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Little Shop's big comeback: late gay lyricist Howard Ashman's delicious Little Shop of Horrors finally makes it to Broadway in a production that's built to last.

Little Shop of Horrors * Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman * Music by Alan Menken * Directed by Jerry Zaks * Starring Hunter Foster and Kelry Butler * Virginia Theatre, New York City (open run)

Get ready for the long Broadway run of Little Shop of Horrors the smashing new revival of the 1982 musical by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman that is based on Roger Corman's campy 1960 horror film. What's not to like? The audience already knows the story of the nerdy orphan in a skid-row florist's shop whose secret formula for producing a giant exotic plant earns him fame, fortune, and the heart of a masochistic beauty named Audrey. Into the theater we walk humming the catchy pop-rock score and anticipating the jokes with great relish. And our expectations are more than met. Like the recent revival of The Rocky Horror Show, this Little Shop isn't just a cynical Xerox of a presold product but a first-class remounting.

The original version, directed by Ashman himself, ran for years off-Broadway in the East Village. That show and the hit movie it spawned starred cabaret diva Ellen Greene sobbing out the comic torch songs "Suddenly Seymour" and "Somewhere That's Green." The Broadway cast is more of a tight ensemble headed by two rising stars, Hunter Foster (Urinetown's original Bobby Strong) as Seymour and Kerry Butler (Tracy Turnblad's best friend in Hairspray) as Audrey. Director Jerry Zaks, a former performer, is big on physical comedy and coaxes oodles of vaudevillian funny business out of Foster and Rob Bartlett, who channels Zero Mostel as Seymour's boss, Mushnik. The audience may roar at the entrance of Douglas Sills as Orin, the sadistic dentist Steve Martin played in the 1986 film adaptation, thinking they know what's coming. But with Zaks's encouragement, Sills delightfully devours every bit of scenery before it devours him. The man-eating plant that Jim Henson's company designed for this show will go down in history with Miss Saigon's helicopter as one of Broadway's crowd-pleasing theatrical coups.

As his sharp lyrics attest, Ashman (who, sadly, died of AIDS complications at 40) was no dummy, and neither is Zaks. So while the show offers nonstop entertainment (I haven't mentioned the Greek chorus of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette, here sporting updated, home-girl attitude), it's not about nothing. A domestic monster that thrives on blood and devours everything (including its creator) may have been a comic metaphor for Communism in the red-baiting '50s, but we don't have to look any further than tabloid TV and the murky war-making machinery in Washington to supply our own contemporary parallels. Little Shop Horrors certainty isn't Ph.D thesis material, but the last scene, with blood dripping down the proscenium and the pod-encased principals warning "Don't Feed the Plants," does produce the kind of laughs that stick in your throat.

Shewey writes on theater for The New York Times.
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Author:Shewey, Don
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Article Type:Theater Review
Date:Nov 11, 2003
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