PHOTO/JEN SCHMIDT: Steven Huynh and Adrian Grace Bumpas in the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s production of Little Shop of Horrors.

If you’ve avoided the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival because of its … well, its Shakespeare, I have good news: There’s nothing at all highbrow about the LTSF 2023 season’s one and only mainstage production, Little Shop of Horrors.

In fact, its roots are in Roger Corman’s 1960 B-movie of the same name—a cult classic that was conceived by screenwriter Chuck Griffith and Corman during a drunken binge, written over a weekend and shot in just three days.

The wonderfully weird story was reimagined by powerhouse writing team Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, as a 1982 off-Broadway musical and as a campy 1986 film musical starring Steve Martin and Rick Moranis. In 2003, the hugely popular musical debuted on Broadway.

For those of you unfamiliar with the frightfully silly plot (confession—that was me until recently), here’s the gist. Shy, clumsy, nerdy Seymour Krelborn (played by Steven Huynh) and the object of his affection, his ditzy blond co-worker, Audrey (Adrian Grace Bumpas), work at Mushnik’s Flower Shop on Skid Row, a rough New York neighborhood where pretty much no one ever buys flowers. Poor Mr. Mushnik (M.A. Taylor) decides it’s time to close the shop for good … until Seymour reveals the odd plant he found in Chinatown during the recent solar eclipse. When a customer glimpses it through the shop window and is drawn in to make a big purchase, Mushnik is over the moon. Perhaps the rare species, which Seymour names Audrey II after his beloved co-worker, could save the shop? Mushnik places it in prime position in the window; the shop begins making money hand over fist; and Seymour is a hero.

No one else knows what Seymour has discovered about the plant’s diet—it needs blood to survive. To keep his job and save the shop, he has been pricking his fingers to feed the beastly plant. But instead of curbing its appetite, it only makes Audrey II bigger and hungrier—until blood will no longer satisfy it. Now it needs to eat people.

Meanwhile, Audrey has been dating Orin Scrivello, DDS (Mark Bedard), a sadist who satisfies his own appetite to inflict pain by abusing Audrey and his dental patients. Seymour’s no predator, but he’ll do anything to protect Audrey and keep Audrey II fed. He sets his sights on Scrivello, thinking maybe he can kill two birds with one stone.

Oddly enough, this grisly tale is set to an upbeat, ’60s-style doo-wop soundtrack full of surefire earworms.

How, pray tell, do you create a man-eating plant that grows to monstrous proportions over the course of two hours on stage? “Two words: giant puppets,” explained producing artistic director Charles Fee. And amazing puppets—and puppeteers—they are.

The complexity of these plot details and staging are the reason behind the decision to have only one mainstage production this year.

“It’s an anomaly this year,” he said. “The set design for Little Shop and the puppets are so complex that we can’t put the set up and take it down every day.”

Truly, the set and the scale of the puppetry are impressive sights to behold. Plus, the high level of professional talent among the cast, as both actors and singers, makes the entire performance utterly entertaining and enjoyable from start to finish. Highlights include Bedard as an Elvis-like Scrivello as well as several other characters who appear throughout the show, and the vocal talents of the three female street urchins, a Greek-chorus-style trio with Chiffon (Kris Lyons), Ronnette (Sydney Jaye) and Crystal (Sydney Alexandra Whittenburg). Lyons, in particular, is magnetic, and her voice astonishingly good.

To be fair, it’s hard not to enjoy a show at Sand Harbor, with its views of Lake Tahoe at sunset, mild temperatures and delicious food prepared at the venue’s on-site restaurant, Shakespeare’s Kitchen. It’s kind of a bonus that the show is killer, too.

Little Shop of Horrors is performed at various times and dates through Sunday, Aug. 20, as part of the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. Shows take place at Sand Harbor, 2005 Highway 28, in Incline Village. Tickets start at $17; attendees must also purchase a Nevada State Parks entrance pass for $10. For tickets or more information, visit

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