MUSICAL REVIEW Little Shop, big laughs, bigger plants

Musical Theater Guild’s green thumb at work

The MIT Musical Theatre Guild premiered their IAP show, Little Shop of Horrors, last weekend. Little Shop is a comedy that is unafraid to be over-the-top, with such characters as the tragically low-aiming Audrey (Rachel Williams ’12) and Orin Scrivello (Matthew Cohen ’10), a sadistic biker-dentist who, if you asked him, might very well give “D.D.S.” as his last name.

The show’s vaguely nutty premise is the relationship between milquetoast Seymour (Yoni Gray ’10) and a botanical oddity of a carnivorous plant, operated by Michael Glicksman (you’ll understand why it needs an operator when you see it) and voiced by Carlos Cardenas ’09. If you like black comedies, I would recommend going to see Little Shop, mostly because this is a particularly fine production, but also for the play’s cultural significance.

All nine players in Little Shop turn in strong performances. Zachary Barryte ’13, in his second MTG show, has really come into his own. He approaches the role of neurotic Mr. Mushnik with gusto.

Cohen, as the dentist so shamelessly sadistic that to be more emphatic about his sadism would invoke Godwin’s Law, is not the most menacing dentist I’ve ever encountered (but that’s more a function of my dental history). Cohen also convincingly portrays a wide variety of one-shot ensemble characters in rapid succession, a standard practice for productions of Little Shop. The peak of his identity quick-changes in Act II is (comparatively) subtle but hilarious.

Cardenas is as good as always, giving the Plant all of the devious-yet-charming personality necessary to make the premise of the show work. I’m assuming most readers already know the primary point of interest about Little Shop’s plant character, but if you can’t figure it out from the word “horrors” in the show title, consider this your last spoiler warning, which shouldn’t even be necessary considering that it’s given away before you’re halfway through Act I.

Both the tone and the setting of the show are influenced largely by the American 1950s-1960s, and as if to really hammer the point home with the dull thud of a “humanitarian plant” joke, a trio of chorus girls round out the cast, completing the atmosphere. Clothing connoisseurs may get a kick out of seeing their costumes, although I confess that “shiny” is the only descriptor I’m qualified to apply accurately.

Little Shop isn’t a show meant to be dominated by large dance numbers, what with the largest character being rooted in place, but what choreography there is is energetic and enthusiastic. The music is varied — not as genre-spanning as some musicals, but not as single-style as others — and performed exceptionally, aside from the occasional hiccups of the sort that I’d consider flukes rather than flaws. The effects and stunts are likewise excellent, with a phenomenal-looking final incarnation of the man-eating plant that takes up half the stage and into which a variety of characters have the chance to leap/climb/be carried into spectacularly.

If I wanted to get really nitpicky, there are a couple of criticisms that I might level that I’d wager are the result of practical limitations. There’s one point where a character is mortally wounded but isn’t visibly so, which I can appreciate because it would be a shame to sully the character’s costume.

In some other productions of the show, the ending is more spectacular (meaning expensive): The Plant looms over or moves to consume the audience over the warnings of the departed cast. As is the rule, though, the use of zombies more than compensates for any budget-related deficiencies. Yes, zombies.

The comedic aspects of MTG’s Little Shop of Horrors run deep throughout the somewhat short show, and the humor in the production originates as much from the nuanced performances of the actors as from the creativity of the original writers.

If you don’t mind a show that’s a bit on the surreal side — and if you’ve seen MTG shows before, chances are good you don’t — I’d recommend it for an evening’s entertainment. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. in La Sala de Puerto Rico.