DRAPER — Like its featured creature, Little Shop of Horrors is a strange beast: a combination of a late-’50s monster-of-the-week flick and an ’80s B-movie camp, featuring a jive-talking, man-eating plant and a doo-wop musical score. In fact, the show has origins in both those formats, being originally released as a black comedy film in 1960, and later as a 1982 musical that made its way onto Broadway.
That version, written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken, is onstage at Draper Historic Theatre, and directed by Jared Daley. It differs from the iconic 1986 film starring Rick Moranis in a few significant ways. First, the ending is more in line with its original monster movie origins. There are also more minor musical numbers, and the masochist character (played by Jack Nicholson in 1960 and Bill Murray in 1986) is nowhere to be seen.
The well-known and much-loved songs are all here, though. In this production, the popular songs are highlighted by ballads, “Somewhere That’s Green,” and, “Suddenly Seymour,” sung by Savanna Forester and David Peterson. Both performers are formidable leads who play losers who grew up “in the gutter,” with Peterson as orphaned botanical nerd Seymour and Forester as his abused coworker Audrey.
Upon the discovery of a new, weird plant species, Audrey’s and Seymour’s world is turned upside down by the plant’s increasing intelligence and nefarious demands. Draper Historic Theatre’s design of the plant (named “Audrey II” by an adoring Seymour) is a fairly classic take of the character with enormous red lips and veins bulging out of its massive green “head.” The puppet, which grows progressively larger throughout the show as it consumes one person after another, is a wonder to behold. The prop master is not credited, but the creation is quite an achievement. Its voice is provided by Tony Baca with the puppet’s motions done by Casey Dean. However it worked, the sync between the two was perfect, and I’d never guess they were being done separately.
In addition to the plant, there are a couple other villains to deal with, mainly Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend, the wonderfully named Orin Scrivello D.D.S., played by Paul Miller. When Audrey is asked why she puts up with a boyfriend who gives her black eyes, she demurs, “But, he’s a professional!” While less threatening than the dentist, Seymour’s boss Mr. Mushnik (Xavier Turner) also sees others as little more than ways to advance his own interests, and both characters meet gruesome fates. Dancing around the action in Motown fashion is a trio of sassy Greek chorus gals known as the Urchins, portrayed by understudies Stacee Hunsaker, Sheryle Moser and BreeAnn Stobbe.
Peterson gives a wonderfully strong performance as Seymour, with perfect acting and singing for the role. I appreciate that Peterson makes his own Seymour, instead of mimicking Moranis. Peterson is also devastatingly funny, and he delivers a good improvised line to a wonky prop. Forester is also magnificent as Seymour’s eventual girlfriend, Audrey. Playing the most sympathetic character of the show, Forester also displays remarkable comedic delivery and singing chops.
Despite the show’s focus on the macabre, it’s generally an all-ages affair. If this performance were a movie, it would probably be rated PG-13 for plant-on-human and human-on-human violence (domestic abuse is a major plot point), a handful of profanities and suggestive content (Miller really sexed up the dentist). However, everything is presented in ridiculous fashion, and nothing besides Miller’s lasciviousness felt gratuitous. The kids in the audience seemed to be having a great time.
The tiny Draper Historic Theatre couldn’t have been pleased when the juggernaut Hale Centre Theatre moved close to it, and the crowd, while very appreciative, did seem on the small side for a Friday night. Do the world a favor and slide on down to a theater where the actors put their souls into the roles—a theatre that needs patronage and fully deserves it. I’ve been writing for UTBA for nine years and hardly knew the Draper Historic Theatre existed. Turns out, it’s a delightful experience. The staff is friendly, the home-baked concessions are cheap, and I had a smile on my face the whole night. All in all, the $12 ticket price is a steal. As the Plant says before the show, “We don’t make jack squat!”—so spread the love a little and support real community theater. Personally, I’ll take this “Little Shop” experience any day: one where the props drop off the walls, and the Plant tips off its pedestal and nearly crushes Audrey. It’s a “B-grade” musical—why would you see it any way else?