Metropolis resumes in-person performances with energetic 'Little Shop' revival

  • Flower shop co-workers Seymour (Mark Yacullo) and Audrey (Emilie Rose Danno) find love on skid row in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors," performed live, in-person and outdoors.

    Flower shop co-workers Seymour (Mark Yacullo) and Audrey (Emilie Rose Danno) find love on skid row in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors," performed live, in-person and outdoors. Courtesy of Ellen Prather

 
 
Updated 5/20/2021 11:15 AM

"Little Shop of Horrors" -- ★ ★ ★

"Welcome back to theater."

 

Applause greeted associate artistic director Sabrina Odigie's welcome to the socially distanced audience gathered for the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's Sunday matinee of "Little Shop of Horrors."

Staged outdoors under a tent several blocks north of the theater's home, Metropolis' revival of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's satirical, pop-enfused horror musical makes the Arlington Heights theater among the first in the Chicago area to resume live, in-person theater after the 14-month, COVID-19 mandated shutdown.

The skid row Greek chorus comprised of Crystal (Lexie Bailey), left, Chiffon (Yasir Muhammad), back, and Ronnette (Selena Robinson) comfort Audrey (Emilie Rose Danno), center, in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors."
The skid row Greek chorus comprised of Crystal (Lexie Bailey), left, Chiffon (Yasir Muhammad), back, and Ronnette (Selena Robinson) comfort Audrey (Emilie Rose Danno), center, in Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors." - Courtesy of Ellen Prather

Capacity is limited, seating is assigned and masks are required inside the tent, per coronavirus guidelines. The score is recorded, to reduce the number of artists participating in the show, and the staging and choreography suggest the artistic team's efforts to socially distance the cast without making those efforts obvious.

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All in all, it's an admirable effort, one Sunday's audience clearly appreciated. Director Enrico Spada's spunky cast includes some impressive performers. Overall, however, the production lacks the bite this darkly comic show demands. Moreover some performances, as evidenced by the occasional wavering pitch, feel tentative. One might chalk that up to unusual circumstances and an unfamiliar space, which may be resolved as the run progresses and the ensemble's confidence grows. That said, Spada's ably staged production, choreographed by Breon Arzell (who also plays the murderous Audrey II) is a pleasant diversion that includes several performers who bear watching.

Sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (Michael Metcalf), second from left, explains how he became a dentist to Ronnette (Selena Robinson), left, Chiffon (Yasir Muhammad) and Crystal (Lexie Bailey) in "Little Shop of Horrors," which marks the return of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre to live, in-person performances.
Sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello (Michael Metcalf), second from left, explains how he became a dentist to Ronnette (Selena Robinson), left, Chiffon (Yasir Muhammad) and Crystal (Lexie Bailey) in "Little Shop of Horrors," which marks the return of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre to live, in-person performances. - Courtesy of Ellen Prather

Based on Roger Corman's 1960 cult film "The Little Shop of Horrors," the tuner is powered by Ashman's wry lyrics and Menken's deceptively bouncy score (nothing sugarcoats horror like doo-wop). A cautionary tale about greed, manipulation and corruption, "Little Shop" also offers a critique of the media and corporate America, all of which is set to some truly engaging tunes.

The action unfolds in a failing skid row flower shop on the verge of closing until nebbishy assistant Seymour (a nicely awkward Mark Yacullo) picks up an unusual plant. He names it Audrey II in honor of his beloved Audrey (Emilie Rose Danno), a sweet-tempered co-worker much-abused by her dentist boyfriend Orin (Michael Metcalf channeling Elvis Presley as a goodfella). In response to the interest in the exotic Audrey II (Arzell in R&B mode), sales improve -- to the delight of flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik (Khyel S. Roberson) -- and Seymour becomes famous. But money and fame come at a price, and that price is human blood, which Seymour reluctantly supplies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 
The cast of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors" performs outdoors under a tent at the corner of Eastman Street and Evergreen Avenue in downtown Arlington Heights.
The cast of Metropolis Performing Arts Centre's revival of "Little Shop of Horrors" performs outdoors under a tent at the corner of Eastman Street and Evergreen Avenue in downtown Arlington Heights. - Courtesy of Ellen Prather

Rounding out the cast is a trio of skid row residents -- Crystal (Lexie Bailey, a powerhouse singer), Chiffon (Yasir Muhammad) and Ronnette (Selena Robinson). As the show's Greek chorus, they serve up delightful doo-wop in the form of the titular opening number and as backup to Seymour in the expositional "Da Doo."

Yacullo and Danno, the production's likable leads, are strong singers whose vulnerability makes them convincing as broken dreamers. That quality is especially effective in "Somewhere That's Green," an ode to life's simple things, winsomely performed by Danno. Yacullo is equally endearing as a well-meaning man seduced by celebrity.

So, theater has returned to downtown Arlington Heights. Not in the format we're accustomed to, but that will have to suffice until Metropolis can raise the curtain on its main stage.

Welcome back.

• • •

Location: A Metropolis Performing Arts Centre production staged under a tent at Evergreen Avenue and Eastman Street, south of North School Park, Arlington Heights. For tickets, call (847) 577-5982, ext. 239, email customerservice@metropolisarts.com or see metropolisarts.com

Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday; through June 19

Running time: About 2 hours, including intermission

Tickets: $40

Parking: Nearby garage and street parking

Rating: For teens and older

COVID-19 Precautions: COVID-19 guidelines in effect with masks required. Seating is assigned in pairs and spaced for social distancing. Parties larger than two will be seated in adjacent pairs as needed.

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