Popular musical combines horror with absurdity
By Josette Keelor -- email@example.com
NEW MARKET -- At The Schultz Theatre, T.J. Stevens wears a lot of hats. At 19 years old, Stevens plays two lead roles in the theater's upcoming performances of "Little Shop of Horrors," does lighting and stage work, designed advertising materials for the show, and constructed all of the puppets, including various versions of man-eating plant Audrey II.
He's performed in four of the theater's main-stage shows and two of Schultz's mystery dinner theater shows at Johnny Appleseed in New Market, and he directed the dinner theater production "Knock 'em Dead" last month.
"I'm multitalented in a whole bunch of stuff," he said, not without modesty, but his fellow performers agree.
"We wouldn't be doing this show if not for him," said director Michael Gwin. "I had thought of this one, but I wouldn't have done it if T.J. hadn't said he'd do the plants."
Originally written as a B-class horror film, the dark "Little Shop," written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, opens with a cast of 13 on Friday the 13th at the fictional 1313 Skid Row. According to the cast, these are coincidences.
"It was a really bad horror movie," Gwin said. "... and it just became famous as a musical."
The cast has been rehearsing for about three months, Gwin said. Since the theater offers a show a month, typical plays do not afford as much rehearsal time, he said, but "The big musicals are a lot more work."
According to Jake DuVall-Early, a theater/film student at James Madison University, "There's just so much going on, and it's a big-budget show. ... It's got to be the biggest production we've done here ever."
The musical portrays Seymour and Audrey as they struggle for better lives despite conflicts they have to overcome, like Audrey's abusive, psychotic dentist boyfriend or Seymour's ever-growing man-eating plant.
"You can't really say that it's scary," Gwin said. "It's about a man-eating plant."
"It's a very different musical because it centers around this plant that grows throughout the play," he said. "So that's basically the big theme."
Another unique aspect of the show is that the roles are double-cast, and every main actor switches roles from one weekend to the next.
Stevens and Tyler Adams both play the role of Seymour, but while one is playing the lead, the other is voicing the carnivorous plant, Audrey II.
Playing the hero and villain has been an interesting experience for Adams, 24, who said each role requires him to harness a certain state of mind. He wants to understand each character's motivations.
"That's basically the most complicated part of the role," he said. "You're the hero, and then you're the devil. You have to justify the actions of the [role]."
During the days off between weekend performances, that's when he switches gears.
Paige Fridell, 19, and Abigail Reedy, 17, share the role of Audrey, trading off as doo-wop girls when not playing the lead.
Fridell said switching from Audrey -- "a damsel in distress" -- to the more omnipotent doo-wop girl challenges her ability to create realism in the roles. The three doo-wop girls, played by Fridell, Reedy, Rosie Nealon and Joanne Thompson, narrate the show like a Greek chorus and know everything that's going on. Audrey, however, only knows as much as she witnesses herself, or what the other characters tell her.
"She's one of the more complicated musical-theater roles," said Fridell. "She's damaged and she's trying to build herself up as a person."
Double casting the show gives the audience a different experience each time they see the musical, and the actors recommend coming both weekends to see how different actors will perform the same roles.
Fridell's Audrey is not Reedy's Audrey, the actors said.
"I think we both have definite interpretations of the characters," Fridell said.
"Same thing with Seymour," Stevens said, "We're both trying to put a different spin on the characters."
Rehearsing with the rest of the cast has been helpful to the actors, in their search for better understanding in their roles.
"I think you can learn a lot more," said Reedy, "like getting the notes from everyone." This will be her first role at Schultz.
For DuVall-Early, portraying Orin, the insane dentist, has been a lot of fun.
"[As Orin] I'm completely insane and demented," he said. "It's a role I've always dreamed to do."
But being a part of such a famous musical is just as meaningful, he said.
"We've got great musical direction," he said, "and it's an all-around great production."
"Little Shop of Horrors" opens at The Schultz Theatre, at 9357 N. Congress St. in New Market, on April 13 and runs through April 22. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. For more information, call 740-9119.