See me: Egyptian’s ‘Little Shop’ opens Friday
July 3, 2007
Ever since the 1960s cult science fiction film "Little Shop of Horrors" became a musical, directors have wrestled with the challenge of animating a bloodthirsty plant in a theatre.
In the Egyptian Theatre Company’s upcoming production of the dark musical comedy, the monstrous Venus Flytrap named Audrey II will be manned by puppeteer Jon Brady Copier, and voiced by theatre veteran Jason Tatom.
Tatom, who returns to the Egyptian after last year’s summer production of "Urinetown," likens performing with Copier to dancing. Timing, he says, is everything.
"I can see him, but he can’t see me, which means, basically, there’s no room for him to improvise or change things," he explained.
During performances, Tatom sits off stage to read and sing for Audrey II, and jokes that the role is probably the easiest part he’s had in his career. "I don’t know how it’s possible to have an easier time," he says. "Besides the opening number, I’m off stage in air conditioning."
It’s another story for Copier, a first-time puppeteer, who must choreograph his moves to the sound of another actor’s voice. Though silent throughout, Copier must have every line memorized while operating an eight-foot-high plant with moveable leaves that could span four rows of theatre seats. "I really try hard to add life to the plant, and learning the body language can be tough," he admits.
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Yet "Little Shop" director/choreographer Brent Schneider, says when Copier stood out during dancing auditions, he knew he had found his Audrey II a part that is much more challenging, and important, than it might sound.
To add his own spin to the production, Schneider enlisted the help of Salt Lake Sculptor Kim Blackett to design Audrey II with jagged asymmetric arms to reflect Schneider’s vision of a "skewed B-movie aesthetic" a nod to the cinematic 60s drive-in origins of "Little Shop," and a cue to the audience that "something’s not quite right here."
Steven Fehr, who will play grumpy Skid Row flower shop owner Mr. Mushnick, likewise notes the central importance of the plant to the musical.
Fehr returns to the Egyptian after having
been part of two other musicals including "La Cage Aux Folles" and "Doctor, Doctor."
Fehr is familiar with "Little Shop’s book and catchy Motown-inspired lyrics. Ten years ago, in an earlier production of "Little Shop," he was cast as Seymour, Mr. Mushnick’s skittish employee and father to the freak plant Audrey II.
As he approaches the opening of his second production of the musical, Fehr calls the concept behind "Little Shop" utterly "Faustian" in the way that it evokes the idea of the proverbial "deal with the devil" typical of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play, "Faust." From the time Mushnick’s skittish employee Seymour realizes the plant’s hunger for human blood, "the plant completely takes over," observed Fehr.
The actor to win the role as the quiet Seymour came from an unlikely, yet plausible source: C.J. Ernst, an American Conservatory Theatre graduate student who decided to attend the casting call while on spring break visiting his girlfriend in Salt Lake.
Though he’s taken several classes in musical theater as an undergraduate at the University of Utah and as a graduate student in San Francisco, this will be Ernst’s first musical since he was cast in a production of "Crazy for You" as a student at Alta High School.
Ernst relates to Seymour, because of his books-smarts and his unrequited love for fellow flower shop coworker Audrey (played by Lisa Ann Grow), a girl who, at the start, is committed to the evil, yet dashing dentist Dr. Orin Scrivello (played by Egyptian veteran Marc Raymond).
Ernst describes Seymour is "a good guy, who just doesn’t have a lot going for him." And indeed, all Seymour seems to have is his pet plant and science experiment he named Audrey II after a girl who might never be his.
But, as the plant takes over his life and the play, Ernst understands the relationship as deeper and more complex.
"The plant is something he can take care of a child and a friend," Ernst says. "And the plant manages to unlock this whole new world for him, which in the end is very powerful."
Little Shop of Horrors runs Friday, July 6 through August 18 at the Mary G. Steiner Egyptian Theatre, located at 328 Main Street. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. The running time is one hour, 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. Tickets $17-$36 with discounts for seniors, students and children. The show is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and some crude language. Purchase tickets 24 hours a day at http://www.parkcityshows.com, or call the Egyptian Theatre box office at 435-649-9371.