Little Shop of Horrors may have the catchiest pop score composed for a Broadway musical in the past 30 years. There has been rock-ier, toe-tapping-er, more bombastic music written in that time perhaps, but for the sheer joy of storytelling through sprightly, smart songs? I can think of no comparisons. It remains the only cast album I ever purchased during intermission of its performance; even if there were no songs in Act 2, I reasoned, Act 1 was a worthy investment, starting with the anthemic fugue “Skid Row” and continuing through its pastiche of doo-wop choruses and power ballads like “Suddenly, Seymour.” (The team that wrote it, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, went on to be Disney’s resident writing geniuses: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin.)
The production by WaterTower Theatre, now onstage in Addison, doesn’t do full justice to its very able source material. Long before Avenue Q, Little Shop pioneered the use of puppets to turn kiddie entertainment into something adult and disturbing: It’s Sweeney Todd with jokes.
Or it should be. There are missed comic opportunities in the story of schlubby floral shop worker Seymour (Jason Kennedy) who cultivates a man-eating plant to win the affections of abused shopgirl Audrey (Mary Gilbreath Grim, pictured with Kennedy). There are missteps in the design as well (the normally reliable Aaron Patrick Turner eschews character-appropriate costumes — Audrey for one should be a lot trashier — for pretty, tailored pieces that make no sense). But the magic of the show works its way through.
Grim does an admirable job turning Audrey, so closely identified with Ellen Greene’s idiosyncratic charm on film and stage, into her own creation, and the tango between Seymour and his boss Mushnik (Randy Pearlman) is winsome. But the star of the show is Alex Organ in a host of roles, most notably a sadistic dentist. Organ (gangly, limber, rubber-mugged) commits fully, throws himself physically into every scene. He’s funny, cruel, goofy, protean — and, along with the score, an excellent reason to patronize this Little Shop.
— Arnold Wayne Jones
Through Aug. 21. WaterTowerTheatre.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 29, 2011.