PCHS’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ feeds the dark side of musical comedy
When Park City High School Drama Teacher Zac Zumbrunnen announced this year’s musical would be "The Little Shop of Horrors," the news was greeted with smiles and cheers.
"It’s a very popular show and the students got very excited," Zumbrunnen told The Park Record. "As the cast and I have told others that we’re doing the show, we’ve gotten more great reactions. Everyone’s eyes widen and there are a lot of smiles."
"The Little Shop of Horrors," which will run Nov. 20 through 22 at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, is based on a low-budget horror film directed by Roger Corman.
In 1960, award-winning filmmaker Corman, known for his over-the-top B movies "Gunslinger," "The Wasp Woman" and "The House of Usher," released "The Little Shop of Horrors," which was about a misfit flower-shop employee named Seymour and a carnivorous plant he named Audrey II, after a coworker he loved.
The story intrigued the Academy Award-winning team of composer Alan Menkin and Howard Ashman, who turned "The Little Shop of Horrors" into an award-winning musical in 1982.
That musical was the basis of a 1991 film, starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.
The musical is one of Zumbrunnen’s favorite shows and 12 years ago he was able to appear in a production as Mr. Mushnik, the cranky owner of Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists, where the action takes place.
"That was a lot of fun," Zumbrunnen said. "So, it’s fun to revisit the musical as a director this time around."
One of the reasons Zumbrunnen chose the musical this year was because of his students.
"This production is a lot of work and there is a lot of singing, but we have some students with great voices who can tackle the material," he said.
The drama department also had a plant that could be used as Audrey II, eventually becomes a monster that thrives on the blood and flesh of unsavory characters, including Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, Orin Scrivello.
"If you have a plant at your disposal, you need to do this musical because that’s the focus of the show," Zumbrunnen said. "We had everything together that told us this would be the show to do this year."
"The Little Shop of Horrors" also has the rare honor of being one of the first musicals that is based on a film and not vice versa.
"That was rare back then, but today, it seems everything that is produced on Broadway are remakes of movies," Zumbrunnen said.
The director said his favorite song in the production is "Suddenly Seymour."
"I think that is the greatest love ballad in the history of musical theatre," Zumbrunnen said. "The reason is because it’s two people who have just been broken by society, consequence and action find each other at that one, beautiful moment. This is my favorite moment in musical theater."
That said, Zumbrunnen said he really likes the music overall.
"The music itself is like a nod to the history of rock ‘n’ roll, because it features that 1960s Motown-flavored soul," he said. "The show takes place in the 1960s, when this kind of music was emerging, and I have found the kids also enjoy singing it."
Music director Mary Morgan, PCHS director of voice, coached the singers.
"It’s not easy music, but it’s more straightforward," Zumbrunnen said. "I didn’t quite realize how much music was in the show until we got into it. So we had to approach the musical differently than others we have done.
"It’s not just about hitting the notes, but finding the feeling of the music. If the singers aren’t giving off that feeling to the audience, the musical will fall flat and not resonate like it should."
In doing so, the actors worked with a student orchestra, led by PCHS director of bands, Chris Taylor, to add dimension to the production.
"The 10-piece pit is comprised essentially of the school’s jazz band, and you can hear, even in rehearsals, how much the musicians are into the music," Zumbrunnen said.
Tying the musical numbers together is choreographer Ashley Mott.
"The question is whether or not this is a music show, a vocal show, a dance show or an acting show," Zumbrunnen said. "It’s really all three, and we’ve only been able to attack the acting recently, because we had to spend so much time on the music, which features very tight harmonies."
One of the significant changes of the show is that a female, senior Korie Bayne, voices Audrey II.
In both films, the plant has a male voice.
"The female voice adds a whole different element to the relationship between the plant and Seymour, who is played by Sam Wellmon," Zumbrunnen said. "Korie has a real jazzy and bluesy feel."
While the musical is a comedy, there are some serious themes that come into play, the director said.
"The purpose of the show is all about actions and consequences," Zumbrunnen explained. "In the story, Seymour discovers a way to gain notoriety, fame and the girl of his dreams, but his actions result in consequences.
"The interesting thing about the show to me is that the audience is supposed to root for Seymour, but at the end, you find yourself reflecting about what he did to get to the point of his success," Zumbrunnen said. "It jars the audience a bit when the finale takes place and I think the main message is ‘if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is.’"
Park City High School’s production of "The Little Shop of Horrors" will run Thursday, Nov. 20, through Saturday, Nov. 22. Evening curtain is 7 p.m. There will also be a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets $7 for general admission and $5 for students at the door.
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