A four-foot tall potted plant just devoured a human foot. This may sound disturbing, or disgusting, but the carnivorous fly trap hybrid’s meal is only the beginning — after all, the topiary did just belt out a soulful song about its hunger for flesh.
The College of William and Mary’s theater department opens “Little Shop of Horrors” this weekend, and the chaos begins when nerdy employee Seymour Krelborn, played by Connor Hogan ’10, tries to increase business for the failing Mushnik’s Florists on Skid Row. When his experimentation with cross-pollination creates a fascinating — and blood-thirsty — new specimen, the paying public can’t get enough of the spectacle. “Little Shop of Horrors” centers around this plant, which takes on a life of its own, and the colorful cast of characters affected by the sudden fame.
The musical’s director, professor Christopher Owens, explained that it was not completely his choice to put on this particular show. Last year, some of his students approached him with a list of musicals they wanted to see performed, and he said he jumped at the chance to do “Little Shop of Horrors” for several reasons.
“[The show has the ability to] either be really cartoonish and not creepy, or very creepy and no comedy at all,” he said. “We’re trying to find a midpoint.”
Chelsea Reba ’12, who plays Krelborn’s love interest, Audrey, agrees that the musical balances comedy and creepiness well.
“It’s so much fun,” she said. “William and Mary puts on some educational shows that are worth seeing … but this show is for everyone, even people who don’t really like musicals. There’s a lot of rockish music.”
The upbeat music was styled after the doo-wop and rock and roll of the 1960s, but Chris Richardson ’13, who voices the murderous plant, took advantage of the liberty allowed him by musical director Gary Green.
“After I learned the notes, Gary told me I can do whatever I want so I have a lot of artistic range,” Richardson said. “I’m not chained down by notes.”
Richardson sings his numbers off-stage as other actors maneuver the giant plant.
“I feel I’m still there [onstage],” he said. “I still get really into it — stomp my feet and snap my fingers.”
All the lead actors have impressively strong voices, particularly Reba and Richardson, and are seriously committed to their characters. With a cast of only 10 students, two of whom are inside the plant for the majority of the musical, it is refreshing to see that the theater department was able to choose students who really fit their roles.
“My parts allow me to be as ridiculous as possible,” Sean Close ’10 said. Close who plays five comedic characters, ranging from a psychotic, abusive dentist to a pot-smoking hippie. “It’s all very dark, weird and comedic … and our director really knows how to do musical theater.”
Hogan agreed that working with Owens was a great experience, especially since the musical is so entertaining in itself.
“What can go wrong when you have a giant man-eating plant and New Jersey urban accents?” Hogan said.
“And sadomasochism,” Close said.
Hogan also explained that another interesting aspect of the musical is its universality.
“This could happen anywhere,” Hogan said. “To anyone, since no one is immune to greed.”
The student designers created a dilapidated urban set to communicate the hopeless lives of the residents of Skid Row. Audiences will be left to wonder how the prop designers so effectively morphed the tiny seedling into a sprawling monster. Overall, the cast and crew have worked incredibly hard, and the result is a very entertaining, although slightly disturbing, musical.
“[‘Little Shop of Horrors’] has a lot of catchy music, and audiences want to be humming while they walk out,” Owens said. “They’ll get a lot of that here.”