Have you ever attended a show where the waves of love seemed to wash back and forth between audience and performers? That is the mood that suffuses director Scott Ellis’ revival of his 1993 revival of the 1963 classic, with book by Joe Masteroff, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, based on a 1937 Hungarian play that engendered the 1940 hit movie Little Shop around the Corner.
Gasping yet? You might as well mentally erase all those dates. There’s nothing musty about this scintillating rendition. Designer David Rockwell has come up with a jewelbox set likely to prompt retro-cravings for luxury perfumes and pomades. Jeff Mahshie’s costumes summon the snappy fashions that even shopgirls managed to sport in 1934 Budapest.
These are very ambitious clerks. They hard-sell as if their lives depended on it (which, mid-Depression, is probably true). Especially lean and hungry is Amalia Balash (Laura Benanti), who scores a nonexistent position by improvising a pitch on the spot (“No More Candy”). “Winning” doesn’t begin to describe Benanti, who employs an enchantingly crystalline soprano rarely heard since the era of operetta.
The brassy numbers – as well as some past-the-ears high kicks and splits – go to game Jane Krakowski, playing the stock character of a slightly shopworn love-addict, Ilona Ritter. Krakowski’s interpretation is anything but standard-issue. You can’t help but cheer for Ilona as she copes with her paramour’s kiss-off – "Grand Knowing You,” smashingly rendered by Gavin Creel – by taking an exploratory “Trip to the Library.”
Zachary Levi is competent if not dazzling as Georg, Amalia’s enemy at work and, in private and unbeknownst to her, devoted penpal. Among the standouts in this highly talented crowd is Nicholas Barasch as a delivery boy who dreams of climbing the retail ladder. Barasch doesn’t just play young, he is young (still in high school), and he takes to the spotlight as if born to it. The kid’ll go far.