REVIEW: Audience fed laughs, songs and villainous plants in ‘Little Shop’

Matt Gnojek as Seymour and Katelyn Kendrick as Audrey don’t realize the danger posed by such a unique plant in “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Photo provided by Equinox Theatre Company).

The Equinox Theatre Company has made its bones in Denver by being the purveyors of quirky, cult-classic musicals that take the absurdity levels to 11. And its most recent offering is the best one of its current season by far, both in the quantity of laughs and level of musicality on display.

Equinox’s “Little Shop of Horrors” epitomizes what’s so great about the absurdity that runs throughout all of the theater’s shows. Everything is played for laughs, and unlike in previous shows, all of the jokes land with assurity.

What sets “Little Shop of Horrors” apart is the music, which seems to be on another level from previous productions. While much of the talent has appeared in other Equinox shows, it seems like everyone, from the singers to the band, is on top of their game.

A show with multiple incarnations throughout its almost 60 years in existence, “Little Shop of Horrors” tells the tale of put-upon flower clerk, Seymour, one of the great nerds in theater history. His life takes a turn for the better, or so it would seem, when he finds a strange, unidentifiable plant during a solar eclipse. Named for the gal he’s sweet on, Audrey, the plant Audrey II brings fame, fortune and success to Seymour and the little flower shop on skid row. That is until Audrey II starts demanding more and more blood, that leads to some very grisly plant feeding.

Matt Gnojek, making his debut with Equinox as Seymour, and Katelyn Kendrick, as Audrey, are the stars of the show for a reason. Both are amazing singers who push the musical to a place that lesser talents could not make it go. But along with having vocal talent that can carry the show and comedic skills to land every joke, it’s the duos genuineness that immediately makes them loveable.

Cassie Lujan as the carnivorous Audrey II oozes evil as she wraps Seymour around her vines. She plays Audrey II as a seductress, using her sexuality to make the nebbish clerk her slave. It’s an interesting choice to have the plant be so sexually over the top, but it works for the most part because Lujan is so wonderful in the role.

The chorus that serve as narrators for the entire show feature some great vocal talent, including Isabella Duran and Chelsea O’Grady. Duran was the highlight of the Vintage Theatre’s Johnny Cash tribute show “Ring of Fire” and O’Grady killed it in “The Wild Party” at the Stanley Marketplace last year. Both get multiple chances to show off their powerful voices.

The show, however, isn’t without its share of weeds. Much like other shows at Equinox, the entire production could be tighter. Sometimes lines aren’t delivered at the right moment, marks don’t feel like they’re being hit with conviction, and more attention could be paid by a few of the singers’ lyrical phrasing.

It all plays kind of loose, but it seems like it’s all done with a wink and nod to the audience, like the intent is to make sure there’s never a chance the fourth wall remains intact throughout the show. For many in the audience, this free-flowing feel is what they love about Equinox but it might not be for everyone.

Four out of five stars

“Little Shop of Horrors” by the Equinox Theatre Company. Playing at The Bug Theatre through June 16.

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