Metropolis ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ A Campy Comedic Delight

Little Shop of Horrors got its start as a Roger Corman B-movie. B-movies are typically campy and low budget, featuring primarily has been actors and total unknowns. Corman is regarded as the King of B-Movies.

Featuring a yet unknown Jack Nicholson in a supporting role, Little Shop of Horrors was a fairly forgettable, black and white Corman movie released in 1960. It told the story of a man-eating plant from outer space. It was shot on a budget of $28,000.

Jump forward a few decades and Little Shop of Horrors was reimagined for the theater as a musical comedy by Alen Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (book and lyrics). The hilarious musical premiered Off-Off Broadway in 1982 and audiences instantly proclaimed it a hit. It received a brilliant film adaptation courtesy of director Frank Oz in 1986.

Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has been pioneering how to offer theater to audiences during the COVID-19 pandemic that has ravaged the country and shuttered the doors on traditional theater, at least temporarily.

In February, Metropolis brought Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery to life as a filmed virtual production. It was a very well-done, and well-received production. (SEE REVIEW) At the time, it was as close to real theater as we could get.

For Little Shop of Horrors, Metropolis has taken the next step towards normalizing theater during a pandemic. They are presenting the production in a tent to provide free airflow, with the audience socially distanced and under mask mandate.

The story follows Seymour, a lowly stock boy at a Skid Row florist shop owned by Mr. Mushnik. The shop also employs Audrey, a bombshell with a heart of gold but no self-esteem.

Just as Mushnik Flowers is about to go under, Seymour discovers a never-seen-before species of plant. The plant is so unique that it draws widespread attention and news coverage, translating into huge sales for the flower shop. Indicative of his affections for his female co-worker, Seymour named his plant the Audrey II.

Unbeknownst to Seymour’s boss Mr. Mushnik or dream girl Audrey, the plant that is drawing them such world notoriety is highly intelligent. The Audrey II can talk to Seymour, and its favorite topic of conversation is about eating…people.

Audrey’s abusive boyfriend Orin Scrivello is as low as they come. Is he low enough for Seymour to sacrifice him to his man-eating plant? That does present an interesting moral dilemma for our unlikely hero.

Little Shop of Horrors is a musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s campy and fun.

For the Metropolis production, Seymour is played by Mark Yacullo. It is a by the numbers performance that is entertaining to watch. Audrey, the apple of Seymour’s eye, is brought to life by Emilie Rose Danno with the perfect accent and body-hugging wardrobe. Any guy would be lucky to have Danno’s brand of arm candy by his side.

Both Danno and Yacullo look for the truth of their character throughout the performance. Every action and reaction is calculated and thought out. You can’t help but to respect and enjoy their performances.

Michael Metcalf plays Scrivello and other roles. While the entire ensemble is exceptional, Metcalf is in a category all his own. Where a normal actor’s intensity goes up to 10, Metcalf’s goes to 12. Metcalf is a talent to watch out for.

It’s clear that director Enrico Spada set out to make an impact with some unconventional directorial choices. Some of them work well, others threaten some of the unique traditions of this particular show. The show is delightfully fun and the  train never goes off the rails, but purists might not agree with some choices.

As Audrey II, Breon Arzell has just the right level of gravel and desire in his soulful voice to bring the larger-than-life character to the stage. Spada has given Arzell a bigger canvas to paint upon than traditional staging would, and the actor makes the best of the opportunity.

Rounding out the cast are Khyel S. Roberson as the ever earnest Mr. Mushnik, Lexie Bailey as Crystal, Yasir Muhammad as Chiffon, and Selena Robinson as Ronnette. Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette make up a Greek Chorus of sorts that keep the show moving at an entertaining pace.

Music Direction is by Kenneth McMullen. Choreography is by Arzell.

Metropolis’ Little Shop of Horrors is certifiably entertaining. It’s a fun way to spend a few hours delighting in live theatre again. The performers make Metropolis proud.

Metropolis is staging Little Shop of Horrors under a tent at Evergreen and Eastman in downtown Arlington Heights – a few blocks north of Metropolis’ normal production facility (111 West Campbell Street). Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 PM and Sunday afternoons at 3 PM through June 19.

To purchase tickets, go to: MetropolisArts.com or call the box office at (847) 577-2121.

Metropolis won’t break even doing shows like Baskerville and Little Shop of Horrors without the benefit of being able to play to full houses. Metropolis is presenting at a fiscal loss just to keep theater relevant. When you purchase your tickets for Little Shop of Horrors consider making a donation as well. Let’s keep quality arts alive.

Peace. Love. Trust.

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