LOGAN — In the pantheon of 1950s sci-fi cinema, iconic creatures like the Blob, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Metaluna Mutant left indelible marks on the genre with their larger-than-life terror and otherworldly origins. Much like these legendary monsters, Audrey II from the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors production captivates audiences with its sinister charm and insatiable hunger. The botanical beast echoes the best of vintage horror and nostalgia while keeping the highest standards of a modern musical.

The historic Utah Festival is the perfect space for this show as it still drips with art deco charm after its beautiful renovation a decade ago. The intimate space of the smaller theater brings the audience closer to the action to appreciate every detail sown into the production by director and choreographer George Pinney who leans into the pulp sci-fi origins of the story.

Little Shop of Horrors is a beloved cult classic musical about Seymour Krelborn, a poor, meek floral assistant who discovers a strange and exotic plan, which he names Audrey II after his coworker crush, Audrey. This plant, however, turns out to be a sinister blood-sucking monster from outer space bent on world domination. As Audrey II grows, it offers Seymour a chance to change his luck and get out of the ghetto of Skidrow and make his dreams come true, for a hefty price.

Stefan Espinosa, as Seymour Krelborn, delivers a stellar performance and gives the character a great deal of depth. Seymour is a timid yet endearing protagonist from his first entrance when he clumsily spills through the door and sends his armload of plants tumbling all over the stage. Sometimes the role of Seymour can be played on a simple arc going from timid to triumph, but Espinosa’s Seymour blossoms with a huge range of choices making him more exciting and complex and he explores the character. Two moments made this stand out for me. First is when Mr. Mushnik (W. Lee Daily), Seymour’s hard-hearted boss, offers to adopt him but gives the ultimatum that he’ll hold his breath and wait for an answer. Espinosa’s Seymour does not fluster and is in no hurry as he pantomimes through his thoughts. In captivating quiet he imagines throwing a ball, and flying a kite or a balloon, and draws out the moment with no pressure to hurry through the silence while Mr. Mushnik is about to pass out behind him. I also love when Seymour goes to kill Orin Scrivello (Eric J. McConnell) and passes through hyperventilating terror, indecision, temptation to kill, temptation to save, before he finally resolves to let the sadistic dentist die. Espinosa has a powerful tenor that is showcased in his classic numbers “Grow For Me” and “Suddenly, Seymour” and the chemistry between Seymour and Audrey is beautiful during the classic duet.

Vanessa Ballam shines as Audrey, bringing both vulnerability and strength to the role. Audrey is often played very campy with a character voice like Ellen Greene does in the 1986 film. Ballam, however, plays Audrey with more restraint, which makes Audrey’s journey both heart-wrenching and inspiring. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” is a standout moment. While the lyrics are funny now, with Audrey dreaming of living in a small house in the suburbs with a real chain link fence and a huge 12-inch screen TV, I teared up at Ballam’s performance of how tragic Audrey’s life was that this was her biggest dream that she could think of, and she still didn’t feel worthy of it.

Seymour slaves away for the gruff but caring flower shop owner, Mr. Mushnik (W. Lee Daily) who grumbles to himself in Yiddish as he storms out the door, but does care for his employees. Daily’s comedic timing is light and fun, especially during “Mushnik and Son.” He does some traditional Jewish dance moves and ends up doing a tango with Seymour as he tries to convince him to be grafted into his family tree.

Orin Scrivello and various minor characters are played by Eric J. McConnell who delivers a tour-d-force performance of the deranged dentist that is hilariously over-the-top. McConnell has a distinctive baritone that makes his song “Dentist!” memorable as a sparkling clean performance. McConnell drills in the character with a booming evil villain laugh and spot-on dialect for a 50’s sci-fi flick. I can’t say that I bought McConnell as a violent, intimidating sadist who could beat and terrorize people with his gentle dancer hands, but I was able to brush that aside and focus on his great signing.

The trio of Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette are played by Sydney Marie Townsend, Palyce Evelyn Berrian, and Aitana Alapa respectively. They act as the show’s Greek chorus and provide commentary and enhance the musical’s narrative. Their harmonies are tight and vocal runs impressive as they add an extra layer of polish to the production. Each of these talented performers brings a unique flair to their roles, making the trio a standout element of the show.

Of course, the show revolves around Seymour’s plant, Audrey II. Michael Nansel is the deep, booming voice of the carnivorous plant that is both intimidating and enticing. His vocal performance adds a layer of menace and charm to Audrey II, particularly in songs like “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Suppertime.” Jared Rounds, the puppeteer for Audrey II, deserves equal praise for his masterful manipulation of the giant puppet, making it a truly believable and dynamic character on stage.

The technical aspects of the production are cohesive and spectacular. Tamara L. Honesty’s set design brings the audience into the grimy, downtrodden Skid Row. One location looks like an alley with graffiti and movie posters of sci-fi classics like War of the Worlds. The interior of Mushnik’s flower shop has all the walls push up into a skyline which makes it feel like there is no getting away from the ghetto surrounding them. The lighting design of David DeCarolis establishes the mood and atmosphere of the show. There are several times when the lighting switches to red gels and flashes in time to the music complimenting the murderous actions on stage.

All of the costumes designed by Amanda Cardwell-Aiken’s capture the essence of each character. Seymour’s nerdy, washed out earth tones contrast Audrey’s black cocktail dress with hot pink accents, clashing as opposites. Audrey’s costume more closely connects her to her barbaric boyfriend with his black leather jacket. As the show progresses the couples’ costumes change and align with each other. Seymour’s updated duds are have a saturated emerald vest that compliment Audrey’s new dress classy that is a rosier shade of pink. I also loved the Urchin’s final dresses in classic 1950’s sleeveless cut with natural waist and pencil fit, but it was in a bright neon green sequined fabric. This pulls the whole show to a close as the zombie plant creatures emerge to warn the audience not to feed the plants.

The plants, and all the other props, deserve a special mention. Clare Kelly’s properties design is creative, from the everyday items in the flower shop like wilted roses, to the intricate mechanisms of the different versions of Audrey II. Some of the props really push the campy vibe of the show and are very funny. Scrivello’s drill is gigantic, probably meant for removing tiles, not teeth, and his “gas mask” looks like a fishbowl alien helmet from the inspiring 50s sci fi flicks.

And while each actor gives an outstanding performances, the magic and energy of having a live orchestra under the stage supporting them cannot be overstated. The stellar direction that keeps the show cohesive with 50s sci-fi makes the whole evening so enjoyable. I was humming along to the songs long after the curtain call. While there are some mature and darker themes like domestic violence and murder, the show is still quite family-friendly and I recommend this production as a must-see show of the summer season.

The Utah Festival Opera production of Little Shop of Horrors plays on various dates through August 1st at the Utah Theatre (18 W Center St, Logan) Tickets are $42-93. For more information, visit utahfestival.org