Theater / Film

Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and Audrey II come alive in east Little Havana

Written By Christine Dolen
April 12, 2023 at 1:22 PM

The girl-group Urchins surround Frank Montoto’s sadistic dentist in Loxen Productions’ “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Manuel ARTime Theater, Miami, through Sunday, April 16. (Photo courtesy of Justin Azpiazu)

Little did filmmaker Roger Corman know, when he made and released the low-budget horror flick “The Little Shop of Horrors” in 1960, that his story about a ravenous man-eating plant would morph into a lasting American musical theater hit.

Yet that’s precisely what happened, thanks to composer Alan Menken and lyricist-book writer Howard Ashman. Since 1982, their darkly comic, ‘60s-style “Little Shop of Horrors” has made megabucks Off-Broadway, on Broadway, in London and uncounted American regional theaters, including a slew of them in South Florida.

Through Sunday, Miami’s Loxen Productions is offering its own “Little Shop” at the Manuel ARTime Theater in east Little Havana.

Chantal Bonitto plays the injury-prone Audrey and object of Seymour’s affection in Loxen Productions’ “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Photo courtesy of Justin Azpiazu)

This is the fourth production from a company dedicated to providing opportunities for young homegrown theater talent (its earlier shows were “In the Heights,” “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “Cabaret”), and last Saturday’s matinee proved to be a test of the troupe’s talent and willpower.

Corey Vega, who stars as the nerdy but horticulturally talented Seymour, was too sick to perform.  His understudy Tico Chiriboga wasn’t available.

So rather than cancel one of the show’s eight performances, Loxen founder and CEO Benji Leon IV stepped in to play Seymour after 18 hours of study (including five rehearsing with the cast and director Damaris López Canales).  Then he gave a nearly error-free performance without holding a script, and it was so well-sung and self-assured that you’d never guess the drama that preceded the actual show.

Which proves, yet again, that anything can happen in live theater.

Benji Leon IV starred in Loxen’s “In the Heights” and stepped in to a performance of the current “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Photos courtesy of Louis B. O’Neill and Bob Lasky)

Overall, Loxen’s “Little Shop of Horrors” is joyful and entertaining, if not the knockout that several other South Florida productions have been. It features a live band under musical director Ryan Crout, an expansive Skid Row set by Nobarte, lighting by Ernesto Pino and period costumes by Beth Fath, who is particularly adept at showcasing actor Chantal Bonitto’s va-va-voom curves as the abused beauty Audrey.  Choreographer Imran Hylton has worked with a larger-than-usual cast, filling in the space with additional dancers without lines.

The actors tell the familiar story about a person-eating plant, developed and dubbed Audrey II by Seymour, that turns a failing Skid Row flower shop into a moneymaking sensation.

Manipulative shop owner Mr. Mushnik (Craig Dearr) pushes Seymour to make the now-gigantic Audrey II (the puppet is voiced by Mikhael Mendoza, operated by Justin Rodríguez) an even bigger source of fame and wealth, not knowing that the plant has started demanding fresh flesh-and-blood from its creator.

Meanwhile, the actual Audrey continues showing up to work with an ever-growing collection of injuries, no thanks to her sadistic dentist boyfriend Orin Scrivello (Frank Montoto).

Fabriana Cueto and the Urchins musically comment on the ongoing drama of “Little Shop of Horrors.” (Photo by Justin Azpiazu)

Throughout, a girl-group version of a Greek chorus – Fabiana Cueto as Ronnette,  Amanda López as Chiffon and Patricia Christine García subbing for an ailing Maryah VanPutten as Ronnette – musically comments on the action and sings backup.

The songs are the best thing about Loxen’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” particularly Bonitto’s amusingly wistful “Somewhere That’s Green,” her lovestruck “Suddenly Seymour” duet with Leon, and Montoto’s recounting of Orin’s sadistic evolution in “Dentist!.”  The three actors are the show’s standouts, though Leon’s performance was a one-time-only thing.

One note for parents:  “Little Shop” is very funny, but it also has its share of vulgarity and faux violence. Just saying.

Leon, in partnership with Jim Kirstead and TourDForce Theatrical, is among the long list of producers of the current Josh Groban-led Broadway revival of “Sweeney Todd.”  He seems to be another of South Florida’s younger generation of theater leaders.  Here’s hoping he can realize his vision for Loxen.

WHAT: “Little Shop of Horrors”

WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through April 16

WHERE: Manuel ARTime Theater, 900 SW First St., Miami

COST: $35-$85

INFORMATION: 305-575-5057 or is a nonprofit source of theater, dance, visual arts, music and performing arts news. 

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