East Central College Provides a Fresh Take on “Little Shop of Horrors”

“Little Shop of Horrors” received a new approach last month at East Central College in Union, MO. Known for being the somewhat funny musical take on cheesy 1950’s sci-fi, ECC provided a different take on the show.

First produced in the 1960’s, “Little Shop of Horrors” has gone through a number of transformations. The story follows Seymour Krelborn, a meek and shy flower shop attendant that discovers a “strange and interesting” plant. Naming it the Audrey II after his secret crush and coworker, he soon finds that the plant nothing short of extraordinary. With a taste for blood, the Audrey II convinces Seymour to start killing in order to feed the plant. From there, the horror ensues. The first encounter with the Audrey II was in 1960. In a full-length film, which featured a young Jack Nicholson, there was no music, no singing plant. In 1982, with the help of Alan Menken, Seymour and Audrey II got its live stage adaption in an Off-Broadway musical production. Quickly becoming a cult classic, Frank Oz directed the 1986 movie adaptation, starring Rick Moranis. This would be the version most people recognize for almost two decades. Finally in 2003, “Little Shop” made it’s big Broadway debut and has been a hit ever since.

For those of us that love the classic musical, it’s always a thrill to see the different productions and how they tackle the task of “The Plant.” The traditional approach has always been a series of puppets. ECC decided not go that route. Read what the director had to say about their unique take:

The 1986 film version of “Little Shop of Horrors” is one of the world’s most popular films- a nerdy floral assistant, an abusive dentist, a fragile blond ingenue and a large green plant that eats people are ingrained in our cultural phyche.

The stage version is very similar- the plant, Audrey II, is traditionally played by an actor inside a series of increasingly large puppers. I’ve seen quite a few versions of Little Shop on stage- it is one of my favorite shows. The music is catchy, the story is fun and most of all- the moral of giving up who we are for what we think we want is one that really resonates with me.

A few years ago, I read about a production of LSOH that used a person as Audrey II- I found the idea fascinating. So when I chose it as part of our season, I took the idea of exploring who the Audrey II really is and how she is able to manipulate Seymour into doing what she wants as the basis of my concept.

Giving the plant a “human face” (literally) is my way of trying to tell the story from another angle- what if we looked at how the plant grows inside Seymour’s mind, causing him to do things he never would without that voice inside his head? What if everything that happens to Seymour during the entire show is the result of the plant’s manipulations? If every character on stage was somehow ‘controlled’ by the mind games and power of Audrey II?

The show you are going to see today is the result- and it is also the result of a great deal of hard work by many people. -Grace Austin, Director

The result of this collaboration was nothing short of hauntingly beautiful. From the start of the show, everyone watching knew that this was not going to be the fun and humorous version we’ve grown to love. Jacob Schmidt starred as Seymour Krelborn and he embodied the role with the same nervous quirkiness that we’re used to but the difference was the way he appeared to be the puppet from the very start. His love for Audrey, played by Allison Franzen, was still the motivation behind his motivations but it was the three fates that really controlled his actions.

Schmidt’s talent shined bright when he performed the beautiful “Grow for Me” and proved that he is a well-rounded talent. His voice is smooth and flawless.

The ensemble’s acting chops were top-notch as they drove the story from beginning to end. From Chad Greife Wetenhall‘s portrayal of the infamous Orin Scrivello, DDS to Lukus Demet‘s Mr. Mushnick, each character came to life with a new twist. Orin with a more sadistic and evil performance and Mushnick was more timid and needy.

Wetenhall performed the hilarious songs, “Dentist” and  “Now (It’s Just the Gas)” convincingly. Both numbers embodied the villain we love to hate but he spent much of the songs just slightly off-key.

A surprising showstopper was the duet between Mushnick and Seymour, “Mushnick and Son.” The vocals were on point, the choreography was flawless and funny, and the chemistry between the two characters was just wonderful.

The evolution of the plant is what really caught everyone’s attention. Starting out with three young actors as the young pod, it evolved by adding more cast members to the plant and finally having the “three fates” finish off the third phase of growth. As the plant fed on the cast members, those characters also joined the plant which added a new twist that was absolute perfection.

With Musical Direction by Colin Healy, the cast performed the show so well. The harmonies were spot on most of the time. The choreography of the plant, by Chris Page-Sanders, was a driving force of the story. The technical aspects of the show were a little less impressive. Lighting design by Kevin Shaw seemed to miss the mark a bit and the sound was off-kilter throughout.  At times, the technical issues distracted from the performance but the actors powered through.

Overall, this new take on a classic was a home run. The fresh ideas used in this production gave the show new life and so many new possibilities. If you didn’t get a chance to see the show, hopefully, other companies will follow suit and give it a try.

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