Little Shop of Horrors, Drury Lane Oakbrook. Most musical-theater productions strive to inflate the show to giant proportions, making the big seem even bigger. Generally speaking, intimacy isn't even on the map. But Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's 1982 musical rewrite of schlock auteur Roger Corman's 1960 cult-classic film is an exception, a modest ugly duckling of a musical that refuses to fall in step with any of the genre's norms. Unfortunately Ray Frewen's staging is far too restrained for this campy show--loving and delicate and graceful where it should be clumsy and uneven and unsightly. There's so little going on during the normally raucous opening number that it's obvious the show has been done without a clear purpose or audience in mind.
Still, the Skid Row doo-wop girls--played by Tamara Anderson, DuShon Brown, and Jenna Ford Jackson--lift the energy whenever they shuffle onstage, and Nicole Cready gives the protagonist's love interest, Audrey, a great deal of warmth and a huge voice. But the placard that drops from the ceiling to announce the show's title at its beginning and end really hammers home the fact that Frewen and his cast are approaching the piece as a relic. Too bad: the musical is leagues beyond Ashman and Menken's later work as empire builders for Disney, and it deserves at least a little more than polite conformity.