Upon walking into the Charity Randall Theatre in Oakland Friday night, I was immediately transported from the dreary Pittsburgh weather to the even drearier Skid Row. But after two hours there, I didn’t want to return to the Steel City.
Pitt’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a 1982 off-Broadway gem, brings the ‘60s doo-wop-inspired musical to the modern day, toning down the camp without losing the laughs. Despite the modern retelling, the show doesn’t lose its charm and heart.
“Little Shop of Horrors,” with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken, is inspired by a low-budget film from 1960 by Roger Corman. It tells the tale of Seymour Krelborn — played by first year Patrick Meyer — and his struggle to win the love of Audrey, his co-worker at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists, played by senior Kylie Dunne. When a solar eclipse hits the city, a mysterious plant named Audrey II, played by junior Adia Augustin, a Pitt theater veteran, enters his life — bringing him fame and misfortune for nefarious reasons.
Pitt’s show has kept elements from the 1960s — including a Supremes-esque trio called the Urchins, played by junior Emily Cooper, sophomore Maya Boyd and first year Alison Hnatow. But with the help of junior Dorothy Sherman’s costumes and local director Reginald L. Douglas’ direction, Pitt’s production tells a more modern version of the story.
Seymour dons a striped shirt, cuffed jeans and red Chuck Taylors instead of the horn-rimmed glasses and tie he wore in the 1982 production. And, in this production, the cast rejects reductive gender stereotypes: Audrey is a broken, downtrodden brunette instead of a ditzy, busty blonde. The Urchins wear black-and-white checkered overalls and corduroy A-line skirts instead of “Dreamgirls”-inspired garb.
“Little Shop” was adapted into a movie in 1986, so there is a tendency for some productions to simply mirror Rick Moranis’ awkward, timid Seymour and Ellen Greene’s breathy, spacey Audrey. But Meyer and Dunne make the characters their own by reimagining line inflection and comedic timing.
The musical is intrinsically outrageous — it includes a bloodthirsty alien plant, after all — so the choice to modernize makes it more relatable and forces the actors to rely on their own comedy skills instead of just camp. Since Ashman’s book is already funny, the cast doesn’t need to work too hard to get laughs.
But the show shines when characters make a bold choice to go over the top. Junior Davis Weaver’s rendition of Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., easily received the most laughs of the night, thanks to his deranged cackle and wholehearted commitment to portraying the sadistic dentist. Even when he played other characters, like a passerby near Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists or the editor’s wife at Life Magazine, his presence lit up the stage and put a smile on the audience member’s faces — including mine.
Augustin’s Audrey II was also a joy to experience, as she used a belty alto sound to take on a nice-diner-waitress-gone-rogue attitude.
To accompany the superb acting choices, scenic designer Laura Valenti and scenic artists Lori Lynn Bollinger and Britton Mauk create a street covered in graffiti and peeling paint — immediately immersing the audience in the grit and grease of Skid Row. And Lea Bosilovich’s red-heavy lighting sets the show’s dark mood.
The six-member band, lead by Pitt theater professor Rob Frankenberry, has a big presence despite its small size. And each member of the company displays strong vocals that never waiver or crack during the belt-heavy show.
The ending is anything but happy, but the energy of the cast and the gut-busting comedy leaves the audience content — despite having viewed one of the strangest shows produced for the stage.
Running from Feb. 8 to Feb. 18 at the Charity Randall Theatre, tickets for the show can be purchased online or at the department of theatre arts box office on the 16th floor of the Cathedral.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story identified Lori Lynn Bollinger and Britton Mauk as scenic designers and didn’t identify scenic designer Laura Valenti. The story has been updated. The Pitt News regrets this error.