|  Encore Michigan

DEXTER, MI–Watch out for the plant.

The Encore Musical Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors is a delight for the whole family.

This classic musical, with a darkly comedic twist, has all the elements to keep every generation grinning: a talented cast, superb  set design and puppetry, and catchy music written by the great combination of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken.

Tyler J. Messinger geeks up with a nerdy haircut and glasses as Seymour, keeper of Audrey II, the colorful, unique…and hungry, carnivorous plant. His rendition of “Suddenly, Seymour” gave us one of the terrific ear-worm songs from the show.  Ash Moran as Audrey 1 has absolutely wonderful soaring vocals. Her portrayal of the vulnerable yet resilient character was pitch-perfect, and her chemistry with Seymour was clear.

But the real star of the show was Audrey II, the man-eating plant (worked by William Scott Davison and Vaughn Louks. The puppetry and vocal work behind Audrey II were nothing short of astounding. The way Audrey II grew in size and personality throughout the show was a testament to the skills of the puppeteers and voice actors involved.

Not to be overlooked is an engaging supporting cast. Keith Kalinowski renders the perfect Mr. Mushnik, beleaguered owner of the flower store that is home to Audrey II. Kalinowski’s vocals are more than solid, and he glides around the stage in way reminiscent of the great Jackie Gleason. Little Shop has a spot for a flexible, versatile actor who can play multiple roles, and this production has the wacky Owen Squire-Smith. He plays Orin Scrivello, the sadistic dentist, with maybe a nod to Jim Carrey in his infamous Fire Marshall Bill character, as well as a store patron that talks and moves as if he is a toy operated by pulling a string in his back. He takes his turns in a couple of other bit characters, and he jolts the stage with every appearance.

A trio of singing street urchins—Leah Wilson, Trinity Wolff and Sabrina Dahlgren—delight with excellent singing and choreography set to the Ashman-Mencken score, which often takes a turn into 60’s MoTown sound.

The skid row set, by Sarah Tanner, was meticulously detailed, transporting the audience into the gritty, urban world of the story. The plant shop is very realistic with Audrey II looming ominously in the background, giving a sense of impending doom. Costumes by Marilee Hart. Props by Anne Donevan. Sound Design by Chris Goosman. R. Mackenzie Lewis music directs the six-piece band. Joseph Walls is sound designer.

Little Shop of Horrors strikes a balance between comedy and horror, and this production nails that tone. The humor was sharp, and the darker elements were genuinely eerie at times.  There is a story-thread about Audrey being regularly beaten up by her dentist boyfriend, showing up at the shop with a black eye and then an injured arm in a sling. It feels jarring at times to joke about physical abuse in the context of a comedic musical.  The man-eating plant is not the only “horror” in the show.

Directed by Dan Cooney and Anna Dreslinski,, Encore’s Little Shop is a fun, extremely well produced spectacle the whole family can enjoy. It runs through September 24. See www.theencoretheatre.org for dates and ticket info.