Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

Little Shop of Horrors
Guthrie Theater
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Suor Angelica, Love in a Time of Hate, Only Ugly Guys

Gabrielle Dominique, Vie Boheme, Erica Durham,
Will Roland, and Yvonne Freese

Photo by Dan Norman
This afternoon we went to the Lilydale Garden Center and purchased a few hearty-looking pansies to reenforce the heat-addled flowers in planters hanging on the rail of our deck. I know they will need sun, which hopefully will appear in sufficient amount, and water, which we will provide. To the best of my knowledge, their well-being will not require any transfusions of blood–which is how I like it.

Little Shop of Horrors is an off-the-wall musical, and now onstage at the Guthrie Theater in which the most arresting character is a plant, Audrey II, that does require transfusions of blood–human blood, at that–and it doesn't care if the blood comes encased in the rest of a particular human's body. The plant, even at its puniest early on in the show, is not lovely, and the bigger it gets, the more monstrous it becomes, not only in size and appetite, but in its aggressive demands and tactics of intimidation. Audrey II is horrible, but also a wonderful creation that makes Little Shop of Horrors tremendous fun.

Of course, Audrey II has had some top-drawer help in making Little Shop of Horrors a musical comedy winner. There is the well-tooled book by Howard Ashman, who also wrote the lyrics to Alan Menken's buoyant music. Ashman and Menken are the team that gave Disney animated films a new life with their Oscar winning songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Alladin, but Little Shop of Horrors was their first success–and a huge success at that, making a quick jump in 1982 from an Off-Off Broadway theater to Off-Broadway where it ran for five years, along the way giving birth to a 1986 hit film adaptation–think of it as a cutting from the original plant. The show has lived on in a multitude of regional, community, and school theatre productions, a 2004 Broadway staging, and an Off-Broadway revival that opened in 2019 and, with a break for COVID, is still going strong.

The Guthrie has made a practice of mounting a popular musical as its summer offering on the Wurtele Thrust Stage. More often than not these have been golden age classics, such as South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, with a couple of Sondheim shows in the mix which, if not considered classics are certainly in a class of their own. Little Shop of Horrors does not, in my estimation, have a place on that lofty mantle of musical theatre greatness. What it does have is a great sense of humor, two wonderful songs–"Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour"–and an overall pleasing score that takes affectionate pot shots at early 1960s rock and roll, a pair of sweet characters to root for, and a fantastic villain with demonic roots. Well, actually two villains, both of whom deal with roots.

Here's the dirt on the plot. It is set in the early '60s on the "skid row" of any-big-city USA. The opening number, "Little Shop of Horrors," is sung by a trio of girl singers, identified here as Urchins, harkening to early '60s girl groups like The Chiffons, The Crystals, and The Ronettes. Their names? Chiffon, Crystal and Ronnette. They are present through most of the show, joining in some numbers as back-up singers, at other times serving the Greek chorus role of commentary on the story.

The action focuses on Mushnik's flower shop. Mr. Mushnik (Robert Dorfman), the crabby owner with a borsch-belt sense of humor, employs Seymour (Will Roland)–whom Mushnik took in as an orphan and raised as more or less an indentured servant–and a lovely, somewhat dumb, sweetheart named Audrey (China Brickey). Seymour harbors an unspoken crush on Audrey, but Audrey is held in the clutches of her abusive, sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin (David Darrow).

Mushnik's shop is a lost cause and he is about to call it quits until Seymour presents a project he's been working on in the back room: an interesting and unusual plant that appeared under the aura of a total solar eclipse, given to Seymour by a "Chinaman" (an unfortunate reference that should be jettisoned). The plant, placed in the shop's window, is odd enough to draw attention and before you can say "a dozen long stem roses," Mushnik is back in business. He puts the screws on Seymour to take good care of that plant, so when it begins to whither, only to perk up when a few drops of Seymour's blood accidentally fall between its petals, Seymour figures a guy's got to do what a guy's got to do–especially if achieving success in the shop means he might have a chance of winning Audrey's love. But you know and I know that the plant, Audrey II, is not going to be long satisfied with just a few drops.

That describes all the key characters, except for the most captivating of all, Audrey II. In the early scenes, the plant appears as no more than a prop, but as it comes to life, steadily growing and gaining agency, it takes charge of the show along with everything else. It is the marvelous creation of puppet designer Chris Lutter, brought to fearsome life by puppeteer Yvonne Freese and the resounding voice of T. Mychael Rambo. No doubt, Audrey II is the star of the show.

Which is not to cast aspersions on the rest of the excellent cast. Roland, a New York actor in his first Twin Cities appearance, is outstanding as Seymour, evolving from a meek, hang-dog gofer at the start, to a man ready to risk everything for love, while still maintaining a comical befuddled aspect. It is sublime work that comes with a fine singing voice. Brickey is not new to the Twin Cities at all, having played on just about every major stage, but I have never seen her so completely claim a role as her own as she does here as Audrey. She is funny, with sharp comic timing, touching in her tenderness toward Seymour, and gives a beautiful delivery of "Somewhere That's Green." She and Roland make a wonderful romantic couple singing "Suddenly Seymour" and display precise teamwork in the riotous "Call Back in the Morning."

The veteran Dorfman has the comic shtick down to an art, and he comes through as reliably as ever. He is hysterical as the monstrous Orin. He has a field day with his big number, "Be a Dentist," and is so convincingly wacked out when hooked up to the nitrous oxide tank one might think the real thing was in the tank. Erica Durham as Chiffon, Gabrielle Dominique as Crystal and Vie Boheme as Ronnette bring strong voices, blended harmonies and sassy attitude to the party.

Director and choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge, another artist making her Twin Cities debut, arrives with a tall stack of credits on and off Broadway, and at major regional theaters around the country. She instills the production with a lilt that keeps it rolling steadily forward, upping the show's entertainment quotient while building our buy-in to the ludicrous plot. This is a small cast musical, so the dance numbers are limited, but Dodge gets good mileage out of dance steps from the era being lampooned so affectionately. Music director Denise Prosek draws out full sounding arrangements from a small band of only five players.

As we have come to expect at the Guthrie, the physical production is outstanding. The set by Lex Liang is a gem, a cityscape that zeroes in on low-slung, tired edifices of skid row, with an art deco skyline in silhouette rising behind it. The street is festooned with witty billboards and signs, and cobblestone pavement complete with manhole cover. Mushnik's shop sits in the center of the block with exterior walls that slide away to reveal the down-at-heel florist. Sully Ratke's costumes for the principal actors are terrific, at one with the campy wit infused in the work, though I admit to not always being sure what was going on with the garb worn by Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette. Allen Lee Hughes' lighting design furnishes all the different hues and shadows that occur in the course of days and nights in the city, and Matt Kraus' sound design lays in the constant thrum of city traffic, shouts popping up from random conversations, and the low rumble of whatever it is that keeps the city working.

When the musical Little Shop of Horrors first arrived in 1982–based on a low budget 1960 movie spoof of science fiction directed by Roger Corman (who went on to be known as "The King of Cult")–it was already a spoof both of the genre and the musical beats of the early sixties. Some of the comical references in the book and lyrics–such as Levittown and Donna Reed–may leave younger audiences today scratching their heads. Still, most of the pointed comedy, as well as the affection for that past time, survive.

One could easily read into the plot a subtext, a cautionary tale about becoming enamored with and depending upon unleashed forces of nature that we lack the knowledge or wisdom to contain. In 1960, it was nuclear weapons. Today, we can apply that analysis to the havoc of climate change brought on by sacking the earth of its natural resources for the past hundred years.

So, there, if a musical must have a message for it to be worth your time, you'll find one. If it is enough for the show to be sharply crafted, delivering a score of good to great songs, staged with artistry, high-test energy and top of the line performances, you'll have a swell time at Little Shop of Horrors. But before you head to the theater, don't forget to feed your plants.

Little Shop of Horrors runs through August 18, 2024, at the Guthrie Theater, Wurtele Thrust Stage, 618 South 2nd Street, Minneapolis MN. For tickets and information, please call 612-377-2224 or visit

Book and Lyrics: Howard Ashman; Music: Alan Menken; Director and Choreographer: Marcia Milgrom Dodge; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Scenic Design: Lex Liang; Costume Design: Sully Ratke; Lighting Design: Allen Lee Hughes; Sound Design: Matt Kraus; Puppet Design: Chris Lutter; Assistant Music Director: Jason Hansen; Vocal Coach: Keely Wolter; Fight Director/Intimacy: Annie Enneking; Resident Dramaturg; Carla Steen; Puppet Consultant: Yvonne Freese; Resident Casting: Jennifer Liestman; NYC Casting Consultant: McCorkle Casting, Ltd., Stage Manager: Lori Lundquist; Assistant Director: Wesley Mouri; Assistant Stage Managers: Jason Clusman, Matthew Meeks.

Cast: Paul Allen (Voice, Not Unlike God), Vie Boheme (Ronnette), China Brickey (Audrey), Time Brickey (Denizen of Skid Row/ensemble), David Darrow (Orin/Denizen of Skid Row/others), Gabrielle Dominique (Crystal), Robert Dorfman (Mr. Mushnik), Erica Dunham (Chiffon), Yvonne Freese (Audrey II Puppeteer/Denizen of Skid Row), Kiko Laureano (Denizen of Skid Row/ensemble), Joe Miller (Denizen of Skid Row/ensemble), T. Mychael Rambo (Audrey II Live Voice/Denizen of Skid Row), Will Roland (Seymour).