Ask Bernie Sanders to pick his favorite musical and he might just name “Little Shop of Horrors.” A blend of camp, comedy, and horror, the Alan Menken-Howard Ashman collaboration first performed in 1982 ultimately sends up the dark side of capitalism as vigorously as the Vermont senator campaigning for president at one of his signature rallies.
At the same time, the abuse of the show’s flower shop worker, Audrey, at the hands of sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin resonates all the more tellingly in the Me, Too era. Gifted director-choreographer Rachel Bertone has brought her green thumb magic to the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s 45th season opener and turned its revival of “Little Shop” into a winning blossom.
That magic begins with the Skid Row ambience of Janie E. Howland’s disarmingly spare set. In the fairly intimate Lyric Stage Company space, a disheveled derelict struggles to find his bearing at the side of Mushnik’s initially rundown and poorly stocked flower shop. The shop owner and his abject clerk, Seymour Krelborn, look as forlorn as their rubbish-littered surroundings with only fellow employee Audrey dressed in a minimum of kitschy fashion thanks to Marian Bertone’s smartly chosen designs.
Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette ‒ named to suggest doo-wop groups ‒ enter and re-enter throughout in glistening matching outfits as they sing Greek chorus-like observations about the changes at Mushnik Florists and in plant-carrying Seymour.
Initially resembling a Venus flytrap, the plant ‒ as fans of the show know ‒ becomes a kind of growing Mephistopheles with whom the Faustian Seymour makes a bargain for wealth and fame. That deadly bargain involves Audrey II ‒ the name Seymour gives the plant ‒ demanding much more blood than the drops the somewhat desperate employee extracts from his own fingers. As Audrey II grows to a creature that covers the shop floor, complete with sizeable tendrils, the enormity of Seymour’s brutal soul-selling becomes all the more evident.
Director-choreographer Bertone generally keeps Seymour and Audrey II’s darkly humorous, ironic, and macabre relationship well-paced and blocked ‒ including rhythmic interactions during which the former feeds the latter. The same goes for Mushnik’s growing pride in Seymour’s entrepreneurial success. Here, Bertone smartly creates a “Fiddler on the Roof” riff as the shop owner officially adopts him as his son ‒ whom he calls “boychik” ‒ and they dance a brief hora to klezmer orchestration on “Mushnik and Son.”
Hub veteran actor Remo Airaldi sways as Mushnik a la Tevye in “Fiddler,” and Dan Prior frolics as once innocent but now shrewd Seymour. Airaldi proves the best Mushnik this critic has seen, and Prior fully captures the changes in Seymour.
Katrina Z Pavao naturally catches Audrey’s vulnerability and vitality. She also finds her inner grandeur, particularly as she sings with lyrical beauty of Audrey’s suburban dream future on “Something That’s Green.” Jeff Marcus has Orin’s nastiness with Audrey and demonstrates impressive versatility in a number of small roles. Pier Lamia Porter (Chiffon), Lovely Hoffman (Crystal), and Carla Martinez (Ronnette) move and sing in smooth sync. Tim Hoover is skillful as Audrey II’s puppeteer and Yewande Odetoyinbo enjoyably funky as her voice.
Are you looking for a takeoff on horror stories? You will find it here. Are you looking for unlikely romance ‒ between a man and a plant as well two humans? You will find it here. As for a metaphor for selling out or living by honor, you will find it here, too. Lyric Stage Company’s revival of “Little Shop of Horrors” is a vivid bouquet with pleasures for everyone.
The show runs through Oct. 6 at the Lyric Stage Company of Boston, 140 Clarendon St. For tickets, call 617-585-5678 or visit lyricstage.com.