Darkly Comic "Horrors" Rocks the Mainstage

Imaginative set and soaring melodies characterize "Little Shop of Horrors"

Some say that they would do anything for love, but how many people would use a man-eating plant to win over the girl of their dreams? Through soaring musical numbers and a fantastic set design The Harvard Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s “Little Shop of Horrors”, directed by Charlotte H. Alter ’12 and running from November 29 to December 3 on the Loeb Mainstage, explores this question. “Horrors” is a darkly comic musical with a fiery and feisty cast that also examines serious issues such as abuse, jealousy, and redemption.

“Little Shop of Horrors” revolves around Seymour Krelborn (Matthew J. DaSilva ’12) a lonely and pathetic orphan, who wastes away as a virtual slave in the Skid Row Flower Shop, run by the incorrigible Mrs. Mushnik (Emily B. Hyman ’13). To add to his troubles, he is in love with fellow shop worker Audrey (Yasmeen E. Audi ’15). Audrey, oblivious to Seymour’s affections, is in a self-destructive relationship with the lunatic dentist Orin (Steven D. Bombino ’12). After a solar eclipse, Seymour discovers a horticultural wonder in the shop that fails to thrive until it gets a taste of his blood. As the plant grows, its appetites grow larger and larger, and soon it is devouring whole people.

The design of Skid Row, created by set designer Isabel Strauss ’13, looks like some of the dodgier areas of New York City, and provides an excellent setting for the drama. Its depiction of the dirty streets and run-down flower shop shows a significant attention to detail. The washed-out look of the store contrasts nicely with Audrey II—as Seymour lovingly named the plant—who is almost bursting with color.  One of the highlights of the show is the plant itself, which literally grows with every scene change. As the play progresses, Audrey II becomes more intricate and complex until it literally takes over the whole stage.

The cast is both dynamic and engaging, and complements the over-the-top set with some well thought out and nuanced performances. DaSilva uses his solo numbers very effectively to show his character’s development over the course of the play. For example, as he struggles to understand the power of the alien plant, his powerful voice on his solo “Grow for Me” allows him to transcend his nerdy persona and explore Seymour’s newfound confidence. Hyman plays the role of Mushnik very convincingly, but her lack of emotional growth over the course of the play leaves the character feeling stilted. Audi steals the show as Audrey; she is able to maintain her character’s timid persona even while belting out some of the show’s biggest songs. Whenever she walks, for instance, she shuffles her feet; details like this come together to create a well-rounded character. Bombino’s grandiosity stands in stark contrast to his love interest’s timid nature. One of the standout moments in the show is his final number in act one, in which he sings that being a dentist is the perfect job for someone who had sadistic tendencies as a child. His larger-than-life character is a whimsical study in irony. He combines camp acting with a delightfully silly vocal style, which highlights the absurdity of his words.

Alter’s direction is both nuanced and effective. She manages to derive humor from the set’s run-down aesthetic by having an actor pop up out of one of the trashcans, much like Oscar the Grouch, during the opening number. She also handles the more technically difficult scenes with wonderful imagination. It’s hard to have a character be eaten gracefully by a giant plant, but Alter blocks scenes that are both visually interesting and hilarious.

The play does, however, suffer from some poorly handled sound issues. For the first several minutes of the show the orchestra overpowers the opening monologue, rendering it almost incomprehensible. Likewise, towards the end of the play appears a gun that is mysteriously silent when fired; it renders what should have been a dramatic scene almost meaningless. Still, these moments are minor distractions from an otherwise triumphant performance.

“Little Shop of Horrors” is a dark comedy that oscillates between humor and horror. Amazing set pieces combine with inspired direction and fantastic singing to create a one-of-a-kind musical experience.