The horror-flick-inspired cartoonish musical Little Shop of Horrors, with a Motown-style score by Alan Menken, has been entertaining audiences for three decades. The story of a nerdy guy, a spacey gal and Audrey II, a bloodthirsty exotic plant, is a great choice for a summer musical — especially after a year-and-a-half of almost no live theater on Cincinnati stages. For more than a decade, The Carnegie in Covington has presented late-summer musicals, typically of the frothy, fun style.
With the lingering effects of COVID-19, the theater rightly imagined that audiences probably were not ready to return for indoor shows at its Scott Street venue, so they have staged Little Shop at the newly re-landscaped Covington floodwall, just east of the Roebling Suspension Bridge. It’s the first time I’ve attended an event at the “Covington Plaza Amphitheater.” It made for a pleasant, entertaining August Saturday evening. Roughly 300 people filled the 10 or so tiered cement rows — cushions or camp chairs are recommended.
Staged and choreographed by The Carnegie’s Maggie Perrino, the production offers a spirited cast with fine voices. Sound is well-managed; scenery is minimal — a few roll-around pieces depict a doorstep, the flower shop’s counter, and a Skid Row wall with tattered posters. It’s still daylight when productions begin at 8 p.m.; when the venue’s new outdoor streetlights come on, the modest stage lighting doesn’t have much of a chance.
The actors assemble with their backs to the Kentucky bank of the Ohio River across the amphitheater’s wide expanse; they step forward as needed for the story then return to the back edge when finished. Audiences need to withhold their disbelief as puppeteer Jamal Stone crawls into various incarnations of the man-eating plant Audrey II, with Michael Lee Jr. giving menacing voice to the character from atop an elevated upstage platform.
Kyle Taylor plays the hapless flower shop gofer Seymour, who becomes an unlikely media star as his plant Audrey II gets bigger and bigger — and more demanding. Maddie Vaughn is salesclerk Audrey, the low-self-esteem gal who Seymour dreams to win over. Their performances of the show’s best songs, “Suddenly Seymour” and the reprise of “Somewhere That’s Green,” are the production’s high points.
Lovely but easily bullied Audrey is in the thrall of a sadistic, egotistical dentist played by Ryaan Farhadi, who becomes plant food before long. Dan Cohen plays Mr. Mushnik, the frazzled owner of the dilapidated flower shop. The trio keeping the story moving forward are Chiffon (Alloria Frayser), Crystal (Sasha Spitz), and Ronnette (Christian Kidd), a fine set of voices with stereotypical Motown dance moves.
There’s nothing very profound Little Shop of Horrors, but this production is downright entertaining. And it’s great fun to sit on the south bank of the Ohio River and watch live musical theater, thanks to The Carnegie.
Little Shop of Horrors, produced by The Carnegie, is being performed outdoors at the Covington Plaza Amphitheater, 1 Madison Ave., through August 22. Get tickets, showtimes and more details at thecarnegie.com.
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