Some day we will look back on these days as the golden era of Mu Performing Arts. That shouldn't assume some future collapse, but in years hence the mind will fondly recall that group of Asian-American actors who cemented Mu's place in the Twin Cities theater ecology.
This wistful mood is brought to you by Mu's delightful production of "Little Shop of Horrors," which opened Saturday at the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis (and let it be said that the Ritz feels great as a venue for this show).
It's tempting to point at Randy Reyes, whose career has blossomed, as the reason for Mu's emergence. Reyes is a cuddly, lovable Seymour -- the nebbish who occupies the center of "Little Shop." Down on his fortunes, Seymour has nursed an oddball plant (with a taste for blood) to health and the resulting fame lifts the fortunes of his employer, Mushnick's Skid Row Floral Shop. Reyes' comic chops and timing have developed razor-sharp acuity, yet he retains an everyman charm.
To pin it all on Reyes, though, would ignore (speaking of charm) Sara Ochs as Audrey. Ochs shines as the fragile street girl who can't catch a break with men. Her previous work with Mu ("Flower Drum Song," "Walleye Kid") revealed a tender, sweet quality coupled with a lovely singing voice. Here, she loosens up her vocal chords -- particularly with "Suddenly Seymour" -- and we see another dimension. Ochs is the real deal.
Kurt Kwan, whose work always has a fine economy and solid grasp of character, plays the cranky shop owner who is smart enough to cash in on Seymour's good luck. The handsome Eric "Pogi" Sumangil tops his leather jacket with a playful snarl as Orin, Audrey's bad boyfriend. And of course there is Audrey II, the Venus Flytrap that stirs this whole confection. This character is given smoky, low voice by Sheena Janson and a marvelous, sprawling design by Masanari Kawahara.
Katie Bradley, Molly Pan and Suzie Juul serve as the doo-wop Greek chorus -- narrating and egging the action on.
Jennifer Weir directs with a light touch, letting her actors do their work, and music director Denise Prosek has every note and beat right where they need to be. Kathy Kohl's costumes bear distinct accents of character -- from Seymour's cardigan to Audrey II's sparkly and earthy gown. Jennifer DeGolier's lighting design finds all the right colors and angles.
"Little Shop" is light fun -- not a musical with a high difficulty factor. Alan Menken's retro score bubbles along, and the simple plot allows us to ease into our chairs and smile. Still, the joy and heart evident in Mu's staging makes this the perfect spring tonic.
Graydon Royce • 612-673-7299