The Doo-wop girls

The Doo-wop girls

Musical grows from high school stage

Audiences can once again feed on Little Shop of Horrors when it opens at Powerhouse Theatre in Vernon.

It may be way past the 23rd day of September circa 1963, but when the curtain rises on that little flower shop on skid row with the strange alien-like plant with a taste for blood, you may experience déjà vu.

Perhaps it’s because you’ve seen the 1960 black and white film by B-movie auteur Roger Corman. More likely, you’ve seen the re-vamped version in colour, the 1986 Frank Oz directed musical film starring Rick Moranis (yep, that hoser Bob McKenzie) as Seymour, Ellen Greene as his squeaky voiced love interest Audrey, and Steve Martin as a psychopathic dentist.

Or perhaps it was on the Broadway stage, or some high school theatre somewhere.

In fact, locals may remember way back in November, 2002 when W.L. Seaton Secondary School presented the Howard Ashman/Alan Menken (the same team that wrote Disney’s The Little Mermaid) musical at its 27th Street Theatre.

Locals will once again experience the fun when Little Shop of Horrors returns to the Vernon stage. This time it’s being produced by Powerhouse Theatre, and the show features a lot of familiar faces.

Little Shop is a reunion of sorts, as it is directed by W.L. Seaton drama teacher Lana O’Brien, who also helmed the musical at Seaton 11 years ago when she was pregnant with twins.

“To come back after 11 years is amazing. The words and music are all still there in my head and in my heart,” said O’Brien, who before being enlisted to direct planned to audition as one of the show’s Doo-wop girls.

“The original director had to drop out and (Powerhouse) asked if I would take over. My first reaction was disappointment as to be honest I wanted to be in the show, but it’s been awesome to have this team and the support.”

O’Brien is also happy to be working with some of the original Little Shop crew from Seaton, including musical director Paul Hunter, costume designer Lorraine Johnson Brotsky, and now retired Seaton stagecraft/drama teacher Dave Brotsky, whose set is based on the one he designed for the Seaton production. However, it has been adjusted to fit the Powerhouse stage, which is narrower and deeper, said O’Brien.

“We have a lot of Seaton students in the production as well as actors, puppeteers and crew kids. It’s an extension of our family there,” said O’Brien. “It’s a testament to the work done at Seaton to show the broader community what they’re capable of.”

The lead actors in the dark comedy feature two current Seaton drama students and one graduate.

Lovable nerd Seymour is played by Grade 12 student Sheldon Graham, who appeared as Joseph in Seaton’s production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat last year.

In the play, he works in Mr. Mushnik’s (Scott Madden) flower shop and discovers a plant that has appeared seemingly out of nowhere, which has otherworldly characteristics.

Suddenly everything Seymour wants comes to him. And what he really wants is the affections of his coworker, Audrey (played by fellow Grade 12 Seaton student Emma Dorval). Unfortunately for Seymour, she is dating a sadistic thug – a nitrous oxide inhaling, scene-stealing  dentist named Orin Scrivello (the role Steve Martin made famous, played here by former Seaton student Bron Johnson).

“Even though it’s easy to direct the characters in a cartoony way, the story is almost like Hamlet. The characters make impulsive decisions instead of pausing and thinking ‘if only I had…’ It really is genius writing,” said O’Brien.

The show also features those Motown and doo-wop inspired musical numbers featuring singing narrators, the aptly named Doo-wop girls, who in Powerhouse’s presentation are played by five females named after famous ‘60s girl groups.

“As the original show uses three-part harmony, we expanded our cast for the bigger musical numbers to pad it out and have more people involved as possible,” said O’Brien.

Audiences may find themselves  singing along to such numbers as the title song as well as such classics as Dentist! and Suddenly Seymour.

“Ashman-Menken created a genius marriage of music and lyrics that is so compelling and fun to perform,” said O’Brien.

Led by Hunter, the show’s band, including former Seaton teachers Regina Picco and Monty Hughes, along with Mike Parent and Rod Neufeld, will play live from their location above the stage.

“We would never do this show with canned music as it has too many nuances,” said O’Brien, who credits all the performers for bringing the many musical numbers to life.

Then there is the star attraction, that blood loving alien plant, Audrey II. Actually four plants in varying stages of growth, they are operated as puppets and voiced by Seaton counsellor Chris Colclough, whose booming “feed me!” will be heard microphoned live from the catwalk.

“It is a very technical heavy show. The logistics of putting it together is mind boggling. There is so much manpower backstage,” said O’Brien, adding, “We do it because we love it. It’s been a very positive experience to bring it back to the stage.”

Little Shop of Horrors opens at Powerhouse Theatre Wednesday. Shows are nightly at 7:30 p.m. to March 8 (except Sunday and Monday.) Matinee performances take place at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 2 and Saturday, March 8.

Tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office in the Performing Arts Centre. Call 549-7469 or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.