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Feed me, Seymour!

Little Shop of Horrors hits TBR stage

Get transported into a world of a 1980s B-movie on stage, complete with an evil, man-eating plant, a sadistic dentist and a Greek chorus of doo-wop singers when Theatre Baton Rouge puts on “Little Shop of Horrors” running now through October 7.

Based on Roger Corman’s cult 1960 film, which featured one of the first screen performances by a young Jack Nicholson, the stage production was adapted by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman into an off-Broadway musical in 1982. It would then receive pop culture acclaim when it was adapted into a feature film in 1986 starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

“This is one of my favorite musicals of all time I think I’ve decided,” said TBR Artistic Director Jenny Ballard, who is directing the musical. “I think it’s so well-written, I think these characters are so rich, and it is my favorite score of Alan Menken.”

The show features a meek young clerk named Seymour (Ronald Coats) who works at a Skid Row flower shop owned by Mr. Mushnik (Terry Byars). Also working in the shop is Audrey (Natalie Overall), who is dating a physically abusive dentist name Orin (Tyler Grezaffi). The problem: Seymour is in love with Audrey.

Business is nearly nonexistent at the shop until Seymour comes into possession of a strange little plant he names Audrey II. When Audrey II begins to grow to monstrous proportions, it becomes big news, and the shop’s business booms. The only problem is that the plant has a very particular diet: human blood. To sate the horrible creature’s vicious appetite and maintain his and the shop’s status, Seymour must resort to drastic measures.

“The thing I have really fallen in love with in this production is the ability to tell a story that involves real people, not caricatures,” Ballard said. “I think there is a fine line especially with the musical versus the movie that you can really buy into what Seymour is doing, or you can really pass judgments that he’s making terrible choices.”

Coats and Overall are front and center in the show as Seymour and Audrey, two luckless people who fall in love.

“Seymour has always been on my bucket list as a part that I’ve always wanted to play,” Coats said. “He’s not only funny, but he’s also very dramatic. It’s a comedy, but this is really a scary story, so he’s on an emotional roller coaster once he knows what the plant needs to survive and some of the choices he has to make along the way allow the actor to stretch their dramatic muscles, and there’s also the singing…There’s really nothing I don’t like about the part.”

“I love Audrey because she is genuine, and she’s sweet, and she’s kind,” Overall said, who is starring in her first lead role. “I am trying not to play her campy but as a real person…She’s a bit of a Saint. She’s willing to sacrifice her own dreams for someone else’s.”

Memorable songs from the production include “Somewhere That’s Green,” “Feed Me” and the sadistically funny, “Dentist!”

For fans of the 1986 movie, there will be some surprises in this production as it follows the original off-Broadway ending.

“There are major differences, so bring your tissues,” Ballard said.

Another major difference that’s not normally seen in Little Shop is the voice of Audrey II. The offstage role is generally played by a man, but actress Brandy Johnson will be taking on the role of the murderous plant, giving a new perspective on the role and how the plant interacts with the rest of the cast.

“I thought, in the year 2018, in the midst of this female empowerment movement, I thought we had a cool opportunity to tell a story with a female Audrey II,” Ballard said. “I started thinking of potential actresses who could do it, and Brandy was at the top of the list, she’s an amazing singer…and I honestly can’t imagine not having a female Audrey II at this point.”

Photos by Sean Gasser

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