Metropolis resumes in-person performances with energetic 'Little Shop' revival
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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 email@example.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
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.