Monster production of ‘Little Shop’ at Little Theatre

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First Posted: 3/18/2014

It stands a little over three feet high, with the base about the same in diameter, weighs 15 pounds, and can fit a human being in it – and that is only the second-to-last incarnation of the alien plant that serves as the focal point in Little Theatre’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

If that’s not enough to give an actor, or audience member, pause, wait until the thing opens its mouth and starts talking.

“To hear the voice without seeing the person, you start to believe that the plant really is talking to you,” Megan Horwatt, who plays Audrey in the show, said with a laugh. “It’s a bit scary, though the plant is funny. It is its own character, even if it’s a puppet. But, man, when it starts to talk…”

This weekend, the Little Theatre of Wilkes-Barre will have its final performances that tell the tale of Seymour Krelborn (played by Karl Kleist), a meek floral shop employee who raises a plant that brings him confidence and fame – but some unsavory things, as well, when the plant’s true nature is revealed. Let’s just say that it takes more than plant food to satiate it – it goes so far as to nosh on human beings.

Director and choreographer Lori Colacito called it a “black comedy,” one that couples catchy song and dance numbers with humorous scenes, despite some darker turns in plot.

The shop owner Mr. Mushnik (played by Jimmy Williams) is a total jerk, and Orin Scrivello (played by Tom Franko) is a sadistic dentist with several problems of his own.

“If Fonzie and Elvis got together and had a kid and he had a really bad attitude, that would be the dentist,” Franko said with a laugh. “He’s a sadomasochist; he gets his jollies from inflicting pain on other people.”

“It’s something I’m completely not,” he continued. “This character is abusive, he’s very much into leather, he has drug addictions. In real life, I’m a pharmacist, a faculty member at Wilkes. I wear khakis and a button down to work every day.”

Orin is also Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, something that doesn’t settle well with Seymour, who is secretly in love with Audrey. The female role is one that Horwatt has played before.

“I played the role of Audrey eight or nine years ago, and then I was the musical director for the show at Lackawanna Trail High School last year,” she said. She described Audrey as someone with low confidence who “doesn’t think she deserves very much.” However, seeing as how she and Seymour are so similar, the pair grows together throughout the show.

“Even under the most horrible circumstances, these characters are so lovable,” Colacito said. “You root for them.”

And the humor comes at unexpected moments.

“There are moments of people being eaten by this plant and… well, it’s funny, depending on how you look at it, and who you consider it’s eating,” Franko said with a laugh.

But there is, of course, a lesson to be learned in all of it.

“Don’t sell yourself for things that won’t last in the end. Fame and fortune can’t buy happiness,” Horwatt said.

Dane Bower and Adam Moore are the men responsible for the terrifying flora that graces the stage, and the work is beyond impressive.

“To see what other theaters have done with this plant, how they’ve built it, and how [Dane] has built it, it’s stuff you would see in a production on Broadway,” Franko said.

There are four plants, two of which are handheld puppets. The third and fourth are so large that an actor actually fits inside them in order to operate things. The voice for the plant, however, is provided by another actor that’s off-stage.

Though it’s considered a puppet, there’s nothing friendly or child-like about it.

“It’s so detailed, and Dane even said he didn’t want it to look like a cute puppet that you wanted to take home, or something from a video game,” Franko said. “As it aged, as the bigger ones were built, it just got more grotesque looking.”

“Little Shop” may be most familiar to those who know the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. The musical premiered in 1982, and there’s one stark difference between the two – and that’s what makes the stage adaptation so fun.

“All I can say,” Colacito said before along pause, “is that the movie has a much happier ending.”