

Once again, the Animus Ensemble has crafted an irresistible charmer of a chamber musical. Artistic director John Ambrosino, who helms this show, has a knack for casting: though he'll call upon valued regulars, he never lapses into a cliquish same-old same-old. He also shows a reliably playful bent, and a talent for novel tweaking.

This major twist in this rendition of the 1982 off-Broadway classic is that Audrey II, the mutant carnivorous plant, isn't an elaborate prop-plus-voiceover, but a man (later supplemented by skilled "plant dancer" offshoots). Local rocker Neil Graham is cueball-bald, muscular, tattooed, and possessed of a compelling pout and a commanding bass. When he roars, "Feed me!" who'd dare resist?

Certainly not "that twerp of a klutz" Seymour (sweet-voiced Christian Kiley), a budding botanist who, having bled himself to the fainting point, must come up with fresh meat. As the sadistic dentist Dr. Orin Scravello, Jim Jordan makes a prime candidate: his sneer alone would earn him an express ticket down Audrey II's gullet, even if he weren't guilty of battering Seymour's co-worker/crush, the original Audrey (Broadway-ready Erin Tchoukaleff), who's as fragile as her namesake is rapacious. As Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette (Heather Fry, Emilie Battle, and Sehri Wickliffe)-- a Greek chorus of doo-wop street kids - helpfully point out, this is a chick with some serious self-esteem issues.

Playing Mr. Mushnik, Seymour's boss (and opportunistic adoptive father), Eric Rubin doesn't do quite enough to play up the cruel streak that would earmark him as a logical human sacrifice, and that lapse later skews our perception of Seymour.

Still, the headlong action and Howard Ashman's clever lyrics (occasionally overpowered by the rambunctious offstage band) leave little time for carping. This musical romp is a treat from the word go, so in a word: Go.

At the Plaza Theatre, Boston Center for the Arts (617-933-8600; www.animusensemble.org), 539 Tremont Street, Boston; Thursday-Saturday 8:00 p.m., Sunday 4:00 p.m.; through October 21; tickets $33.50-38.50.

Sandy MacDonald (www.sandymacdonald.com) is a travel writer and theatre critic based in New York, Cambridge, and Nantucket.

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