Alex Browne photo Co-worker Audrey (Emily McTavish), and boss Mr. Mushnik (Will Heine, right) exert competing influences on hapless florist-shop assistant Seymour (Gareth Owen, centre).

More macabre mischief in Marriott musical

Little Shop of Horrors inspires energetic student cast

Little Shop of Horrors is a goofily macabre, black-comedy musical with a great retro-rock influenced score – which makes it just about the ideal candidate for a high school production.

And the Earl Marriott Theatre Company (whose last big musical was the equally macabre and ’60s-influenced The Addams Family) is pulling out all stops for this year’s musical super-production.

The 1982 Howard Ashman-Alan Menken classic, inspired by Roger Corman and Charles Griffith’s cult B-movie of 1960 – which, in turn, became a cult screen musical in 1986 – runs April 25-28 and May 2-5 in 7:30 p.m. performances at the school’s Wheelhouse Theatre, 15751 16 Ave.

It’s directed by drama department head Candace Radcliffe, with choreography by Carol Seitz – and Marriott alumna, McKye Hildebrand (Sister Sarah Brown in the 2008 Guys and Dolls, and now a professional musician and voice teacher) as vocal director, and new band teacher Duncan Shaw (succeeding Rodger Owens, who retired last year) as musical director.

“We had so much fun having McKye back as vocal director,” Radcliffe said. “Although she’s just moved to Winnipeg with her husband. She worked with us right up until she left and we’ve been texting and Skype-ing back and forth since, and she’ll be coming back to see the show.”

Radcliffe said she’s also glad she chose a rock-style musical (typically with a smaller pit ensemble and less complicated arrangements) for Shaw’s first time conducting a show at the school.

“I think he was glad, too,” she said. “I had to choose the show not knowing how on-board he would be, coming in as a new teacher. But he has an interesting background – I understand that, prior to being a teacher, he was a professional musician who played in the pit for touring productions.”

Another EMS grad, Sam Bird, has returned to build the set and assist with technical work, with Lisa Tate working with set decor, and Maxine Howchin, Geoff McEvoy, Lillie Bevan and Kayla Gardner providing valuable help in props, set and makeup.

But it’s clear that the heart and soul of Little Shop of Horrors will be provided by an energetic student cast, who are throwing themselves into the early ’60s ambience, bravura numbers and an inarguably nutty premise in which a central role is taken by a progressively monstrous talking and singing plant (operated by puppeteers Rachel Powell and Janelle Ecalne, and voiced by Justin Kung).

“It’s a show with such a cult following, it’s so campy, and the kids all know the songs – even though it’s a lot older than they are,” Radcliffe said.

Narrated by a Greek chorus of doo-wop singers (Sofie Levy, Julia Albert and Serena Manhao), Little Shop of Horrors tells the twisted – but always strangely compelling – tale of Seymour (Gareth Owen), a nebbish orphan who works under semi-slavery conditions as an assistant at a florists shop on New York’s Skid Row owned by dictatorial Mr. Mushnik (Will Heine).

Desperately wanting to be worthy of a beautiful co-worker, Audrey (Emily McTavish) – trapped resignedly in an abusive relationship with sadistic, motorcycle-riding dentist Orin Scrivello (Dante Camaiani) – Seymour sees his chance when a strange and rapidly-growing alien plant comes under his care.

While his fortunes rise with the health and vigour of the unusual plant, which he names Audrey II, Seymour is keeping an awful secret – the plant thrives on, and increasingly demands, human blood.

“It’s been a blast,” said Owen of the rehearsal process – three days a week since October.

And the young actor, who bears a resemblance to Rick Moranis – the Seymour of the 1980s movie – says he’s enjoyed it enough to consider pursuing acting, albeit on camera, after he graduates Grade 12 this year.

“It’s been a really pleasant experience,” he said, adding that he’s found Radcliffe’s direction inspiring. “Even if you do good in rehearsals, she pushes you to go even further, so that you reach the perfect pitch.”

“She encourages us to take even more risks with (the scenes),” said fellow Grade 12 McTavish, who has perfected a Brooklyn accent for her character partly inspired by Ellen Greene, the original Audrey of stage and screen.

For McTavish – who plans to study business at UBC – the role of Audrey is a farewell to the stage after having thoroughly enjoyed appearances in The Addams Family and last year’s Wild West adaptation of Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors.

“But I want to go to shows and be a theatre supporter,” she added, noting that she was very familiar with Little Shop of Horrors even before it was announced as this year’s show.

“I’ve seen the movie so many times, and I was always drawn to the character of Audrey. She has a past – she’s a damaged character, but she has an upbeat side. She covers it up – but she still lets people know who she is.

“I knew I wanted to play her and be part of it, since this would be my last theatre show.”

The show is presented with a warning of ‘mature language and subject matter.’

Tickets ($17, $15 students and seniors) are available at emstheatreco@gmail.com or at 604-542-2181.

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