Currently on Fulton Theatre’s stage is the musical, Little Shop of Horrors. This musical comedy is a lot of fun and will entertain audiences. If you have only seen the 1986 film adaption this is an exciting new way to enjoy the story. I had the opportunity to speak with four members of the cast of Fulton’s Little Shop of Horrors: Ben Liebert (Seymour), Christine Sherrill (Audrey), Patrice Covington (Audrey II) and Nathaniel Hackmann (Orin, the dentist). They spoke with me about what makes this show unique and why audiences should come out and see the show live onstage.
Kelli Curtin: Could you tell me a little about Little Shop of Horrors? Why should people come out to the Fulton Theatre and see the show?
Ben Liebert: The show is a 1950s B-movie spoof about a florist, Seymour, and the girl he loves. It is also about the plant Seymour raises that eats people. That is the basic plot without giving too much away. People should come out and see the show because it is a really funny heart-warming tale. Even though people are probably familiar with the show because of the movie and other productions, people should come see it because this particular production at the Fulton really gets at the heart at what makes this show special. The music is great, the book is great, we do some really cool stuff with the plant and this cast is fantastic. What makes this particular production so special is that it is not the cartoon version of Little Shop that people usually see, this one has the heart firmly intact.
Christine Sherrill: In addition to Ben’s answer, I think the design is unique and original. As an actor, I have been really impressed with the scenic design.
Nathaniel Hackmann: I think Ben has covered all the important points about why people should come to the Fulton to see this show. I need to mention that the Dentist in this production is different than the Dentist that most people are familiar with. Usually the character of the Dentist tends to be a bad Elvis rip-off or a mixture of Danny Zuko from Grease and Elvis. This Dentist is more punk-rock, he has a mohawk and tattoos. This Dentist can be a little more shocking then people are used to.
It is really great to play the bad guy again. The villain is the part to be, and I thoroughly enjoy playing the villainous roles.
Kelli: How would you describe director, Marc Robin’s, vision and style for the show?
Nathaniel: Marc has stated that his vision is influenced by Tim Burton. It’s fascinating because it is a little skewed, a little twisted and a little bit cartoony in a darker kind of way. There is really a lot of Tim Burton inspired elements in the production.
Christine: The role of Audrey has always been on my bucket list. I have turned this role down previously in other productions. However, when Marc came to me I knew that this show would be directed appropriately to get the comedy out of it as well as it would incorporate truth and heart into the story. Marc knows that these elements are the equation to have so the audiences understand the comedy of the show. Marc’s comedy is not just timing or overplaying, it is playing these characters with truth and heart. After opening night I met so many patrons who felt it was so strange to be laughing when things happen like when characters are being eaten by the plant, but then at the same time you are emotional and crying. No matter what show I have ever done with Marc he always does a show with truth and heart and that is what comes through in this production.
Ben: What Marc kept saying was that he wanted to push it to the edge of exaggeration, but stop short of being that caricature. Where this show always falls flat is when the characters in the play are nothing more than caricature. He wanted to stop short of the exaggeration and bring some humanity to the roles. What Marc said about Audrey is that people expect someone to come onto the stage with the Ellen Greene voice and play the role exactly as she did. That was not how Marc wanted that character to be, he wanted Christine to be a real person and not to play it in cookie cutter way. I really think that is what makes the show successful is that the characters seem like real people telling an extreme story in a heightened environment.
Patrice Covington: Marc is a visionary. Having him as a stationary Artistic Director Producer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania gives Lancaster quite a gem because he has a unique vision. He thinks outside the box and not everything he does is cookie cutter. For example, I am playing Audrey II, the plant that eats people. I am not the first black woman to play this role, but I think it is awesome how he is offering this kind of diversity in the show in this city.
Ben: That vision did not come from a place of “this will be a cool gimmick.” The vision came from the thought of putting Seymour in between these two women who he loves. Seymour is torn between these two women and he is torn where his heart lies. The thought of casting Patrice did not come from a thought to gain notoriety, it came from the place of casting two talented people who could really make their roles their own.
Nathaniel: What is great about this production is that 99% of people who have seen this show before have not seen a woman playing Audrey II. It is such a neat thing to find a new perspective on a piece that we all are so familiar with and love so much. In so many different ways Marc has really pulled it apart a little bit and found a way to make this show different than any other production of this show.
One of the things that Marc has done is separate the singing trio from the girls who play the urchins. This is an interesting concept because in a very classical sense it creates a Greek chorus that comments on the goings on and allows the audience to understand their perspective. It has just been amazing to be a part of Marc’s unique vision for the show.
Kelli: Why do you feel the musical Little Shop of Horrors is still so popular?
Nathaniel: I think any piece of theatre that stands the test of time has to be a combination of many elements such as a fantastic story, really well written book, characters that are interesting and empathetic to the audience and music that is outstanding. Little Shop is also known for having a little bit of spectacle built into it, which draws people to the show because they are interested in seeing the spectacle live on stage. People are always curious about how the plant will be operated in this show.
Patrice: I think personally I feel like a lot more people have seen the movie than the play. Many people always seem surprised that there is also a stage version. When people learn there is a stage version they want to come and see how it is done as well as introduce their children to Little Shop. It is a way to introduce people who have never seen the movie to the story in a different way.
Ben: I think it is not often in a musical that you will see a real underdog story. Often the musical theatre troupe has a good-looking leading man and good-looking leading lady fall in love because that is what is supposed to happen. Little Shop of Horrors has the real outsider/underdog story that audiences have latched onto for thirty years. People root for Audrey and Seymour to succeed. They also cheer on Audrey II. I think that is what is so great about the writing of the show because it takes you on this journey with Audrey, Seymour and the plant.
Christine: I think the theme that people really cling to is the idea of the meek shall inherit. They also consider what the price is of success. It is a story that people can hang onto and really want Seymour to succeed.
Kelli: People are very familiar with the story of Little Shop of Horrors and the characters. How do you take an iconic role and put your own spin on it?
Christine: I always try to stay away from watching any sort of other performances. I do not watch someone else’s performance as a reference. I begin by reading the play, and I read it like a book. When I first picked this book up, I thought Audrey was funny and kitschy, and then after I read it a few times I began to get weepy. There are many messages and many parts of Audrey I can relate to in my own life. So, it is hard not to be attached to those elements of her character, and I bring my own personal experiences to this character.
Ben: I feel like I have seen a million productions of Little Shop of Horrors, and I know the movie really well. However, I did not look at playing Seymour such that I had to recreate what has already been done. I looked at the character and asked what his purpose in the story is, who is he, where does he come from and what is his history. Since the show is so well written so much of these answers are already in the story. I also look at everything Seymour goes through and how I can relate to that in my own personal life. As well as, I try to figure out how I would feel in these particular circumstances. I really try to turn off the expectations and I try to figure out what my rendition of Seymour is.
Patrice: When a question is asked about relating to a character I recently started to think of it as acts of service because somebody somewhere went through something similar to what a character like Audrey went through. Pretty sure no one has in reality been eaten by a plant, but somebody has had to deal with an abusive relationship. Or someone does not know their father and has someone in their life who treats them like a son. It is an act of service because it is a brave and risky thing to do to take on somebody’s life and be a true representative of it. I think it is really special to have a chance to play a character to be a representation of someone else’s life and challenges. I am still finding my act of service as Audrey II, but that is usually how I have approached other roles to find the heart of the show.
Nathaniel: If I am being honest I did not remember Steve Martin as the Dentist. There is only so much a person can do to take themselves out of the character entirely. So no matter what role any of us are portraying we are going to bring a part of ourselves to it, and therefore the role will be unique. I just try to be myself and be honest and do the things Marc wants us to do with the characters. I try not to think too much about what other people have done with the character.
Kelli: Patrice, in the show your range of motion appears limited because you are inside the plant. How does this affect your performance? Do you feel the plant is an extension of your character and does this feed into your performance?
Patrice: My movement is limited to a small circle, and in a way it is nice because there are no steps and no blocking for this character. I am literally sitting up on the stage in slippers in the first act. However, in act two I am onstage the entire second act. The flowers are on my back, and they do get a bit heavy after a while especially when I am standing. The leaves in particular are an extension of the character and they are wrapped around my arms during the show. At the end of the show I get to command the little miniature plants. I just have to bring it every night, and make Audrey II become a presence.
Kelli: How is your performance affected by a large plant that is a central focus on the stage?
Nathaniel: It is interesting because the process of rehearsing a play always includes the knowledge of where the set and props are probably going to be. However, once the plant arrived on the set we did have to change some things like the lighting or where some of the action of the scenes occur. We are lucky in the fact that what they showed us at the beginning of the process conceptually came to fruition. There was not a whole lot that changed from what we saw in the beginning of rehearsals.
Ben: I think it helps that the plant is the focal point of so much of the show. The fact that the plant starts as a baby plant and grows into this massive plant, as well as the plant takes up some presence on stage. We need to take that into consideration as we move around the stage and play these scenes. In act two we cannot ignore the enormous plant and it amps me to challenge this huge thing that has taken over the shop and Seymour’s home.
Kelli: Why, in your opinion, is live theatre important?
Christine: Marc says he wants to change the collective soul of his audiences and that means different things to different people. My perspective on this has changed as a parent because I have seen what it has done for my boys since they have theatre in their lives. My children have spent a lot of time in theatres whether it is in my dressing rooms or watching plays. My son developed empathy at a really early age. I truly believe exposing my children to theatre where they see stories and watching other humans look at each other and share emotions live has helped my children become more empathetic people. Where a lot of kids that are of similar ages spend a lot of time looking at screens, phones or watching television, my children have spent a lot of time watching humans interact onstage and this has helped them become more empathetic and respectful people. Right now it is more important than it ever has been to watch humans interact with each other.
Ben: You do not have the façade of a screen and a live performance is different every night. Live theatre is a place where the audiences’ experience is not passive and that is what makes live theatre so special.
Nathaniel: All of this, this whole job and this whole business comes down to communication. It comes down to how we are able to communicate with each other, with the audience, and with ourselves. Live theatre is a vehicle for all this in a way that is unique. Nothing else I have experienced is anything like live theatre. Live theatre is immediate, personal and includes vulnerability. Mark Twain wrote, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” I think in this world in which we continue to become more and more polarized, the only way to find some common ground with others around you is through experience.
Patrice: I think about the importance of Hamilton and how that show has drawn people by the masses into theatres. More people know what Broadway and theatre is because of Hamilton. People who have never been inside of a theatre are rushing to New York to see Hamilton because celebrities are using social media to talk about the show. However, people cannot get tickets to Hamilton whether it is because of price or availability. Therefore, people are coming to see other shows like The Color Purple. I happened to be in that show on Broadway. I had the opportunity to watch this piece of theatre change people’s lives. The Color Purple was just as beneficial for me as an actor in the show because I had the opportunity to watch people’s lives change or be affected in front of me. People were affected by The Color Purple, and I could see as they left the theatre that they were changed by seeing the show. This is something that only happened in live theatre.
Little Shop of Horrors runs at the Fulton Theatre through October 15, 2017. For more information and tickets please visit their website at www.thefulton.org or call the box office at 717-397-7425.
Photo Credit: Kinectiv
Kelli Curtin is founding editor and writer for theatresensation.com. She has maintained a love of the performing arts since a very early age and she is excited to share her passion about theatre and the Arts with her readers. Kelli can be found on Twitter, Facebook and on Instagram.