“Little Shop of Horrors” — the musical that helped usher in the era of “new age weird musicals” that includes “The Rocky Horror Show” (1975), “Hair” (1968) and “Jesus Christ Superstar” (1970) — is La Jolla High School’s spring musical, onstage March 10-11 and 17-18 at Parker Auditorium.
The story surrounds Seymour Krelborn, an adorably nerdy lovestruck florist who finds an usual plant, which he names Audrey II after the object of his affection. Magically, little Audrey II starts to talk and grow and Seymour soon learns it is (spoiler alert) a man-eating plant. The kitschy “horror comedy musical” set in skid row had its off-off-Broadway premiere in 1982. The film of the same name, starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin, was made in 1986.
“When ‘Little Shop’ came on the scene, people were confused and didn’t get what it was. It was off Broadway for while, then it gained an audience and made its way to Broadway (in 2003 as a revival). I love it because it’s fun to watch, it’s weird and it’s funny. For students, the music and singing are very catchy and fun, but very doable. It’s not like ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Les Misérables’,” said La Jolla High drama director Stacey Allen.
Having done the play several times before, Allen said he wanted to put some additional spins on the already quirky production, and this year’s cast has the talent to do so.
“We gender-bent the role of Mr. Mushnik, which gets done a lot, so now it’s Mrs. Mushnik, and she’s great. But for the first time, the voice of Audrey II is a girl’s. I’ve always wanted to give the plant a female voice, but it’s hard to find someone in that age range with that deep voice that can pull it off. And whoever fills that role can only use their voice, so they have to be bigger than life,” Allen said. “Plus, seeing as this is my first year at La Jolla High School, I wanted to do something I knew I could do. I know it well and have solved all the problems many times before.”
When it came to filling the roles, Allen said he had a larger pool of students who came to try out because musicals tend to attract people that can sing, but don’t necessarily act. “I get a lot of musicians and kids that aren’t in my drama class come and audition. And that’s great because we create a new family. Only four or five students that were in the school’s last production (‘The Diary of Anne Frank’) are in this one as well.”
Case in point: Abbey Martin, the first female voice of Audrey II.
“This is my first show where I’m acting,” the sophomore said. “I played piano for the soundtrack of last year’s musical and had a really good time, so I wanted to give this a try. It’s a different experience because you have to act only with your voice, I can’t use facial expressions or anything, so I have to really break down the lines and make sure I’m getting the mood and point across. And we’ve been doing some of the lines differently, so we’re making it our own.”
Robert Mackey, who plays Seymour, said he’s also taken extensive steps to make the role his own, as this particular character holds special meaning to the 16-year-old junior.
“I’ve had three separate directors tell me I should play Seymour one day,” Robert said. “It suits me and my range … plus, I’m a nerd and Seymour is a nerd. I love the role and finally getting the chance is really exciting. I’ve been doing theater here for a while and this is my first proper lead, and to have it be Seymour is great.”
He added “theater has been my life since I was a freshman,” and said he was recently accepted into the La Jolla Playhouse Conservatory program.
“When I heard we were doing this show, I watched it twice on stage and watched four versions all the way through (via video and YouTube) and another five versions in part,” he said. “I did a lot of prep for this.”
Robert opined the best Seymours are Hunter Foster (2003 Broadway version) and Jake Gyllenhaal (Encores! concert staging in July 2015) and that he tried to pull elements from their performances into his to make the perfect Seymour.
For 16-year-old Blue Schroeder, who plays (the human) Audrey, this production is also a dream come true.
“When I was younger,” she explained, “I did a lot of musical theater … and we did a show once that was a collection of show tunes. We did ‘Suddenly Seymour’ and it became a favorite. I was about 7 at the time, and at that age, they wouldn’t let the younger kids sing those songs, they gave them to the older kids. I always had the dream of singing that one day, so to be able to do that is awesome. We’re having a lot of fun doing this show and that enthusiasm comes through.”
A signature of the musical is The Ronettes — a group of backup doo-wop singers who provide peanut-gallery commentary throughout. Conventionally, it’s been a trio, but at La Jolla High, the group is a quintet. Lindsey Gartner, 18, who plays Chiffon (one of The Ronettes) and helped choreograph the routines, said this will be her last production, and she wants to make it count.
“It’s fun for me that my last show gets to be this funny, intriguing, sort of dark musical and that I got a leadership role of dance captain (choreographer),” Lindsey said. “The Ronettes sing or sing back-up for a lot of the songs, which are actually pretty dark, but fun.”
She added that The Ronettes have to be “really tight with our singing and dancing,” but all have been working hard to make that happen.
Robert added, “I don’t think we have a single cog that is bad; it’s a well-oiled machine covered in WD-40. Everyone does a great job. We know our stuff and we know we’re here to have fun and to make sure the audience has fun.”
IF YOU GO: “Little Shop of Horrors” runs 7 p.m. March 10-11 and 17-18 at La Jolla High School’s Parker Auditorium, 750 Nautilus St. Tickets $10-$12 at the door or through firstname.lastname@example.org ljhstheatre.com