KCRep’s “Little Shop of Horrors” Is Surprisingly Unique and Impossibly Fun

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors performs.

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors (Don Ipock)

Little Shop of Horrors is one of those musicals whose script and score are so perfect that even a less-than-inspired production is still thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, I’ve enjoyed so many perfectly solid productions of this show over the years that I think I forgot what a truly phenomenal Little Shop looks like. As the version currently onstage at KCRep, directed by Artistic Director Stuart Carden, has reminded me, it’s a transcendent experience.

Little Shop of Horrors centers on Seymour Krelborn, a meek floral assistant who discovers an unidentifiable species of plant that mysteriously appeared during a solar eclipse. (How timely!) He names it Audrey II after his coworker crush and takes it to the shop, where it grows into an enormous monstrosity, earning fame and fortune for Seymour and the business. The catch: Audrey II survives on a diet comprised exclusively of human blood. To keep the plant happy and healthy, Seymour has to procure a constant series of victims to feed it.

KCRep audiences are used to seeing new adaptations and innovative reimaginings of well-known stories on the company’s stages. This is not that—this is a straightforward mounting of the play that’s graced stages for 40 years. But Carden makes some compelling choices that set this apart as an intriguingly original production.

Typically, the actor voicing Audrey II is unseen, along with the puppeteer working the plant. (Who, in this case, is the impressive Zachery Garner.) Here, Shon Ruffin takes a prominent spot on Courtney O’Neill’s dazzling set, elevated above the stage alongside the band. With shocking green hair, draped in lush, velvety outfits resembling Audrey II’s variegated markings, she is the living manifestation of the powerful plant. Her position overseeing the action from above might also evoke an alien hivemind situation. This is Audrey II but is she only Audrey II? She seems too powerful to be contained in just one plant. Ruffin’s powerhouse performance, with her knock-out voice and thrilling dynamic with Seymour, will undoubtedly make one wonder why a woman is so rarely cast in this role.

The cast of Little Shop of Horrors performs

Chioma Anyanwu, Alyssa Byers, Chloe Castro-Santos, and Amari Lewis in Little Shop of Horrors (Don Ipock)

Every member of this cast is impossibly talented. Jordan Matthew Brown is a perfect Seymour, with impressive vocals and excellent comedic skills but also depths of nuance throughout Seymour’s emotional journey. Chloe Castro-Santos is sensational as Audrey. Her rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” is quite possibly the best I’ve ever heard, and the tears that flowed around me indicate I’m not alone in that thought.

With Audrey, Carden again bucks tradition. Ellen Greene’s performance in the original Broadway run and the 1986 film adaptation is iconic, and for good reason, but the vast majority of stage productions seem to see it as a requirement that their Audrey imitates Greene’s uniquely quirky voice. Castro-Santos’ voice is more natural, only creeping into that higher, squeaky register when she is directly threatened, going into fight or flight mode in the face of her physically abusive boyfriend. On that note, I’ve never before seen the domestic violence present in this play’s script given the weight it deserves, and the effect is powerful.

As Seymour and Audrey’s exploitative boss Mushnik, Eddie Korbich oscillates appropriately between likable father figure and detestable swindler. Joshua Davis is deliciously villainous as Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin. He also rotates through a number of other delightful side characters, including a run of hilariously extreme quick changes in the second act.

Audrey is arguably the star of this show—and this incredible monstrous puppet, first designed by Lisa Schlenker for Skylight Music Theatre more than 20 years ago is no exception—but Little Shop’s heart is in the trio of women that make up a sort of Greek chorus, guiding us through the story and offering insights into what we’re experiencing. Here, Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronette are played by Alyssa Byers, Amari Lewis, and Chioma Anyanwu, respectively—three incredibly talented local actors and singers with astounding voices. Looking out into the audience pretty much any time these women were singing, I was met with an ocean of grinning faces.

Little Shop of Horrors is a deeply emotional story and its politics are as timely as ever. But above all, this play is fun. This is a thoroughly good time for all, regardless of age or whether this is your first time seeing the play or your 50th. With every actor perfectly on point, dazzling design elements, and a stellar band led by Music Director Anthony T. Edwards, consider this show a Do-Not-Miss.

Little Shop of Horrors runs at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre (Spencer Theatre, 4949 Cherry St) through May 19. For more information, visit kcrep.org.

Vivian Kane

Vivian Kane is a writer living in Kansas City. She covers pop culture and politics for a national audience at The Mary Sue and theatre and film locally, with bylines in The Pitch. She has an MFA in Theatre from CalArts.

Leave a Reply