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It’s not easy being green
The men behind the meat-eating plant in Civic Theatre’s Little Shop of Horrors
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
“Love will make you do things you’d normally thought you wouldn’t do, and that’s all in this play,” says actor Dwight Wilson, one of the stars of the Civic Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horrors. “The underlying story of this play is that everything has a cost and a consequence. What are you willing to sacrifice or do to get what you want?”
In life, we’re all faced with those kinds of choices. Are you willing to pass up that tasty dessert for the less immediate benefits of physical fitness? Are you willing to put off that night out in order to meet that deadline at work? And are you willing to feed someone to a giant carnivorous plant from outer space in order to get the girl of your dreams?
That last one is the dilemma facing mild-mannered Seymour Krelborn in the hilarious musical Little Shop of Horrors, which begins its run at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater on November 2. Seymour (Nathan Smith) works in Mushnik's Flower Shop and pines for co-worker Audrey (Jessica Butler), who’s involved with a thug dentist. One day, Seymour finds a weird, Venus Flytrap-looking plant that he names Audrey II. The exotic plant brings business to the shop, but Seymour comes to realize that what makes the plant thrive isn’t flies, it’s blood. Eventually, the alien plant starts to talk and bully Seymour, promising him fame, money, and Audrey’s love, goading him to “feed me, Seymour. Feed me now!”
Based on a 1960 Roger Corman movie, the musical version of Little Shop of Horrors made its stage debut in 1982 and went on to become one of the most successful comedy musicals of all time, spawning a hit movie in 1986. Seymour Krelborn may be the story’s protagonist, and Audrey the romantic interest, but the real star of Little Shop of Horrors is the meat-eating plant. Wilson calls “Audrey II” Seymour’s alter-ego, and it’s an apt description — pushy and aggressive where Seymour is meek, decisive where Seymour waffles, and unabashed about getting what he wants. “It’s like the classic angel and devil on the shoulder,” says Wilson. “He’s always there, saying ‘come on, think about the chick’.”
It takes two people to make “Audrey II” come to life onstage. That task belongs to Wilson, who provides the plant’s voice and over-sized character and attitude, and Adam Knott, who operates “Audrey II” from the inside. Knott is the puppeteer, or rather… “It’s puppet master,” Knott good-naturedly corrects me. “That’s what I like to call myself.”
Over the course of the play, “Audrey II” goes through four stages of growth, from a small potted plant to something much, much bigger. For the first stage, “Audrey II” is a hand puppet, but by the third stage, Knott is sitting in a swivel chair in a giant pot. And by the fourth and final stage, when “Audrey II” is talking, singing, egging Seymour on, and eating people… “I’m hunched over, using my back, working the mouth with a metal bar.” Knott says. “I told Dwight, I said ‘you’ve gotta speak slower.’”
Knott has been working with puppets since third grade. “It’s just from watching Jim Hensen and The Muppets, and having a fascination with how the puppets move,” he says (to continue the Muppet theme, Knott used an old Kermit puppet in early rehearsals for Little Shop). “You can over-act through a puppet and not look like an idiot. “
But “Audrey II” is a physical workout for Knott, who is making his Civic debut with Little Shop of Horrors. “It’s more of a cardio workout for the smaller ones,” Knott says. “The bigger one is just going to be brute strength. It’s probably close to a hundred pounds. The mouth is 40 or 50 pounds.”
“The thing about it is how hot it is inside,” Knott adds. “It reminds me of being a child and playing hiding and seek and running in my sleeping bag to hide. I’d hide there for 20 minutes and just sweat. I work construction, so I’m pretty used to sweating, but…”
Adding to the challenge is the fact that inside the plant, Knott can’t see anyone on stage; he’s completely reliant on verbal cues and sounds. And during the performance, Wilson will be in the orchestra pit. He can see the plant, but he can’t see Knott, and Knott can’t see anything. “We really have to have our head on straight and listen for each other,” Wilson says, adding that Phillip Colglazier’s direction has made allowances for these difficulties. “(Knott) has the lines memorized, too, so he knows how to react. It’ll be great on stage, but it is challenging.”
Wilson knows a bit of what Knott is going through; he was the puppeteer for “Audrey II” during the Civic’s 1992 production of Little Shop… when “Audrey II” was an inflatable balloon-type thing. But playing the voice of “Audrey II” has long been a dream for Wilson, who has been in many Civic productions. Four Tops singer Levi Stubbs played “Audrey II” in the film version, and Wilson says he tries to bring a little Motown to the character. “It’s written to be this urban, street-wise character. But really, I try to give him a sinister edge. Initially, he’s kind of tricky because he wants to coax Seymour into being his friend. As the play goes on and he gains more and more strength, and becomes more sinister.” Wilson adds that he also threw a little of his sly uncle into the character.
It might be indicative of how well Knott and Wilson are working together that both name the song “Feed Me (Git It)” as their favorite scene. “That’s when I really get to bust loose, and Dwight is singing, and we’re having a fun time with Seymour,” says Knott.
“It’s a fun song, it’s a great song, I really get to belt, he gets to work, we really get to connect,” Wilson adds. “It’s not only enjoyable, but it’s a pivotal scene. Everything turns right there.”
The Fort Wayne Civic Theatre presents Little Shop of Horrors
Friday and Saturday, November 2 and 3 at 8 pm; Sunday November 4 at 2 pm
Friday and Saturday, November 9 and 10 at 8 pm; Sunday November 11 at 2 pm
Friday and Saturday November 16 and 17 at 8 pm; Sunday November 18 at 2 pm.
Arts United Center
303 E. Main Street
Tickets: $24 adults; $16 ages 23 and under; $20 seniors and Sunday matinees
Box Office: (260) 424.5220 or online: www.fwcivic.org