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Halloween fun in abundance at the 'Little Shop of Horrors'

With a catchy doo-wop score and a hilarious singing plant, "Little Shop of Horrors" is a tried-and-true favorite.

If you're looking for Halloween fun, Plan-B Entertainment's touring production at the Gallo Center for the Arts fits the bill.

The first show in the center's Broadway series, the musical offers a rare opportunity to see a full cast of professional actors right in Modesto.

From the smallest player to the biggest star, all performers are strong vocalists who can belt songs to the rafters. They're backed up by a vibrant four-piece band hidden from view in the orchestra pit.

The main weakness in director Andy Ferrara's staging are the cityscape sets, which are fine but underwhelming compared with those used in recent local productions of "Little Shop."

In Sierra Repertory Theatre's staging in Columbia, the run-down flower shop in the beginning was replaced with a sparkling new shop after business increased with the arrival of the strange plant. In this staging, we get only the old shop.

There also were a few issues with microphones not being turned up at Friday's opening performance, but the problem wasn't serious.

Best known from the 1986 movie starring Steve Martin and Rick Moranis, the musical is a spoof of a Robert Corman B-movie from 25 years earlier.

The show centers on nerdy flower shop clerk Seymour, who discovers the odd plant during a total eclipse of the sun and names it Audrey II after his office crush, Audrey.

The plant soon wins Seymour customers, plus fame and fortune. There's just one problem -- Audrey II needs human blood to survive and keeps getting hungrier by the minute.

Howard Ashman's clever lyrics are as pleasurable as Alan Menken's peppy score. "Come on Seymour, don't be a putz," the plant sings to a soul beat. "Trust me and your life will surely rival King Tut's."

Beau Hirshfield has spot-on comic timing as Seymour and especially shines when he has to give ridiculous excuses for the disappearance of people who become the plant's dinner. Decked out in a blond wig, short skirts and stiletto heels, Colette Peters wins sympathy as Audrey, the flower shop bombshell with low self-esteem. Listening to the two sing together is a highlight of the show.

A series of puppets ranging from a few inches to a few feet tall portray the plant, with Anthony Bowen operating the larger versions and Jessie James Dinkel providing the soulful voice. Dinkel shows his versatility as Seymour's thoughtless boss, Mr. Mushnik.

Joshua Ziel channels his inner rebel as Audrey's sadistic dentist boyfriend, a show-stopping role. Wearing a leather jacket with a tooth on the back provided by costume designer Thomas G. Marquez, he sings a very funny number about his fascination with people in pain.

Providing pointed commentary and infectious girl-group dance music are Ali Navarro as Chiffon, Nicole Tillman as Crystal and Reneé Colvert as Ronnette.

If the show sounds like something you'd enjoy, don't hesitate to buy tickets at the door right before the performance. Only about 300 of the 1,252 seats in the Rogers Theater were filled for Friday's performance.

Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at lmillegan@modbee.com or 578-2313.

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