LOGAN – When it comes to black comedy, it doesn’t get much blacker than Little Shop of Horrors, now playing for Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre.

In his pre-show informance, UFOMT founder Michael Ballam explained that black comedies give their audiences a chance to laugh at things that normally wouldn’t be considered funny.

Things like greed, sadism, domestic abuse and, finally, thousands of man-eating plants gobbling up the whole world.

The challenge for the cast of any black comedy – particularly a musical comedy – is to make those things humorous, even when they’re really not.

But UFOMT more than met that challenge with a small cast combining some of its most veteran performers with dazzling newcomers. Despite the show’s deliberately gruesome plot, the opening night audience responded to thrilling vocal performances with a spontaneous standing ovation.

Little Shop of Horrors is loosely based on a 1960 low-budget film of the same name directed by schlock-master Roger Corman. The film is a cult classic, most notably for a hilarious cameo appearance by a then-undiscovered Jack Nicholson.

In their first collaborative stage adaptation, Little Shop of Horrors premiered off-Broadway in 1982 with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman. Featuring a score that blends rock n’ roll, doo-wop and Motown-style music, the black comedy centers on a lovesick florist who unknowingly raises a monstrous man-eating plant for all the wrong reasons, but nevertheless seemingly good ideas at the time.

In addition to its numerous engagements off-Broadway and in regional theater circles, the musical was adapted as a 1986 movie directed by Frank Oz starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

UFOMT veterans in the cast include Stefan Espinosa, slumming as the down-on-his-luck florist Seymor who pines for the lovely — but somewhat masochistic — Audrey, played by his wife Vanessa Ballam.

The popular husband-and-wife team were reprising roles they played in an earlier local production of Little Shop of Horrors in 2011, although it’s difficult to imagine that they could have been any better previously than their outstanding opening night performances this time around at the Utah Theatre.

The near-capacity opening night crowd was also pleased to greet the return of veteran actor Lee Daily as the manipulative flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik.

Newcomer Eric J. McConnell appeared as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello, who is Seymor’s rival for Audrey’s misguided affections. In addition to manically channeling Steve Martin from the “Little Shop of Horrors” movie, a thinly disguised McConnell plays a host of walk-on roles in this UFOMT stage production.

From the wings, Michael Nansel lent his deep bass voice to the monstrous plant Audrey Two, while puppeteer Jared Rounds animated the growing alien creature.

The musical’s trendy, upbeat choral tunes were performed by Sydney Marie Townsend, Palye Evelyn Berrian and Aitana Alapa as street waifs Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette respectively.

Little Shop of Horrors was jointly directed and choreographed by George Pinney and Alyssa Weatherby, with Dallas Aksoy providing music direction.

Evening performances of Little Shop of Horrors are slated at the Utah Theatre on July 6, 18, 20 and Aug. 1. Matinees are set for July 13, 17, 24, 26, 29 and 31.

The Utah Theatre is located at 18 West Center Street in downtown Logan.



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