It’s rather odd how a retro-chic musical adapting a Roger Corman B-movie whose highlight is a giant man-eating plant puppet became a mainstay of musical theater. And yet, NC Theatre’s production Little Shop of Horrors proves the show remains as punchy and charming as ever, though “charming” is perhaps not the best phrase to describe a play where a key plot point involves dismemberment.
Lighter than the original 1960 film but darker than the 1986 adaptation with Rick Moranis (where the original, darker ending was completely cut along with $5 million of special effects you can find on YouTube), Shop still gets reliable laughs out of its tale of milquetoast flower shop assistant Seymour Krelborn (Raleigh native Noah Putterman), who enters into a Faustian relationship with the “strange and interesting” plant he’s named after his semi-requited crush, Audrey (Gina Milo).
Audrey II brings business to the shop, but only grows when it gets blood, which results in its developing a mind of its own, and a voice (Michael James Leslie, who recently voiced the plant on Broadway) that demands Seymour “feed me.”
Putterman and Milo are charming as the leads, and soar in the love duet “Suddenly Seymour,” but of course the real highlights are the various Audrey II puppets, manipulated by Parker Fitzgerald; they bring that combination of comedy and menace that defines the play.
In the rest of the cast, Rebecca Covington, Natalie Renee and Danielle K. Thomas are standouts of the Greek chorus of do-wop singers, while Broadway vet Stephen Berger doesn’t have enough to do as Mushnick and Evan Casey feels a little too cartoon-y in his roles as the sadistic dentist and everyone else (though he deserves credit for the elaborate rapid-fire costume changes he undergoes).
Little Shop of Horrors is a simple show whose catchy tunes and puppetry help what’s a pretty dark, depressing plot go down smoothly. Incidentally, the merchandise table at this production informs us that the Venus flytrap originates in Wilmington. You can buy one for your kids, too. Just be careful what you feed it.