News your connection to The Boston Globe

'Little Shop' is neither beast nor beauty

Reprinted from late editions of yesterday's Globe.

After suffering recently through ''Phantom" lite and Disney litest (''On the Record"), suddenly Seymour and his ''Little Shop of Horrors" seem pretty good. Unlike ''Phantom" it has a variety of good tunes and unlike ''On the Record" it has a story. The stage setting of the ultraloopy Roger Corman film in its post-Broadway incarnation at the Colonial Theatre makes bright cheer out of dark humor, which isn't the easiest thing in the world to pull off.

But let's not get carried away with musical relativism. This sendup of all things '50s and early '60s, from girl groups to paranoid science-fiction films, has barely a fresh bone it its body, or should we say a fresh tendril in its seedling. When a plant is the main attraction of the show, it doesn't mean trouble but it does get you thinking that the satire will not be on the level of ''The Producers."

Of course, the musical of ''Little Shop" has been with us since 1982, which makes it a precursor of contemporary musical spoofs like ''Hairspray," another story of an ostracized character whose special talent leads to celebrity. Seymour Krelborn is a nerd with a passion for plants and his co-worker Audrey. When he develops a variation of a Venus' flytrap he names it Audrey II, which, it turns out, can talk a green streak. Its favorite refrain is ''Feed me" and the only plant food it deigns to eat is human blood.

To their credit, though, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken did not settle for making a straight translation of the story and set their musical sights on the larger pop culture surrounding the 1960 Corman film. Thus we get a musical trio named Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette and an ending more reminiscent of ''Invasion of the Body Snatchers" than ''Little Shop."

Menken has always been a talented tunesmith. The ballads walk a tightrope between the sweet and the saccharine, not unlike his work on Disney films -- ''The Little Mermaid," ''Beauty and the Beast," ''Aladdin."

At his best, the ballads blend into something stronger, notably ''Suddenly Seymour," the love song between Seymour and Audrey, nicely performed by Jonathan Rayson and Tari Kelly, though they don't bring that much sparkle to the stage. Of more interest is the aforementioned trio, played by Yasmeen Sulieman, Amina S. Robinson, and LaTonya Holmes. This girl group is made of real women.

Michael James Leslie is the bluesy voice of Audrey II, whose growth spurt is handled imaginatively by the Jim Henson Company and Martin P. Robinson. They help make Audrey II the most animated part of an evening in which even ethnic stereotypes and domestic abuse seem harmless. Hmm, maybe we have taken relativism too far.

Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months
 Advanced search / Historic Archives