By CHARLES WHALEY
The “Little Shop of Horrors” has hung up an open-for-business sign at Derby Dinner Playhouse, and customers in search of a daffy, off-the-wall musical treat will certainly find it right here.
This macabre creation started off as a cheesy Roger Corman flick from 1960, morphed into a long-running off-Broadway hit with a Howard Ashman/Alan Menken score, and won further cult fame when it graduated to a big screen musical incarnation.
Derby Dinner associate producer Lee Buckholz directs with assurance his large, talented cast on a seedy Skid Row set [that he designed] where Mushnik’s Flower Shop attracts hardly any customers. [For his work on this show Buckholz received a special tribute at Thursday’s press opening from Derby Dinner producer Bekki Jo Schneider.]
Fame suddenly strikes, however, when nebbishy clerk Seymour [Ricky Cona] displays in the shop window “a strange and interesting plant” he bought from an old Chinese man during a solar eclipse.
Seymour names the exotic plant “Audrey II” after ditzy blonde salesgirl Audrey for whom he has a secret passion. Sweet-natured, heart-of-gold Audrey, alas, lacks self esteem and dates a sadistic dentist who physically mistreats her.
Watch out for that plant, which gradually grows before your eyes into a loudmouth monster demanding to be fed. [Cheers to Rendell Debose voicing Audrey II and puppeteers Lem Jackson and Kyle Braun.]
Seymour discovers when he accidentally pricks his finger on a rose thorn that insatiable Audrey II needs blood to survive. So he is driven to desperate measures to keep it alive.
Audrey’s repulsive boyfriend is a prime candidate. There’s a priceless scene where the dentist suffocates in his office while wearing a mask that helps him sniff laughing gas. He inhales it instead of his patients. The mask gets stuck and Seymour lets it stay there. Now it’s mealtime for Audrey II. Matthew Bryan Feld as the nasty dentist Orin will make you grit your teeth, and that’s a compliment.
Throughout the show a trio of street-wise urchins [Tymika Prince, Illy Kirven, and Tamika Skaggs] offers running Doo Wop/Motown musical commentary and dance [choreographed by Heather Paige Folsom] in numerous fantastic costumes designed by Sharon Murray Harrah.
Cona’s nerdy Seymour and Prefach’s lovable bimbo Audrey couldn’t be better. She makes “Somewhere That’s Green” a touching, heartfelt wish for suburban domesticity with a chain-link fence, kitchen sink disposal, and a TV with a 12-inch screen.
Their “Suddenly Seymour” duet is another high point that verges on the [soap] operatic. Kevin Crain is droll as shop owner Mushnik who decides to adopt orphaned Seymour as the boy’s prospects increase. They bond together in the gleeful “Mushnik and Son.”
The show leaves us with the thought that someday every home could have an Audrey II plant of its own, thanks to corporate ingenuity. Just think of that.
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs through March 30. For tickets and information: 812-288-8281, toll free 877- 898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.