By McKenna Shuler, SMTD Publicity Intern, with Jennifer Clary Jacobs
Plants are generally non-threatening, unless you’re talking about a giant Venus fly trap with a thirst for blood! This is exactly what audiences will see as CSU Theatre brings the infamous plant to life in its musical production of Little Shop of Horrors by Howard Ashman, with music by Alan Menken.
According to Dr. Laura Jones, the musical’s director, Little Shop of Horrors was selected because it is “total fun” for audiences, as well as CSU Theatre performers. Additionally, “the visual production elements present unique and welcome challenges for designers and technicians.”
The musical has been in the works for almost a year, with design ideas swirling around since last summer and evolving during production meetings that commenced last fall; rehearsals have been ongoing since early Feb. With the production now only weeks away, the best part for Dr. Jones has been, as she says, “sharing the enthusiasm and the energy of my cast and production team.”
For Dr. Jones, this particular directing experience has been a long time coming. “I'd forgotten how much I enjoy directing Broadway musicals,” she said. “This is my first in 15 years, and that was before the amazing facilities and equipment we now have at the University Center for the Arts.”
Dr. Jones has provided a great deal of oversight and guidance for everyone involved, including sophomore theatre major Sydney Fleischman, who plays one of the lead roles. Dr. Jones has “definitely helped me prepare me to play Audrey. She gives great feedback and always has an open mind on how I personally want to portray [her].”
For Sydney, performing in Little Shop of Horrors is a novel occurrence. “This is my first time playing a character that has huge significance to the plot,” she said. “It's a lot different from being in the ensemble or being a minor character.” There is one small caveat to Sydney’s enthusiasm, but you’ll have to get a ticket to find out what happens in Act II.
The Little Shop of Horrors musical, which debuted Off-Off Broadway in 1982, is based on the 1960 black comedy of the same name. Because of this, many design elements are mid-century inspired.
Senior theatre major Abby Jordan, the show’s costume designer, describes her creative method. “My research process began by looking into iconic figures of the 50s, then looking into who these characters actually are.” Describing Little Shop of Horrors as a satire that makes fun of other musicals, and whose characters aspire to an archetype, but aren’t quite there yet, Abby continues. “The inspiration came from this idea of taking the ideal – Donna Reed, James Dean, Gene Kelly, or Audrey Hepburn – and then making about 90 photocopies of the ideal. What you end up with is a rough idea of an original theme, but dirtied and a little wrong.” Junior Hannah Honegger chimes in. “As a hair and makeup designer, it is important to make sure there is continuity to your design so that it doesn’t clash with the costume design.”
Abby and Hannah, who have worked closely to ensure cohesive looks for each character, found that communicating the characters’ evolution through their physical appearance was the most interesting thing about their designs. “Seymour wants fame, money, and renown, and as the show progresses, [he] gets less pathetic,” Abby said. “Audrey wants to be pure and have a lovely little house in the suburbs, and goes visually from looking a little like a tramp, to looking like the 50s’ ideal, sweater-set and all.”
Of course, while the human characters are interesting in their own right, there would not be a story without the plant. The Venus fly trap, affectionately named “Audrey II” by Seymour, is an integral part of the musical that Roger Hanna, associate professor of set design at CSU, brought to life.
“[Costume Director] Maile Speetjens and I started out really thinking about options,” he said. “The one thing that bugs both of us often in productions of this show is that as the plant grows, it becomes bigger but less interesting, and usually is a rip-off of the original stage show. Just as it should get scary, it gets sort of static, especially in comparison with the movie.”
In terms of making the plant scary, there was only one rule: no liquid blood. So, to give Audrey II her commanding presence, the team drew on multiple inspirations. “We looked at lots of creepy meat-eating plants, but also undersea creatures, which are sort of otherworldly,” said Hanna. “We also looked at old horror movie monsters, and the gimmicks of those movies.”
For CSU’s production, three versions of the horrifying plant are being built: the smallest is remote controlled; the next largest is a puppet controlled by Junior communications major Brandon Fisher, who also plays Seymour; and the largest, also a puppet, is controlled by multiple puppeteers.
Naturally, Hanna’s favorite part of the plant is the scare factor. “I think it will be increasingly animated and surprising, and increasingly scary,” he promised.
A great deal time and effort has gone into bringing such a unique and creative musical to the stage, just for you! Please join us!
Tickets and Showtimes
See CSU Theatre’s production of A Little Shop of Horrors on April 28, 29, May 4, 5, and 6 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on April 30 and May 7. Tickets are no charge/CSU students, $8/youth (under 18), and $18/adult. Tickets are available at the University Center for the Arts (UCA) ticket office in the UCA lobby Monday through Friday, 3:30-5:30 p.m. and 60 minutes prior to performances, by phone at (970) 491-ARTS (2787), or online at www.CSUArtsTickets.com.