It’s not entirely clear how cult classics are created, but there’s no question that the quirky drama “Little Shop of Horrors” is among the most revered. The original 1960s film is believed to be based on a 1932 story about a man-eating plant, but because the mythology surrounding flesh-eating botanicals dates back to the 1800s, the film’s roots are murky.
The farce did, however, slowly but surely gain a cult following and inspired thousands of reprises, including countless community and high school theater productions, a 1986 feature film, and a 2003 Broadway musical revival. With memorable songs like the eponymous medley, “Feed Me” and “Suddenly Seymour,” the production’s lyrics grab the American psyche as decisively as the Venus flytrap, Audrey II, grabs its human prey.
Unsurprisingly on-trend, The Merc Playhouse is leading the pack in what appears to be a regional resurgence of interest in ”Little Shop of Horrors,” with the local production opening on Friday (Oct. 12) for a two-week run.
Directed by Merc technical director Stephen Kish, the concert-style production tells the story of a nerdy florist shop worker who discovers that his Venus flytrap can not only speak, but also demands human flesh and blood — and gets it.
The show, says Kish, was programmed during former Merc Artistic Director Kai Gottberg’s tenure. After the success of The Merc’s original “The Last Salmon” production, Gottberg realized that concert-style offerings hold a wide appeal to local theatergoers.
“The Merc surveyed audiences,” says Kish, “and learned that locals want to see their friends in plays, and they want to see their friends singing in these plays.” Voilà! The concert-style production was confirmed as a vibrant and viable option for The Merc Playhouse, which is challenged by space, budget, technical limitations and actor availability to produce more than a handful of full-scale offerings each year.
Although Kish had never worked as an official director of theater programs, Gottberg recognized that his musical background set him up well to direct concert-style plays. “[Merc Executive Director] Missi Smith thought we could do ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in the same vein and tempo that ‘The Last Salmon’ was done,” says Kish.
“It’s a bit of a hybrid between Readers’ Theater and a musical,” Kish continues. “The set is mostly left to the imagination, although we do have a big plant that’s part of the show. But there are theater lights, costumes and — get this — a three-piece band providing live music accompaniment to the songs.”
The “Little Shop of Horrors” story, says Kish, is “driven by the music.” The songs, he says, “really carry the story. It’s not necessary to actually have the complicated sets, the plant that keeps growing bigger and bigger [as Broadway audiences would experience it]. The songs are catchy and deceptively complex. The music is layered, it’s very intriguing. The whole story is captured by the melodies and the lyrics.”
So even though theatergoers will not be experiencing a traditional musical, with dancing and blocking, says Kish, the songs themselves are so compelling that drama lovers will leave The Merc feeling energized by and satisfied with the production. “You’ll be tapping their toes and humming the tunes, guaranteed,” he says. “You’ll definitely come back to see the show a second time. And many of you will come back three and four times.”
Apparently just as the Venus flytrap is fed by hapless victims, so too will be audiences be fed by this unique Merc experience.
Band members are Matt Draggoo (percussion), Marcus Duke (keyboard) and Frank Vander Wall (bass).
Cast members are Margo May (Audrey), Caleb Smith (Seymour), Nick Bosco (Mr. Mushnik), Mike Carmichael (Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.), Emily Doran (Ronnette), Nicole Le Gros (Chiffon), Magnolia Brown (Chrystal), Bella Chrastina (Mrs. Luce, Mr. Bernstein, Skip Snip, Patrick Martin, Customer, Interviewer, Voice not unlike God’s) and Nate Chrastina (The Plant, Wino).
Showtimes are at 7 p.m. on Oct. 12, Oct. 13, Oct. 18, Oct. 19 and Oct. 20, and at 2 p.m. on Oct. 14 and Oct. 21.
Tickets are $18 for adult reserved seating and $16 for general admission if purchased online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/361‑2265. Youth seats are $7 for reserved and $5 for general admission. Thursday, Oct. 18, is “Pay What You Can” night. For information, call 997‑7529 or email email@example.com.