Little Shop of Horrors

Fame, fortune, human-eating plants; these are just a few themes in the classic 80s musical Little Shop of Horrors, and its film adaptation. You weren’t around to see it in theaters in 1986? Me neither. Thankfully, you have one more week to catch it at the O’Reilly Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh.

When I first sat down in the theater, I was confused. A man dressed in tattered clothes walked along the edge of the stage, talking to a few patrons and roaming around. I nudged my boyfriend next to me to see if he had noticed. Seeing that security hadn’t been called, I realized this man could be an actor in the play. My suspicion was confirmed when Trash Man crawled under a blanket of trash and remained there through the beginning of the show.

Three actresses formally introduced the show with a catchy prologue. The entire company was introduced during the next musical number, “Skid Row.” Trash Man (a very nice actor named Patrick Cannon) emerged from his trash blanket to sing with the whole ensemble.

The story follows the woes of employees at a flower shop on Skid Row. The shop has three employees: Seymour, a nerdy florist; Audrey, a woman stuck in an abusive relationship; and Mr. Mushnik, the cranky old owner. While obviously different, these three have one thing in common: they dream of a better life for themselves, somewhere free of poverty and far from Skid Row.

Here’s a quick plot summary: Seymour discovers that his plant can talk, and on top of that, will only feed on human flesh and blood. Seymour falls in love with Audrey, whose evil boyfriend accidentally dies from nitrous oxide poisoning and gets fed to the plant by Seymour. Seymour then has to grapple with the guilt of feeding people to his talking plant (who he’s named Audrey II) that is making him rich and famous. I know that may seem weird. However, this musical has some meaningful messages behind it, and the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production did a wonderful job delivering those.

One of the strongest deliveries came from Philippe Arroyo, a Carnegie Mellon alum who played the lead role of Seymour. You could see through his facial expressions and body language that he put every ounce of his artistic self into the role, and his vocals were absolutely top-notch. I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

Patrick Cannon proved to be a versatile actor throughout the show. In Act 1, he played Orin, Audrey’s abusive boyfriend who became a dentist to inflict pain on other people. He effortlessly switched over to a variety of characters who came to Seymour with business inquiries in Act 2. The greatest actor you barely saw was Monteze Freeland, the booming voice of Audrey II. He was a great choice to bring the plant to life. The plant itself was also impressive. It was a huge puppet, moved around by a puppeteer, with incredibly colorful and realistic details. It’s those types of details that really made this show shine: the spots and colors on the plant, the coordinated projection design, the actors always remembering to come in through set door to the flower shop, even if they had to walk around the entire stage to do so.

The most impressive part of the show, in my opinion, was that the actors and orchestra could not see each other, yet they were always perfectly in sync. The orchestra was underneath the stage. Completely underneath. If the conductor hadn’t poked her head out at the beginning of the show to acknowledge the audience, I would have never seen her. The actors never showed any anxiety or hesitation without a conductor to watch, and the orchestra never missed a beat. Witnessing the total trust between the cast and orchestra and its flawless execution was inspiring.

Okay, so you may be reading this and thinking: “So what if the acting was great? This show sounds weird.” It’s definitely unique, but it touches on questions people face all the time: How far would you go to get what you want? If you were living in a life of poverty or homelessness, what would you do to get out of it? If you suddenly came into financial fortune, what would you do to keep it? Would you sacrifice relationships with people you love? Would you knock over people who could threaten you?

This show may have a giant talking plant in it, but it’s incredibly human in so many ways. I encourage you to explore these questions for yourself and see it while it’s still on stage here in our backyard at the O’Reilly Theatre.