Years before Alan Menken and Howard Ashman turned to cutesy dancing dishes in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" and singing seafood in "The Little Mermaid" they wrote a cautionary tale of greed and ambition, "Little Shop of Horrors."
With its bright show tunes, ditzy blonde and man-eating plant, it's a far cry from, say, "Macbeth."
But "Little Shop," in its cheerfully goofy way, does have a dark undertone of the lengths people -- even a mild-mannered floral assistant -- will go for love and success.
If the production onstage at Mount Dora's IceHouse Theatre chooses to downplay the bite in that message, well, that just leaves more charming silliness to enjoy in the twisted spoof of sci-fi B-movies.
And the IceHouse's silly stuff works, in large part because of the perky cast assembled by director Darlin Barry.
In the show, florist assistant Seymour (Eric Nicholas Bridges) longs to be noticed by bubblehead Audrey (Jennifer Guhl), but she's besotted with an abusive dentist (Tommy Wooten). When Seymour starts nurturing an exotic plant, which he names the Audrey 2, the world does take notice. But Seymour's fame comes at a price -- the Audrey 2 has a taste for blood. Human blood.
Bridges is pleasingly clumsy and cajoling as he begs Audrey 2 to "Grow for Me." And he maintains his charm even as he's planning a murder or two.
Guhl, with New Yawk moll accent, is by turns charming, exasperating and winsome as she dreams of a better life -- exactly what Audrey should be. She wisely turns down the accent to let the sentiments of signature songs "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly Seymour" shine through.
Wooten, as laughing gas-addled dentist Orin, switches from scary to silly faster than you can say "sadist." But Wooten may be even funnier in a variety of cameos -- from his very first appearance as a bum with a shockingly low singing voice in "Skid Row." He pulls off a series of quick changes, playing a handful of characters within minutes so effectively that a patron behind me murmured, "Does he have a twin?"
And, yes, one of Wooten's characters is a woman. Does he ever do a show without donning a dress?
As the doo-wop girl-group chorus, Chahine Kish, Savannah Rucks and Delaney Thompson have lovely voices but need to raise their fierce factor. C'mon, girls: Work it! Pat Kelly seems almost too likable as Seymour's cranky boss, but Kevin Rainsberger has the right smarmy faux-likability as the voice of Audrey 2. (James Meadows handles voice duties the rest of the run).
The puppeteers (Nick Mazzini, Matt McGinnis) punctuate the action without distracting; my friends were trying to dissect their tricks after the show.
It's more awkward in live theater to find jokes in Orin's abuse of Audrey than in the 1986 film version, and without foreshadowing the tale's grim end feels a bit abrupt.
But enjoy the good-time ride, and remember: Don't feed the plants.See for yourself
* What: Little Shop of Horrors, an Alan Menken-Howard Ashman musical
* When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 10
* Where: IceHouse Theatre, 1100 N. Unser St., Mount Dora
* Tickets: $20; seniors, $18 on Thursdays and Sundays; college students, $15; ages 13-18, $12; ages 5-12, $10
* Call: 352-383-4616Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun