AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Broadway in Philadelphia at The Merriam Theater
250 South Broad St., Phila., PA 19102
Through March 20, 2005
Box Office: (215) 336-1234

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

The giant killer plant that conquered Broadway is now at the Merriam Theater. "Little Shop of Horrors" has arrived in an all-new production directed by Jerry Zaks and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall ("Wonderful Town"). Featuring clever book and lyrics by the late Howard Ashman and upbeat pop music by Alan Menken this show delights from start to finish. The songs, "Somewhere That's Green", "Suddenly Seymour" and the title song have long been well loved musical theatre favorites.

For those of you who've never seen the original Off Broadway production downtown at the Orpheum Theater, which ran for 2,209 performances, or the movie version starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin -- or the original 1960 Roger Corman film that it's based on -- here's the plot: Seymour Krelbourn, a meek Skid Row florist, makes a Faustian pact with a tiny, exotic plant in order to win the love of Audrey, his co-worker. Audrey recognizes the exotic plant's moneymaking potential and displays it in the shop's window. Soon Mushnik's Flower Shop is a success and Seymour is a celebrity. But Seymour is having trouble because the plant is growing by leaps and bounds and keeps demanding more of what makes it grow -- human blood. And Seymour realizes all too late that this now giant plant might have its own agenda - world domination!

The cast headed by Jonathan Rayson (a terrific Seymour) and Tari Kelly (an adorable Audrey) is very strong. Michael James Leslie as the awesome voice of Audrey II (the Plant) comes from the 2003 Broadway revival as does Mr. Rayson. We feel just the right amount of revulsion and sympathy for Lenny Wolpe as Mr. Mushnik and James Moye does quintuple duty as Orin, the sadistic dentist, and four other smaller roles. The three satin voiced ladies, Amina S. Robinson (Crystal), LaTonya Holmes (Ronnette), and Yasmeen Sulieman (Chiffon), who serve as our modern day Greek chorus and keep the story moving, are marvelous.

Kathleen Marshall's choreography adds to the already campy merriment, especially in the "Mushnik and Son" number. And the puppeteers for all the plants were amazing -- bringing a lifelike reality to these colorful creations of fabric and wood.

My only problem with this expanded and spruced up production is that the costumes by William Ivey Long seemed much too classy for me to feel that I was ever on Skid Row -- all the women looked just too, too fabulous. (Not that this is necessarily a bad thing.)

But Skid Row aside, the show works as well now as it did back in 1982 because it's clever, it's funny and it's terribly well written. So go and have a good time. And if you don't come out singing the title song, e-mail me and I'll teach it to you.

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