Belleville West graduate Ben Watts has a remarkable gift for adding sly details to his character through his non-verbal communication -- a glance, a gesture, a change in posture. Of course, he can dance, sing and act, but his performances are impressively nuanced.
He's a natural to play Seymour Krelhorn, the nerdy put-upon clerk at a florist shop in Skid Row, who makes a life-changing discovery in "Little Shop of Horrors," the musical closing out Stray Dog Theatre's 10th season.
Watts is matched by a bevy of local talent who inject just enough "oomph" in the 1982 off-Broadway Howard Ashman-Alan Menken cult classic to give it a fresh spin. Based on Roger Corman's 1960 low-budget sci-fi film, the stage musical comedy is a loopier, less disturbing version but it does have "Horrors" in the title, therefore the tone must be dark.
Seymour raises an exotic venus flytrap-like plant with a craving for human blood, and the plant grows to enormous proportions. Director Justin Been helped build the various puppets used to convey Audrey II's growth, and they are sensational.
The deep, robust voice of Jeremy Sims is used to convey Audrey II's cunning and malice, and his vocals are a highlight -- stellar "Feed Me (Git It)" duet and the devilish "Suppertime."
Also standing out is Keith Thompson as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello. He's gleeful in portraying a depraved psychopath, and a ball of fire in "Dentist!" Both Watts and Thompson display impeccable timing in "Now (It's Just the Gas)."
Lindsay Jones is Audrey, who is abused by her boyfriend dentist, but doesn't stand up for herself. It's a tricky role, working at the floral shop and becoming closer to Seymour while trying to gain the audience's sympathy, and Jones is bland. She showcases her trained voice with great power, in the signature numbers "Somewhere That's Green" and "Suddenly, Seymour," but she isn't a perfect fit for the role, usually played by someone younger and spunkier.
The big, bold Do-Wop trio includes Jamie Lynn Marble of Belleville, who also did the feisty choreography, as Chiffon, Mark Saunders as Ronette and Maria Bartolotta as Crystal. These street urchins give off the vibe of a typical girl group, but with sass and attitude. They handle the Motown-inspired music with great verve.
Been is able to do wonders with the Tower Grove Abbey's small stage, utilizing every inch of it. And David Blake's set suits the space very well, utilizing a turntable to great advantage.
"Little Shop" demonstrates Stray Dog's strengths, and with Chris Petersen's smooth music direction, it's a fun frolic with a capable ensemble.
What: Stray Dog Theatre presents the musical "Little Shop of Horrors"
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, through Aug. 3; additional matinee at 2 p.m. Aug. 3.
Where: The Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee, St. Louis.
Tickets and information: straydogtheatre.org or call 314-865-1995.