Memphis-area stages have monstered up for the Halloween season. The Orpheum is showcasing the witches and flying monkeys of Wicked. Theatre Memphis pits Sherlock Holmes against the monstrously evil Professor Moriarty in Sherlock Holmes: The Last Adventure. But the funnest, funniest, scariest spook show in town has to be Little Shop of Horrors at Collierville’s Harrell Theatre.
Director Cecelia Wingate, who also founded the popular retro girl band the Bouffants, knows her way around Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s doo-wop-inspired musical about a giant man-eating plant from outer space. Her 2006 production at Theatre Memphis took home several Ostrander Awards, and the current revival is, in many ways, even better. Or should I say worse?
Although the musical takes its name and story from a Roger Corman B-movie, Wingate is inspired by classic monster movies and slasher films. Some of these frightfully hammy gags interfere with the show’s pacing, but it’s all devilishly funny even when it’s too much.
Justin Willingham, best known for his fine dramatic performances in shows like The Importance of Being Earnest and The Violet Hour, is very nearly perfect as Seymour Krelborn, the down-on-his-luck amateur botanist whose fortunes change when he discovers a giant talking flytrap with a taste for fresh human blood. Rob Hanford plays Little Shop’s sadistic dentist like a cross between Jim Carrey and Dennis Hopper. Audrey, Seymour’s ditzy love interest, is very nearly redefined by a fantastic Cassie Thompson, who honors Ellen Green’s original performance but still manages to make the part her own.
Little Shop of Horrors is a wickedly unsubtle study in dark irony. When the chorus sings, “The meek are going to get what’s coming to them,” they aren’t talking about the earth. — Chris Davis