The weird compost of camp, horror, and romance from the 1960 and 1986 films are preserved in the comedy rock musical Little Shop of Horrors, and director AJ Knox’s revival of the cult classic grows new meaning and voices through gender flips.
On view at New Village Arts in Carlsbad, Knox sticks to the plot, but switches the gender of several characters with success.
The Chorus is now two women and a guy, and their harmonies and dead-pan expressions are hilarious. Chris Bona as the eye-rolling Ronnie joins Patricia Jewel as Chiffon, and tiny Natasha Baenisch as Crystal, and their snarky, blended voices tie the gory story together. Their dancing with smooth grapevine shuffles is also fun.
Not so much fun is the life of Seymour, the nerdy flower shop worker who raises a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh. Played by Sittichai Chaiyahat, he moves and sounds frantic and he should.
He bought the plant during a solar eclipse, and sings about it with the Chorus in the song “Da-Doo.” “It got very dark, and there was this strange humming sound, like something from another world…Da Doo…”
He names the plant Audrey II, after his love interest Audrey, a co-worker who is abused by a mean boyfriend.
Seymour’s life is a tragedy, and most of his songs are designed for him to sing-yell, which wears on the ears. And that’s intentional. The music is by Alan Menken. The book and lyrics are by Howard Ashman. They later went on to pen “The Little Mermaid,” and there are familiar strains.
Cashae Monya is an adorable Audrey, because of her delicate frame, animal print wardrobe and blonde wig.
She’s compelling because she has dark skin, and she reminds us of women who hide their abuse. Her eye shadow is blue, and her voice is heavenly as she sings the most memorable song, “Somewhere That’s Green,” one of the only quiet and emotional songs in the two hour show.
Her voice quivers as she wishes for a simple little house and greenery, and the audience weeps along with her. “Mermaid” fans may notice its similar quality to the song “Part of that World.”
Philip David Black’s evil Orin Scrivello DDS and multiple character changes have the audience screaming. If you have not seen either of the B movies, you’re in for a shock to your funny bone.
Scrivello is a laugh riot as the sadistic dentist. His craziest scene involves a dentist chair and a mask filled with laughing gas.
Set designer Doug Cumming creates Mushnik’s Flower Shop with simple windows and stoops. Mr. Mushnik is now Mrs. Mushnik, played by Melissa Fernandes, who gets the rotten, alcoholic employer just right, and who knew someone could hide booze in so many places?
Eboni Muse as the man-eating Audrey II shakes the stage and eardrums. In the song “Suppertime” with the Chorus, she becomes a night-club singer with sequined back-up singers, which makes this comic tragedy sing.
While Seymour feeds Orin’s parts to Audrey II, she’s never full. When she demands to be fed, “Feed Me!” her voice is distorted like an alien monster. In the 1986 film, singer Levi Stubbs was the voice of Audrey II and there was a giant puppet.
In NVA’s musical, Muse is an extra large personality with a killer voice. Her alien-plant costume and giant fuzzy seed pod are over-the-top, and while the story is grotesque, this production offers comic relief suitable for all ages.
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through Aug. 4, 2019