FORT WORTH It looked as though Jubilee Theatre was venturing outside its comfort zone by scheduling the darkly botanical musical comedy Little Shop of Horrors to close its 2013-14 season.
But Jubilee’s delightful production, which opened Friday, proves that looks can be deceiving.
Since taking the helm at Jubilee in 2011, artistic director Tre Garrett has mixed in a few mainstream musicals along with shows that more directly make good on the theater’s mission to serve the African-American community in particular.
So the only colors that matter in this production are garden green (the hue of the show’s star bit of flora, Audrey II) and blood red (the only shade that satisfies the gluttonous plant’s hunger).
This sci-fi horror tale focuses on the less-than-rosy life of Seymour (Gabriel Lawson), a nerdy florist shop employee who is sweet on his pretty-as-a-daisy co-worker, Audrey (Kyra McNeil). But their romance can find no fertile ground because they are both beaten down in different ways. Seymour is figuratively hammered by his domineering boss, Mr. Mushnik (Oris Phillips Jr.) and Audrey is literally pummeled by her sadistic dentist boyfriend, Orin (Abel Baldazo).
Then, through a bit of horticultural magic, Seymour manages to raise an amazing and unique plant that brings a flood of needed new business to Musnik’s faltering enterprise on Skid Row. The only problem is that the new sprig, Audrey II (voiced by Major Attaway), is not content with any ordinary plant food. She is out for blood.
This twisted 1982 stage musical, based on the classic 1960 Roger Corman film The Little Shop of Horrors (which had a cast that included an impossibly young Jack Nicholson), has long been a community theater favorite because it has so much going for it. The clever score by Alan Menken, the campy sense of humor in Howard Ashman’s book and lyrics and its guffaw-worthy visual elements are just a few of the show’s attributes. This production, nicely directed by Egla Hassan, cashes all of those checks and makes a few new deposits of its own.
Lawson adroitly captures the awkwardness of his character and does especially good work with the acting within his numbers. McNeil has a lovely voice, which is particularly well showcased in Somewhere That’s Green. Attaway was born to play Audrey II, and he does not disappoint. Few actors could make such an impression without even being seen. The acting of Baldazo, who carries a heavy load of multiple characters, and Phillips needs some polish. But both more than get by, and they have excellent voices.
Michael Pettigrew’s set design looks good, but it fills the theater’s cozy performance space a little too well. Hassan and choreographer Samille A. Palm often seem a bit hemmed in by it.
But, on the whole, this blooming production is about as much fun as anyone could hope to have with potting soil.