The major twist in Street Tempo Theatre’s “darkly reimagined” production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken’s camp send-up of ’60s horror is that it takes its killer plant from outer space way too seriously. Directors Brian Posen and Kory Danielson scrap the traditional cheeky puppets and recast Audrey II (Candace Edwards) as a human, dolled up in sinister harlequin makeup and instructed to lurk around the upstage wall looking severe and menacing while, you know…being a plant.
That same draining, macabre aesthetic carries over to Mushnik’s flower shop (filled with dead flowers) and the residents of Skid Row (ranging from heroin chic to Walking Dead). Reinventing Little Shop could be tempting—it’s the sort of musical whose success has secured one definitive look, from Audrey’s (Erin Creighton) adorable pip-squeak dialect to the play’s tongue-in-cheek tone. But Posen, a major player in Chicago’s improv scene, works against his comedic instincts in favor of needless innovation. In other words, if it ain’t broke, it probably doesn’t need to be slathered in Threepenny Opera makeup.
Still, Street Tempo’s production marks a rare occasion when a lack of cohesion is a good thing. While Posen and Danielson are overthinking, their cast is gleefully belting, doo-wopping and dancing circles around all the directorial decadence, none more than Krystal Metcalfe, Sharriese Hamilton and Will Hoyer as some fierce Motown hookers. With some sound issues fixed, there’s a formidable Little Shop here. You just have to bushwhack first.