By Beki Pineda

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS – Written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman; Directed by Colin Roybal. Produced by Equinox Theatre Company (presented at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street, Denver) through June 16.  Tickets available at 720/984-0781 or equinoxtheatredenver.com.

A deceptively simple looking but technically difficult play, LITTLE SHOP offers challenges for every theatre that takes it on. While it is a basic one-set play (the flower shop and the sidewalk in front of it with one breakout scene in the dentist’s office), dealing with an ever growing plant can be tricky.  Leave it to Equinox to find a unique way to handle the problem of Audrey II.  Does it work?  Everyone will have to decide for themselves.

An historical sidebar: In the original production of the musical Off Broadway in 1982, in the final moments of the show during the singing of “Don’t Feed the Plants,” huge tendrils fell out of the ceiling just touching the audience as though the plant had taken over the world and was coming after everyone there. I’ve always wanted to see the show in an appropriately sized theatre that could add that last little final touch.

This is one of those shows that everyone has seen but likes to see again. The doo-wop soundtrack, the longing for “Somewhere That’s Green,” the inner battle of greed vs. moral values, the nerd making good, our innate fear of dentistry, and the whimsy of the unrealistic plot brings people back time after time.  Then there is always the big reveal when we see the full blown Audrey II in all her glory. Equinox’s current production does not disappoint.

They have put together a good cast for the show featuring Matt Gnojek as the lovelorn Seymour, botanist extraordinaire, and Katelyn Kendrick as the self-effacing and abused Audrey with her little girl voice and mournful declaration that she “has a past.”  The street urchins – Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette, named after girl groups from the 60’s – are played by Isabella Duran (who raises the bar as a backup singer), Chelsea O’Grady, and Preston Adams.  For this production they are joined by a fourth – And Peggy – played by Jacob Stephenson.  Thairone Vigil-Medina gives an over the top performance as Mr. Mushnik while Derek Helsing plays the sadistic dentis,t Dr. Orin Scrivello . . . . DDS, to funny life.  Great voice is given to Audrey II by Cassie Lujan.  In a part usually given to a male, she excels and makes me wish the production had included the additional solo given to the plant in the movie – “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space.”

The transition from a poor flower shop to a rich flower shop as reflected in the set and costumes is fun to watch. The costumes designed by Jenn Rollins are bright and flattering. Adam White and his fellow musicians provide a solid accompaniment to the singers. As is so often the case, the sound balance was a little heavy handed in the beginning with the singers having to belt to be heard, but it evened out by mid-act. Director Roybal displayed a sure hand with this production, showing both confidence and ingenuity.

I’m also very happy to report that the old Patsy’s Italian space which has stood empty for so long has finally been replaced by Avoca, a delightfully modern restaurant with a lovely outdoor patio. The service this opening weekend was splendid and the menu inviting. Try the guacamole stuffed deviled eggs! The cheeseburger with your choice of toppings was the best I’ve had in a long time and the skinny fries are great… Can’t wait to go back.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!