By Barry Reszel
On about the twenty-third day of the month of February
early in the year just before our own,
the human race suddenly encountered a deadly
threat to its very existence.
And this terrifying enemy surfaced,
as such enemies often do,
in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places.
Cue the doo-woppers. Except, well, we’ve lived this story since early 2020. And while we are all guessing at how this shitshow is going to end, we’re hoping beyond hope the playwright doesn’t insert some sinister twist.
Thankfully, in this (at least) time of hopeful respite, Arlington Heights’ Metropolis Performing Arts Centre is the first Chicagoland professional house (to our knowledge) to produce a musical production for in-person audiences. Following social-distancing protocols on an intimate stage in a tent just a few blocks from its gorgeous, unfortunately dark, theatre, 80ish patrons per performance now have the chance (through June 19) to take in Metropolis’ delightful production of Little Shop of Horrors.
Set in a fictional urban setting in the near future, Little Shop chronicles the story of skid row of florist, Mr. Mushnik, and his employees, the socially inept Seymour and insecure beauty Audrey. Combine love interest, Audrey’s masochistic dentist/boyfriend and flora with a penchant for human blood…one thing leads to another and…the full plot summary and production history of the 1982 musical based on the 1960 American comedy film directed by Roger Corman may be read here. The songbook from Alan Menken (music) and Howard Ashman (lyrics) (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and many more) is terrific. It used to all be slapstick fun; these days, it seems a little less far-fetched.
Director Enrico Spada injected two distinct differences into this production of Little Shop from those typically experienced. First, the Doo-woppers play much more significant onstage roles, interacting throughout with the principals rather than an in-the-shadows Greek chorus. Lexie Bailey is a standout as lead Do-wopper Crystal; and Yasir Muhammad (Chiffon) and Selena Robinson (Ronnette) are terrific on the harmonies. Second, the ferocious plant, Audrey 2, is less puppeted and more lively, embodied by the fabulous Breon Arzell. Spada explained post-opening that these fingerprints of his version allows characters played by people of color to be more significant parts of the story. He sets the stage for this approach with the song, “Skid Row,” perhaps the loveliest company song of the entire production.
Critical in this reviewer’s thought-process about this particular show is the need for two specific songs to be sung extraordinarily well for the production to have merit—the first act’s Audrey ballad, “Somewhere That’s Green,” and act two’s Audrey/Seymour duet, “Suddenly Seymour.” Indeed, the lovely Emilie Rose Danno as Audrey and Mark Yacullo as Seymour absolutely deliver, shining in these roles throughout the entire production. Michael Metcalf adds his unique talents in multiple roles, including that of the sadistic Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., and Khyel S. Roberson is an endearing putz of a Mushnik.
Tech plaudits go out to Kenneth McMullen‘s music direction, Breon Arzell‘s choreography, Megan Wood‘s costumes and Sam Gribben‘s unit set.
But perhaps the biggest takeaway from opening night of this terrific suburban production is the ebullience of Executive Artistic Director Joe Keefe. Frenetic as a kid in a candy shop whose parents told him to get whatever he wants, Keefe represented everyone in attendance with his authentic smile and warm-hearted shout, “Welcome back!”
Metropolis Performing Arts Center presents “Little Shop of Horrors” through June 19 at 111 W. Campbell Street, Arlington Heights. More information and tickets are available here.