Review: San Diego Musical Theater spooks a fun and playful ‘little shop of horrors’

When the campy horror musical “Little Shop of Horrors” premiered in 1982, it began in a small Broadway studio. Then he lasted five years at the 299-seat Orpheum Theater off Broadway, where he built a loyal following of repeat customers.

A mini-version of that cult could be happening here for the San Diego Musical Theater, which opened a fun and immersive production of “Little Shop” Saturday at its intimate theater space in Kearny Mesa.

SDMT relinquished its lease on the Horton Grand Theater in the Gaslamp Quarter during the pandemic and reopened last February in a former Tupperware warehouse on Mercury Street. The downside to the much smaller space is that it’s not big enough to accommodate a live orchestra. But the upside is that lower production costs allow SDMT to run its shows longer and drive word-of-mouth ticket sales, which is what this mightily sung “Little Shop” should do.

Shanyeyah White as Crystal, left, Lena Ceja as Audrey, Carjanae, right foreground, as Ronnette and Tyrah Hunter as Chiffon in San Diego Musical Theater’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’.

(Courtesy of San Diego Musical Theater)

Most “Little Shop” productions look and sound the same recreating the sets, costumes and puppets of the original production, as well as the playful baby doll performance of its star Ellen Greene.

But SDMT’s “Little Shop” director Kandace Crystal wanted to create a production that not only reflected the diversity of San Diego’s population, but also the reality of the characters’ struggles on Skid Row in New York City in the 1960s. This show’s cast is racially diverse, the trio of doo-wop singing “kids” are more streetwise, the central characters are less cartoonish than usual, and Janet Pitcher’s costumes aren’t as incongruously glamorous.

The two-hour show starts with a bang and then continues with solid momentum, thanks to powerful performances from its kiddos: Shanyeyah White as Crystal, Carjanae as Ronnette, and Tyrah Hunter as Chiffon. Their well-harmonized, high-volume vocals, combined with choreographer-assistant director Luke H. Jacobs’ constantly evolving, ’60s-inspired, synchronized dance moves, give the show its upbeat connective tissue. Musical director Richard Dueñez Morrison also coached the singers well with recorded backing music.

Ramiro Garcia Jr., seen last spring at SDMT as the Piragua Guy in “In the Heights,” gives a sensitive, heartfelt and presumably confrontational performance as Seymour, the impoverished flower seller whose fortunes change when he adopts a mysterious rapid growth. plant thirsty for human blood. Big-voiced Lena Ceja, who was Daniela in “In the Heights,” tenderly and believably plays Audrey as a fragile, self-loathing domestic abuse victim.

Eliott Goretsky avoids the storyline’s unfortunate stereotypes as Jewish florist Mr. Mushnik. And Colden Lamb amusingly multi-tasks as the sadistic dentist boyfriend of Audrey, Orin, and half a dozen other characters. Domo D’dante plays the voice of the man-eating plant, Andrey II, and is production dance captain. And Luis Flores Torres is the behind-the-scenes puppeteer for several versions of Audrey II, which were designed by Madison Mellon.

“Little Shop” works best in a small theater, and Crystal moved some of the action into the audience gallery. It makes the show more interactive and fun, and judging by the audience reaction on opening night, it’s likely to become a hot ticket as news spreads.

“Little Shop of Horrors”

When: 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. on Fridays. 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday. 2 p.m. on Sunday. Until October 30

Where: San Diego Musical Theater on SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury St., San Diego

Tickets: 40$-75$

Call: (858) 560-5740

On line: sdmt.org