‘Little Shop of Horrors’ star returns to off-Broadway revival

Joy Woods will come back to the show, this time playing Audrey, as “Little Shop” continues to cement its place in the off-Broadway scene.


Max Van Hosen

“Little Shop of Horrors” is back on Off-Broadway. (Illustration by Max Van Hosen)

Kara Pauley, Contributing Writer

“Little Shop of Horrors” is a bizarre musical. The show uses a doo-wop style score to tell the tale of a struggling flower shop in  squalid Skid Row, whose luck turns around after an employee discovers a talking and singing carnivorous plant. The plant, whom the worker names Audrey II, craves human flesh. Beginning on May 2, Joy Woods — the actress who originally played narrator Chiffon when the revival first debuted in 2019 — will return to the musical as the protagonist’s love interest, Audrey.

New York theater is saturated with revivals, jukebox musicals and trite ideas. At face value, this revival by the Westside Theatre may seem like nothing to write home about. However, “Little Shop of Horrors” stands out.

In the show, protagonist Seymour (Matt Doyle) is forced to kill people to feed the plant, an undertaking that begins to eat him alive, all the while bringing him fame and fortune. The musical just gets more strange from there, as Audrey II is discovered to be part of an alien species that is seeking world domination.

The original “Little Shop of Horrors” opened off-Broadway in 1982 and was an immediate critical darling and fan favorite, winning the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical and becoming the highest-grossing off-Broadway show at the time. With a subsequent run at the West End, a popular film adaptation starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin, and a run on Broadway, the musical has established its own legacy.

At this point, “Little Shop” is a classic, familiar to many audiences. Despite its success, the musical feels rightly placed in its off-Broadway home. “Off-Broadway” has nothing to do with a theater’s geography, though nearly every Broadway show is in the Times Square area. The classification instead comes from the number of seats in the theater. Off-Broadway shows have 100-499 seats, while Broadway theaters have 500 or more, and off-off-Broadway have less than 100. It is not uncommon for productions to move up from one classification to another — both “Hamilton” and “Dear Evan Hansen” started as off-Broadway shows and worked their way up to the big leagues, as did “Little Shop” in 2003.

Perhaps it is the small cast, or because the show was originally written for the off-Broadway league, but the intimacy of the smaller theater feels appropriate. Away from the crowds of tourists, the production is willing to be silly and strange in a way that only off-Broadway can. The current revival opened in late 2019 and closed mere months later due to COVID-19. Nearly a year and a half later, the production reopened, and it has been the crown jewel of the off-Broadway scene ever since. The small cast stands out for its rollicking performances that feel larger than life.

Doyle is fantastic as Seymour, the charmingly awkward flower shop worker. He is spectacular in the role, bringing Seymour’s trademark awkwardness to life with his precise mannerisms. Audience members murmured about his remarkable ability to screw up his face, in an eerie impression of Moranis.

The addition of famous “Euphoria” actor Maude Apatow to the role of Audrey could be considered as a plot to bring in Generation Z audiences. If that’s true, it certainly worked. Compared to the rest of the company, Apatow is mediocre in the role. She exhibits a very sweet, almost Disney princess-like voice, which works in the small space and matches Audrey’s demure character, but one wishes she leaned more into the weirdness of the play. Off-Broadway in particular lends itself to outsider art, yet Apatow appears unwilling to situate her performance outside conventional norms. However, the actress does come into her own during the iconic duet “Suddenly Seymour,” with a stronger belt that complements Doyle’s solid tenor vibrato. It will be interesting to see which of these performance choices continue when Woods takes on the role in early May.

Tony Award nominee Bryce Pinkham is a standout as the dentist, Orin Scrivello. The role is raucously funny, with Pinkham’s iconic number “Dentist!” being a true highlight of the show. Pinkham got the memo and bleeds eccentricity in the riotously over-the-top number, complete with excellent backing vocals by the company. Pinkham commands the stage, taking his time to draw out his lines and gags for maximum laughs. He also plays at least four supporting characters in the second act, in which his comedic chops are on display even more.

Special recognition must be paid to the characters of Ronnette (D’Kaylah Unique Whitley), Crystal (Tiffany Renee Thompson) and Chiffon (newcomer Khadija Sankoh). They serve as the Greek chorus and shepherd us through the performance in the style of a Motown girl group. Not only do they sing and dance, catchily infusing Alan Menken’s score in every scene, but they are active characters on Skid Row, giving humor and levity to key scenes. 

Aaron Arnell Harrington brings a devilish and deliciously low baritone to Audrey II. The crew members behind the plant deserve noting for their ingenious puppeteering work. Audrey II’s mechanisms are not necessarily groundbreaking, but audiences were still shocked as the plant grew before our eyes and moved about the space, complete with dancing tentacles and a gaping maw.

The Audrey II puppeteers — doubled as ensemble members — were brought onstage for the bows. So too were additional crew members, which speaks to the production’s recognition of the contributions of each person. Hopefully, this shows a changing tide in how productions recognize crew roles — or perhaps this is just a feature of off-Broadway, where a star part means less than being part of a greater whole. 

The Westside Theatre revival of “Little Shop” does not reinvent the wheel, nor does it aim to. “Little Shop” sticks to the story, songs and set in a way that feels almost too safe. The production serves as a reminder of what magic can be made with a small cast and crew in a small space. It’s comforting to have off-Broadway back as a place where being silly is celebrated and singing plants can conquer planet Earth.

Contact Kara Pauley at [email protected].