Our website is made possible by displaying online advertisements to our visitors. Please consider supporting us by whitelisting our website.

REVIEW: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ grows on you

REVIEW: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ grows on you

Share this article

It’s absurd and more than a little rough around the edges, but boy is it a good time.

From the musical minds (Alan Menken and Howard Ashman) that brought the world The Little Mermaid and Aladdin came this little 80s oddity of a musical called Little Shop of Horrors. It’s not at all for kids, even though it famously features a big singing plant, and much less a sweet little romcom as it might seem for one that features high-pitched florists singing “Suddenly, Seymour.” Little Shop is darker, and more bizarre than that. If I had to pin it down, I’d say it’s sci-fi / camp / gore with a Disney soundtrack. In the hands of director Toff De Venecia, it’s absurd and more than a little rough around the edges, but boy is it a good time.

Set in a suspiciously overbarren and excessively brown Skid Row (Mio Infante is scenographer), Seymour (Nyoy Volante and Reb Atadero alternating) and Audrey (Karylle Tatlonghari and Sue Ramirez alternating) work for Mr. Mushnik (Audie Gemora) at his unsurprisingly failing flower shop. Audrey is late, with a shiner courtesy of her DDS boyfriend (Markki Sroem alternating with David Ezra) but her tardiness doesn’t matter as the shop hasn’t had a sale in a while. Mushnik’s ready to throw in the towel, but Seymour and Audrey have one last trick up their sleeve: a weird dying little flytrap–that meek and besotted Seymour names Audrey II–they might display on the window to attract passersby. It works immediately, bringing in a ludicrously big sale and the shop lives to see another day.

Kids of the 80s and 90s raised on Rick Moranis movies will be familiar with this Little Shop, which unravels near-identically as the film. Seymour soon discovers that Audrey II feeds on human blood, and the more it is fed, the more success he experiences. The bigger Audrey II grows, the less sustainable it becomes for Seymour to feed and before long, his little life has turned into a Faustian nightmare well out of his control.

Slow to bloom

De Venecia’s production blooms slow as though a musical about a plant might as well behave like one. As Audrey II grows, so does the theatrics (Philleep Masaquel is technical director). By the second act, Infante’s Skid Row’s turned into a quasi-spaceship hangar. The plant is given even more heft and dimension through lighting, projections (Joseph Matheu is lighting designer and Joee Mejias is video designer), and choreography (by Stephen Viñas). Greens are growing on Seymour and Mushnik’s knitwear like spores, and the assortment of townsfolk they interact with (all played by Stroem or Ezra) get only more eccentric in manner and clothing. It’s a risk to bog down most of the show with a whole lot of rusty brown, but by the end, when the hostile alien takeover is complete, the payoff is visual, too.

Little Shop of Horrors

L-R: Audie Gemora as Mr. Mushnik, Nyoy Volante as Seymour, Karylle Tatlonghari as Audrey; Photo Credit: The Sandbox Collective

It’s not only the staging that takes a while to bloom, with lead performances spending most of Act 1 working up to reach the show’s comedic cruising altitude. Tatlonghari’s Audrey takes a while to settle into the cartoonish absurdity of her predicament, seemingly uncertain as to how to go about Audrey getting beat up by her lover. Her Audrey is discomfited, playing it too straight with almost undue seriousness before she finally portrays a more unburdened and appropriately ham Audrey in act 2. Volante’s Seymour is acquiescent from the start, easily seduced by Audrey, Mushnik, and eventually, the plant. Stroem’s dentist character, whom we spend the most time with him as, could do with even a bit more hammed up villainy, but he was at his comedic best playing a revolving door of characters, each more ridiculous than the last. Gemora’s Mushnik, on the other hand, was hilarious from the get-go, growing only increasingly uproariously calculating that before Audrey II’s entrance, his zany decision to adopt grown adult Seymour to secure his meal ticket was an early highlight of the show.

To say OJ Mariano stole the show as Audrey II is an understatement. As soon as the plant evolves into a spectacular entity straight out of Pandora, the story becomes less about Seymour’s suspicious success, and more about the plant’s insatiable hunger. Mariano and Volante’s back and forth isn’t so much a deal with the devil, but a seduction. Of course Seymour will feed a beast so imposing, convincing, and charismatic. By the second act, when the plant is near-grown, and Mariano is sitting on a throne of sorts petulantly tantruming for Seymour to feed him another human body, you almost want the little botanist to go right ahead and feed it already.

With the plant being the most magnetic thing on stage, it does undercut the wisp of a message Little Shop of Horrors is trying to impart: that we may be feeding things in ourselves or our lives that we’re better off pulling from the root instead.

Garden of variety

As is the recent trend in Manila productions, Little Shop of Horrors features alternating casts for most roles. Audiences can watch shows with Volante, Tatlonghari, and Stroem as leads, or alternatively, shows that feature Reb Atadero, Sue Ramirez, and David Ezra.

Little Shop of Horrors

L-R: Markki Stroem and David Ezra alternating as The Dentist; Photo Credit: The Sandbox Collective

Of course, these different actors have different takes on their respective roles. As Seymour, Atadero shows agency. From the “Skid Row” number you can see that desire to get out of here. He’s funny, playful, head-over-heels and even a touch ambitious that when Audrey II (played by Julia Serad) evolves a consciousness, their rapport is that of a conniving duo. Seymour is a man with desires and things he couldn’t afford to lose. You see why he’d feed the creature that was giving him everything he wanted. You see the moral quandary of whether or not to feed his plant his rival or his father figure while still playing up the enriching comedic timing that livens up the dark set.

Much talk is on screen actor Sue Ramirez adding to the growing list of celebs trying their hand at live theater, but her debut as Audrey doesn’t feel like a debut at all. Her work here makes it seem as though she’s an old hand on that stage. Audrey, with the abusive boyfriend and the hard-knock life in such a hammy comedy, is a difficult tone to be handed, but she nails it anyway. Her Audrey is Norma Jean-esque, voluptuously sexy and flirty in one moment, but sweetly vulnerable and innocent, too. Her performance of “Somewhere That’s Green” becomes the show’s most human moment without sacrificing the outsized comedy called for by the show.

David Ezra’s attempt at many characters is not much varied, with him falling back to repetitive mannerisms and quirks to get easy laughs. His dentist is maniacal, but ultimately toothless against the more formidable villainous force that is the alien about to overtake the planet.

Rounding out the ensemble are three most un-urchin-like street urchins (Abi Sulit, Paula Paguio, Mikee Baskiñas alternating with Julia Serad) who act as a Greek chorus. They often look out of place in this Skid Row in their clashing pattern knitwear (Infante is also costume designer), clean faces, and bad wigs despite all singing superbly.

While no one should exactly be coming to Little Shop of Horrors to learn their life lessons, when the show is clearly about Seymour’s hero journey (subverted though it may be), the perils of unchecked ambition and Faustian pacts are pulled front and center. When our fallen protagonists warn us in the end about not feeding the plants, it becomes a call we just might listen to.

Rough-hewn at times, though perhaps more charming for being so, this production of Little Shop offers up a lot of surprises that’s better seen for yourself than read about.


Tickets: Php 2,272.00 – Php 4,089.60
Show Dates: July 6 to 28
Venue: Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City
Running Time: approx. 2 hours and 3 mins (w/ a 10-minute intermission)
Credits: Toff de Venecia (director), Ejay Yatco (musical director), Mio Infante (scenographer), Kayla Teodoro (puppet designer), Stephen Viñas (choreographer), Joseph Matheu (lighting designer), Joee Mejias (video designer), Philleep Masaquel (technical director), Elliza Aurelio (hair and makeup head)
Cast: Reb Atadero, Nyoy Volante, Karylle Tatlonghari, Sue Ramirez, David Ezra, Markki Stroem, Audie Gemora, OJ Mariano, Julia Serad, Abi Sulit, Paula Paguio, Mikee Baskiñas
Company: The Sandbox Collective

About the Author /


Editor-in-Chief for <a href="http://theaterfansmanila.com/wp/author/nikki/">TheaterFansManila.com</a>. Find her on <a href="http://linkedin.com/in/nikkifrancisco"><b>LinkedIn</b></a>.