Oxford Area High School brings ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ to the stage
● By Steven Hoffman
Everyone fully expects the central figure in Oxford Area High School's production of 'Little Shop of Horrors' to chew some scenery. The rest of the cast is fine with it. In fact, they are looking forward to seeing the audience's reaction when Audrey II, the singing, creepy, carnivorous plant with unusual appetites, takes the stage in its largest form.
“This show is different from anything that I've directed before,” explained Julie Wydrzynski, the director of choral music at Oxford Area High School, during a break from the rehearsals last week. The school’s Drama Department will be presenting three performances of the horror comedy rock musical: one on Friday, March 3 at 7 p.m. and two on Saturday, March 4 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is set in a florist shop owned by Gravis Mushnick and staffed by Audrey and Seymour. Seymour stumbles across a new breed of plant he names “Audrey II”—after the co-worker that he has a crush on. Seymour discovers that the crossbred plant develops the ability to speak—and sing. Before long, Audrey II is promising Seymour that his dreams will come true as long as he keeps feeding it what it needs to grow: human blood at first, and then human flesh, and then whole humans.
The musical traces its roots to a low-budget 1960 black comedy movie by Roger Corman. It incorporates a wide range of musical styles—everything from 1950s doo-wop to early 1960s rock and roll to classic Motown. “Little Shop of Horrors” premiered off-off-Broadway in 1982, before moving to off-Broadway, where it had a successful five-year run. The musical eventually received a Broadway production and numerous other productions in the U.S. and abroad. The musical was also made into a 1986 movie.
Wydrzynski said that “Little Shop of Horrors” has been on her list of musicals to do for the last five years. They decided to stage “Little Shop of Horrors” this year despite the fact that the musical is far from the traditional high school production.
One issue with staging “Little Shop of Horrors” is the relatively small cast. But Wydrzynski said that they found a few creative ways to increase the opportunities for students to participate in the show.
Then there's the really big issue of bringing Audrey II to life for audiences. One person must serve as the puppeteer, controlling the carnivorous plant's movements on stage, while another actor stands backstage and gives voice to Audrey II. Throughout the musical, Audrey II grows, so the plant came in four different pod sizes, ranging from small to, well, behemoth.
Sean Reph, a freshman, is taking on the challenge of controlling the movements of Audrey II. He will be positioned inside the plant and will have a script to help him anticipate when Audrey II needs to move during the show.
“He's our puppeteer. It's a very big job,” Wydrzynski explained.
Backstage, Andre Jackson will be providing the voice of Audrey II. Jackson said that he and Reph have put a lot of extra effort into getting the timing down so that the movements match with what Audrey II is saying or singing.
Hayley Allport, one of the student directors for the show, has been working with Reph and Jackson to coordinate the voice and movements of Audrey II. She thinks that they are both doing a superb job of handling the unique challenges that Audrey II presents.
Wydrzynski agreed. She said that Jackson has adjusted well to this different kind of role in a production. “He is not on stage at all in 'Little Shop of Horrors,'” Wydrznski explained. “He's used to being on the stage. In rehearsals, you don't have people seeing you and reacting to you. That can be a challenge.”
Connor Goettel, a sophomore, was selected to portray Seymour. It's a role that demands some nuance, and Goettel has been up to that challenge. Meghan Pitney, a junior performing in her third Oxford Area High School production, is taking on the role of Audrey.
“I like that she has a lot of depth to her character,” Pitney said.
Nelson Rodriguez said that he is enjoying bringing his character, Mushnick, to the stage. “My character is an angry person,” Rodriguez said. “He yells at people. He's spontaneous. It's a fun character to play.”
Caitlyn Swiston and Olivia Nelles are both serving as student directors for the show. While Allport is spending most of her time working with the actors on the movements and voice of Audrey II, Swiston and Nelles have been focusing on getting the other actors prepared for their performances.
Swiston performed in the musical last year, and a friend of hers served as a student director and liked the experience. So she decided to take on the extra responsibilities this year. Nelles did the same. They’re both enjoying the responsibilities that a student director has.
“It's very time-consuming, but a production is very time-consuming for the whole cast,” Swiston said.
Because of their expanded involvement with the production, Swiston and Nelles both said that they will be worrying a little more than usual on the nights of the performances. They are confident that all the hard work and preparations will result in very good shows.
“Everybody is dedicated to this musical and making it good,” Swiston said.
Then there’s the added spectacle of a giant, man-eating plant that will certainly captivate audiences.
“The plant is so awesome,” Nelles said.
Pitney added that the music in “Little Shop of Horrors” brings an element of fun to the dark comedy that audiences are sure to enjoy.
Allport said that the students are enjoying the unique opportunities that “Little Shop of Horrors” offers.
“It's great to have a high school doing a show that is not just for kids,” Allport explained.
In addition to the student directors, Wydrzynski said that teachers Erin Kauppila (music director) and Maria Sovine (stage crew advisor) have been very helpful during preparations for the shows.
Swiston said that the students involved with the production are grateful for the time and hard work that Wydrzynski, Kauppila, and Sovine are putting into the show.
Wydrzynski can't wait to share the results of months of preparation and rehearsals with audiences.
“We would love to have three sold-out shows,” Wydrzynski said. “We work so hard on this and we want to share the performances with big audiences. We want people to come out and see the amazing talent that these kids have.”
Tickets are $12 for adults and $8 for students and children, and are on sale now at oxfordtheater.Wikispaces.com. There is also a link on the high school's website. Tickets will also be available at the door but advance purchase is encouraged for best seating options.