Ghoulish giggles in Firehouse’s Shop of Horrors

Little Shop of Horrors, the musical inspired by the Roger Corman film, has always been subversive. It’s a comedy, sure. But the undercurrent of the wretched of the earth, the denizens of Skid Row, who haven’t got a chance and expect nothing, flows throughout the narrative. Many characters are cynical, except for Seymour and Audrey, who work at Mr. Mushnik’s Flower Shop. They are both naive, but affable, perhaps the only two likable characters in the show. Seymour was adopted by Mr. Mushnik as an orphan. Now he sleeps on a mat in the basement, sweet-natured enough to be grateful to Mushnik, who isn’t exactly a philanthropist. Seymour is a lovable nebbish, schmendrick among the losers of Skid Row, but the kindest and most genuine we’ll find. When he discovers an unusual plant, of course, he names it for his Lady Love, Audrey (i.e. The Audrey II). Audrey doesn’t squeal, but rather, squeaks her surprise and elation. Like an adorable mouse. This kind of wry, tongue-in-cheek cynicism, suffuses like the acrid scent of a smudge stick.

Once word of The Audrey II gets around, and Seymour gets a taste of notoriety and success, he discovers the plant can only subsist on blood. As Audrey II grows and Seymour sees Audrey herself being abused by Orin, the dentist, his path is clear. Kill Orin and feed him to the plant. At this point Little Shop reaches it’s most gleefully grisly, when Seymour sings a duet with the plant: “….The guy sure looks like plant food to me…” Perhaps it’s because of the unlikely nature of the premise that makes giggling and merriment so hard to resist. An enormous plant that devours people whole? C’mon. And yet watching her swallow them is unbelievably funny. Little Shop’s perverse, quirky mix of nihilism, absurdity and class revenge goes down surprisingly well. Misanthropy is pervasive, and suffering a given. When Orin sings his ode to dentistry and the opportunities it affords for sadism, it’s so off the charts, we can’t help but laugh. And we’ve all been in that terrifying chair.

Director Marilyn Setu and this maniacal, meticulous, amazingly energetic cast bring out the chills and chuckles in Howard Ashman’s and Alan Mencken’s ghoulish comedy. Setu has evoked an eeriness that I have never seen in previous productions, throughout the Metroplex. It was surprising and pleasurable to see the touches that took Little Shop to the realm of dread and despair, while maintaining the thread of deliciously preposterous humor. Setu treats us to her unique, jaundiced vision, and it’s just right for Halloween and a tickle to the ribs.

The Firehouse Theatre presents: Little Shop of Horrors, playing October 12th-29th, 2017. 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch, Texas 75234. 972-620-3747.

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