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Little Shop of Horrors
by Amelia Orozco

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Playwright: Alan Menken ( composer ),

Howard Ashman ( book and lyrics ). At: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Tickets: 630/530-0111; $55- $65; . Runs through: Oct. 28

Well-dressed theatergoers traversing the plush chandeliered confines of Oakbrook Terrace's Drury Lane Theatre will find themselves trudging into Skid Row this fall.

There, in Mushnik's Flower Shop, Little Shop of Horrors ( composed by Alan Menken, book and lyrics by Howard Ashman ) awaits. Director/choreographer Scott Calcagno creates a magical and mystical world not unlike Jack and the Beanstalk: A place where vegetation offers promises of fortune and happiness. Only this time, there's no giant person. Instead, it's a giant plant that wants to eat humans.

A doo-wop trio—Chiffon ( Melanie Loren ), Crystal ( Candace Edwards ) and Ronnette ( Melanie Brezill )—deliver narration and support with a swing, punch and a little kick in the pants. Expertly, they keep the story and the beat moving for a tightly packed two hours. The production shimmies itself right into your heart with toe-tapping action, taking viewers on a journey through the pre-packaged, instant, just-add-water or, in this case, human-flesh American Dream.

The classic dark comedy stars the quirky and bubbly Audrey ( played by the talented Kelly Felthous ), and Will Lidke as the hapless horticulturalist Seymour. Shop owner Mushnik is revived in all his grumpy glory by Ron E. Rains.

Starring as the main green is Audrey 2, the ever-hungry and demanding plant that Seymour names for his beloved Audrey and must feed blood and flesh to in order to have love and riches.

Don't be dissuaded by the idea of a puppet being a leading man. Audrey 2 comes to life with the booming and commandeering voice of Lorenzo Rush Jr. and his bluesy Feed Me discourse. Maneuvering the bigger-than-life botanical jaws is Matthew Sitz. Together, the duo creates one magnificent creature whose presence is obvious, yet masterfully part of the milieu.

Audrey 2's offer of the American Dream is too good to pass up for Seymour, whose pre-Audrey quality of life is much like the plant food the hungry plant refuses to consume—worthless.

"Green," is all Audrey ( the girl, not the plant ) wants—a green space away from the tired gray world of Skid Row. Felthous's delivery is worthy of bringing on the waterworks amidst the hilarious idea of a talking plant. She keeps the audience rooting for the bubbly bombshell.

Steven Strafford plays a bully biker and sadist dentist along with a slew of other characters ( both men and women ), and skillfully coaxing both anger and laughter from theatergoers as quick as a flip of the switch.

The diverse cast delivers the punchy storyline showing the haves and the have-nots and the hard-knock life of someone with an address that could be Any Slum, USA. Also, the physical abuse aimed at the sweet Audrey is yet another taboo theme that strikes a heavy chord amidst the giggles and dancing.

Little Shop poses many questions, including whether leaving Skid Row behind is really a solution. Is this how gentrification of neighborhoods begins? After all, isn't it the people that make a community?

It's refreshing to see these themes on a stage. Ditto when Seymour, the unlikeliest of heroes, has the realization that Skid Row is his home. And maybe that's okay.

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