Boxcar Theatre has put a very real “Little Shop of Horrors” on its Natoma Street doorstep and created an exciting piece of environmental musical theater in the process.
Director Nick A. Olivero, part of the team that turned the screenplay for “Clue” into a three-dimensional romp earlier this year, has ambitious visions. He is blessed here with a company in and behind the scenes that can bring most of them to life.
Forget the soft, cuddly musical with peppy songs, comfortably clichéd characters and candy colors. Olivero has stripped away the Disney coating and found the darker side of the material, but without eliminating the pathos or the humor.
There’s no small irony that a musical whose opening number is called “Skid Row (Downtown)” is being staged just steps from the Sixth Street corridor, San Francisco’s own version of that self-same urban blight.
Olivero embraces the irony and literally makes it street theater, having his opening number take over the Natoma pavement. It’s the first of many surprises — no spoilers here — that make the evening an adventure for the uninitiated and a delightfully skewed take for fans of the show.
In addition to the outdoor sequences — yes, more than one — the production makes brilliant use of its limited space by tapping into our surveillance camera culture, playing scenes out of sight but within earshot, and then “broadcasting” them back.
David Möschler’s music direction is inventive, using instruments such as accordion and tambourine to create a unique sound. Unfortunately, sound engineer Alan Chang is hampered by low-grade equipment that either muffles or over-amplifies some singers.
As Seymour, the sad sack hero, John R. Lewis brings a wonderful innocence, a strong voice and an endearing level of nervous energy to the proceedings.
Bryn Laux’s Audrey is a beaten-down — sometimes literally — low-self-esteem club girl and Laux plays it perfectly, if a bit vocally unevenly at times.
Alex Shafer makes for a wonderfully, repulsively venal Mushnik and Kevin Clarke simply steals every scene he’s in as the S&M dentist with a lethal penchant for nitrous oxide.
Once a Supremes-style Greek chorus, Ronette (Nikki Arias), Chiffon (Kelly Sanchez) and Crystal (Lauren Spencer) are now a banger, a hustler and a “ho” delivering their very in-your-face commentary to great effect.
Miyaka Cochrane brings Audrey Junior, the plant puppets designed by Thomas John and Greg Frisbee, to a wonderful animation that is unfortunately not matched by her first singing voice delivered by rotating group of child performers. (The plant is later voiced by its victims and things improve.)
Last, but hardly least, Melinda Campero, Myers Clark, Danielle Doyle, Nick Lane, Amy Lizardo, Brook Robinson and Sarah Savage are an ensemble with true street cred.
Where: Boxcar Theatre, 505 Natoma St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes June 26
Tickets: $20 to $36
Contact: (415) 776-1747, www.boxcartheatre.org