Ashton & Menken’s Musical Confronts Capitalist Greed
by Patricia L. Morin
“Little Shop of Horrors” has moved to a new neighborhood. From New York’s mainly white Skid Row district, Director Jeffry Lo has cleverly planted us in a cramped Chinatown flower shop in San Francisco.
Lo highlights the largest and oldest Asian community in North America, still marginalized and a target for hate crimes. The small Chinese shops barely survive in today’s cut-throat corporate world.
Scenic Designer Christopher Fitzer creates a flawless replica of a Chinatown flower shop, with worn wooden counters, lovely flowers in water buckets, and Chinese character signs. I even spotted a Chinese Lucky Cat which showers good luck on its owners. Through the windows, we catch glimpses of bright paper lanterns, hanging ducks, and shirts. The setting encourages us to focus on Asian cultures.
We are guided by three talented singers: Naima Alakham, Alia Hodge, and Lucca Troutman. The trio sprinkles humor and delight, welcoming us with an up-beat “Da-Doo,” and enriching the story.
We meet shy Seymour (dynamic Phil Wong), a struggling, inept flower pusher, working in the run-down flower shop. He works for controlling Mr. Mushnik (demonstrative Lawrence-Michael C. Arias) who continually belittles him.
Seymour is in love with his co-worker, sweet, insecure Audrey (engaging Sumi Yu). But Audrey is dating an abusive and sadistic dentist, Orin (multi-talented Nick Nakashima). The plot begins to sound like soap opera until Seymour buys a unique flowering plant resembling a Venus flytrap, but with piercing teeth. He names the leafy flower, Audrey II, sung melodiously by Katrina Lauren McGraw.
When Audrey II’s teeth prick Seymour’s finger, she acquires an insatiable hunger for blood.
As if infused with the unseen corporate powers, Audrey II draws flocks of plant-buying tourists. She rewards Seymour with attention and fame, which leads him to wealth. But her greed and selfishness grow, and the plant’s demands increase exponentially, as she orders: “Feed me, Seymour!”
Positioned center-stage and grown huge, Audrey II (exquisitely designed by Matthew McAvene Creations) sprouts tentacles of greed that spread slowly through the shop. Manipulated by puppeteer Brandon Leland, her neck elongates; she squirms with delight, making us laugh.
A circus sign hangs over her, announcing: “Here it is, the amazing Audrey II!” As the small shop flourishes, Seymour sings to the self-aggrandizing plant: “Grow for Me.”
Audrey II generates even more blood money.
After Mushnik praises Seymour, he adopts him, a practice in Chinese culture. Boss and worker buy new clothes and, along with Audrey, they sing, “Closed for Renovations.”
When abusive Orin demands that Audrey follow him, the dentist becomes a major meal for the plant, freeing Audrey.
Seymour’s Chinese heritage transforms his life into an American dream: new stylish clothes and a love match with the real Audrey. They find a “house” outside the city, as Audrey sings, “Somewhere That’s Green.”
Greed knows no culture, religion, or race, but guilt can infect anyone. Seymour feels guilt, yet he is torn between the values of two cultures. Wong masters Seymour’s changes from shy and fearful to arrogant and accomplice to murder.
When Audrey and Seymour sing, “Suddenly Seymour,” we feel a surprise ending approaching.
You will not be disappointed. A must see.
“Little Shop of Horrors” –book & lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken, directed by Jeffrey Lo, music director William Liberatore, at TheatreWorks, Silicon Valley, Palo Alto, California. Info: TheatreWorks.org – to Saturday, December 31, 2022.
Cast: Naima Alakham, Lawrence-Michael C. Arias, Alia Hodge, Brandon Leland, Katrina Lauren McGraw, Nick Nakashima, Lucca Troutman, and Phil Wong.
Banner photo: Lucca Troutman, Alia Hodge, Phil Wong, and Naima Alakham. Photos: Kevin Berne