REVIEW: "Little Shop of Horrors" — Long Beach Landmark Theatre Company

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"A perfect date night for horticulturists, horror-cultists, sci-fi fans and anyone with a taste for the outrageous."

A certain carnivorous plant has been repotted in Hell’s Kitchen, and I am delighted to report that it’s thriving there. This hot showbiz shrub of yesteryear, which goes by the name of Audrey II, has found a new dance partner, a performer who can coax the tendril-stretching star quality out of this freakish botanical specimen.

That would be Matt DeNoto, who is generating major nerd charisma in a delicious revival of "Little Shop of Horrors," a 1982 Faustian musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken about a timid, bespeckled clerk who sells his soul to a man-eating fly-trap from outer space. On the face of it, a rather rarefied idea for a musical comedy! But a musical that’s as entertaining as it is exotic. It begins as a kind of New York slum version of ''The Little Shop Around the Corner,'' and before it gets halfway round that sentimental corner it turns into ''The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.''

The show, presented by the Long Beach Landmark Theatre Company, has been extended due to wild popularity through November 24th, and is the hot ticket centerpiece of this fall season's offerings, helmed and choreographed by Landmark’s Artistic Director Megan O’Toole, with near-perfect craftsmanship. Drawn from the famous low-budget Roger Corman film of the early '60s, "Little Shop..." takes place in an urban ghetto florist staffed by lonesome schlemiel Seymour Krelborn (Matt DeNoto), basically an indentured servant to the oy-so Jewish and cranky flower shop owner, Ms. Mushnik (Michelle Chaho), who had let him sleep under the counter as a child.

As Seymour, our dorky hero, Mr. DeNoto seasons his ingratiating persona as a song-and-dance kid with a dire helping of rankly corruptible innocence. Onstage, the show has been a deathless favorite of high school and community theaters for many years, reminding us of the special potency of grisly things that come in small, exotic packages. Mr. DeNoto’s affable, offhanded manner is a mix of sentimentality and macabre, and allows the character to literally get away with grotesque murder.

Ace design team Sean Balin, Doug Gissel and Mark Wheeler’s Skid Row set, with its retrograde pulp elements framing the dingy shop of the title, is an urban-legend rhapsody in grime, cast in an aura of low-rent noir, and lighted to chill by Joey Guthman. It is here that Seymour toils thanklessly as the klutzy assistant of its unsympathetic but winsome owner, Ms. Mushnik.

Cue the sweetly simple Audrey (Amanda Webb), a platinum blonde with a Jayne Mansfield figure, but a willing punching bag for her slimy, sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin (the indefatigably vivid Jay Disart), who regularly leaves her with black eyes and twisted arms. Audrey is also the girl of Seymour’s dreams, and in her honor he bestows the name Audrey II on that strange and sickly plant he picked up in Chinatown during a solar eclipse. Their notion of a better life together somewhere in the suburbs ("Somewhere That's Green") is an endearing moment of budding affection.

Audrey II, it turns out, has a voice, a rolling, soulful, irresistibly imperious bass, provided by George Carson, sounding like a hybrid of Rick James and Barry White. Manipulated by puppeteer Sean Balin, Audrey II demands that Seymour feed it with human blood. Leftover roast beef just won’t do. Initially using his own well-pricked fingers to appease the carnivorou