First there was the “Rocky Horror Show.” Then a few years later, the young team of writer Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken had their own bright idea for a hip musical based on, and spoofing, a cult B-movie.
That would be “Little Shop of Horrors,” a successful exercise in flagrant, fantastical silliness that applied 1950s girl-group pop, doo-wop and early Motown soul to a bloody romp about a flesh-devouring plant.
The 1982 tuner (based on a very low-budget yet weirdly engrossing Roger Corman film) has returned to Seattle in an exuberant production smartly helmed by Bill Berry, and co-produced by ACT and 5th Avenue theatres.
The combined audiences of both theaters are likely to chow down happily on the show during its very long run (through June 15), given the talent on display and the unstinting appetite for the show, which spawned an uproarious 1986 movie of the same title.
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Spot-on casting wins the day here. Joshua Carter as Seymour, the horticulture nerd who toils in a failing Skid Row floral shop, is endearing, and a strong singer. Jeff Steitzer blusters and flusters with aplomb as Seymour’s harried boss, Mr. Mushnick.
As the voice of Audrey II, the monstrous plant ravenous for far bigger game than insects, Ekello J. Harrid Jr. supplies the rumbling tone and dastardly laugh for some of the show’s best laugh lines and its funniest “Feed me!” song, “Suppertime.”
A saucy trio of Nicole Rashida Prothro, Alexandria Henderson and Naomi Morgan, as the teen slacker chorus, bop in and out. (Their characters are Ronnette, Chiffon and Crystal, in tribute to several great girl groups.)
And if David Anthony Lewis as leather-jacketed psycho-dentist Orin doesn’t ooze all the bad-boy allure one hopes for, he fills a scattering of other comic roles well and sings heartily.
But the two standout performances in the solid cast come from Jessica Skerritt, as Stanley’s ditsy bottle-blonde love interest, Audrey, and from the array of gnarly, toothy puppets (designed by Martin P. Robinson and manipulated by puppeteer Eric Esteb) that portray the ever-expanding Audrey II.
Skerritt has developed in recent years into a bona fide leading lady, who here is laughable, adorable and in lovely voice. And Audrey II? It resembles a cross between a shark and a giant cactus, with slimy, clinging vines.
Truth be told, this mounting of “Little Shop of Horrors” seems awfully crammed on the thrust stage of ACT’s Falls Theatre, especially during Audrey II’s final growth spurt. There’s hardly room in Martin Christoffel’s pop-up storefront set for the actors to maneuver.
But even a scenic malfunction that took a while to fix didn’t seem to bother the audience on a recent night. People came prepared to laugh, to enjoy Menken’s score (nicely executed by musical director R.J. Tancioco and combo) and to gobble up a quirky little perennial with a long shelf life.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org