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‘Little Shop’ in fine form at Theater at the Center

In Theatre Center's producti'Little Shop Horrors' Seymour (Jonathan Lee Cunningham) wrestles with Audrey II.  |  Michael Brosilow photo

In Theatre at the Center's production of "Little Shop of Horrors," Seymour (Jonathan Lee Cunningham) wrestles with Audrey II. | Michael Brosilow photo

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◆ Through Aug. 19

◆ Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road,
Munster, Ind.

◆ Tickets, $38-$42

◆ (219) 836-3255;

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Updated: July 19, 2012 3:30PM

It’s a fairy tale, but “Little Shop of Horrors” isn’t exactly Disney fare.

The show does have a delicious score by the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who also wrote “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.” But this musical is darker and funnier than most Disney flicks. After all, “Little Shop of Horrors” features a bloodthirsty, man-eating plant that may end up devouring the planet.

Even if the unusual Venus flytrap might take over, though, it didn’t seem to matter to the audience at the engaging production at Theatre at the Center in Munster, Ind. The theatergoers were engrossed in too much fun and laughter to worry.

Adapted from Roger Corman’s 1960cult classic film (followed by an Off-Broadway stage musical in 1982), the story follows young and naive Seymour, a nerdy worker at Mushnik’s Skid Row flower shop. He has discovered an unusual plant and soon realizes that plant food and water won’t satisfy the leafy creature he has named Audrey II, after the girl he loves. The real Audrey is down on herself, which is why she allows herself to be beaten up by her dentist-biker boyfriend.

Seymour’s boss, Mushnik, goes from authoritarian to a solicitous father figure when Seymour’s green, or rather red, thumb begins to draw money into the shop. Mushnik doesn’t remain benign for the entire show, though.

Indeed, the show doesn’t have a benign bone in it. How could it?

The show has a science-fiction Faustian focus in which a man makes a deal with a carnivorous devil. It’s reminiscent of the musical “Sweeney Todd” in which another failed shop is rescued by human fodder.

But it’s also a musical romp into doo-wop and rock ’n’ roll that under Stacey Flaster’s direction and choreography is a hilarious hoot.

It makes all the difference that Flaster has selected a talented cast. As Seymour, Jonathan Lee Cunningham has the deer-in-the-headlight look that evokes sympathy. As Audrey, Tiffany Trainer comes through with a nasal-pitched voice that says a lot about her character’s insecurities. Together, Cunningham and Trainer deliver a nice duet with “Suddenly Seymour.” And gifted actor Peter Kevoian is a delight as Mushnik.

In addition, there’s the bloodcurdling monster that moves with the help of puppeteer Scott Stratton and the deep, inimitable voice of Stanley White creates a most compelling animal spirit.

But the highlight to savor is Rod Thomas as Orin, the dentist who loves to inflict pain. In tight black leather, Thomas is a riot as a sadist who snorts nitrous oxide and laughs himself to death.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen such a terrific revival of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Betty Mohr is a local free-lancer writer.

Note: Feed Me! Dinner-Theater event, 5:30 p.m. Aug. 2: Participants can enjoy a preshow dinner located across from the theater lobby. The evening also includes the 7:30 p.m. performance of the show. The cost is $50.

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