Little Shop of Horrors is sprouting long laughs at Cygnet Theatre

By Diana Saenger

Film director Roger Corman probably never imagined “Little Shop of Horrors,” his goofy 1960 B-movie about a man-eating plant being fed blood by a hopeless romantic and shot in two days and one night, would make it more than one week in the theater. However, after more than 50 years the film, as well as the theatrical play, continues to amuse and beguile its audiences.

“The Little Shop of Horrors” rock musical, by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, runs through Sept. 11 at Cygnet Theatre in Old Town. Cygnet’s artistic director Sean Murray helms the play with help from choreographer James Vasquez and music director Tim McKnight. Vasquez said the play is a deceptively big show.

“On the surface it seems like a little love story starring a man-eating plant,” Vasquez said. “But then you add the shop that has a plant that eats people, and there’s a lot there. And we’ve had tremendous laughs getting it ready because it’s so silly.”

The story is based on Charles B. Griffith’s original screenplay: Seymour (Brandon Joel Maier) is an employee at a plant shop who must juggle his romantic life and take care of the foliage. Little does he know that a plant he names Audrey II (voice of David McBean) after his pretty girlfriend (Melissa Fernandes), will soon require more than a green thumb from Seymour to keep it alive. This is where a reprehensible dentist (Geno Carr), a murder, and a 7-foot-tall, 6-foot-wide puppet, designed by Monkey Boys Productions, come into play.

Cast members include Phil Johnson (shop owner), Cashae Monya, Rhea Elizabeth de Armas, and Heather Paton (Skid Row’s resident Urchins), and Jacob Caltrider (the Audrey II puppeteer).

Although Vasquez’s role in the production is choreographer, his resume reveals he’s distinguished in every aspect of the theater world. He won the 2010 Craig Noel Award for Outstanding Direction of Cygnet Theatre Company’s production of “Sweeney Todd,” which also won the award for Outstanding Resident Musical. Other directing/choreography credits include “Fair Use,” “Twist,” “A Little Night Music” (choreographer), “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and “Into the Woods.”

A Juilliard School of Drama graduate, his extensive stage creating or re-creating credits include the original musical staging for “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “Boeing-Boeing.”

Vasquez and Murray have worked together on several productions and Vasquez said he appreciates that they have developed an effective language between them.

“In our initial meetings, Sean said this is my concept, this is what I want to do and I want to be completely faithful in the original intent of the story, but put Cygnet’s spin on it,” Vasquez said. So that gave me some freedom with the chorography to have some fun.”

Fans of the 1960 film may recall its lively Motown music and theater fans Menkins’s sensations of “Call Back in the Morning,” “Somewhere That’s Green,” and “Suddenly Seymou” in the musicals.

“The three urchins – our Greek chorus so to speak – are very much in the style of the 1960’s girl groups,” Vasquez said. “But because of some of the costuming and story changes, we’ve taken the ‘60’s girl group and tweaked it. There’s a Tina Turner-inspired number; a Chinese-inspired number with flair; and although we’ve stayed faithful to the opening number we’ve tweaked it a little, too … our band seems to get better every time Cygnet does a musical.”

“The show borders on the ‘60’s B-horror movie so there’s that tongue-in-cheek camp factor throughout, but some of that humor sneaks up on you, slaps you on the cheek ands run off,” Vasquez said. “Still, we play this story in total seriousness and at that moment when you start going along on the ride, I think anyone older than age 8 can’t help but laugh. It’s family friendly and San Diego is in for a good time.”

If you go

What: ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays; 8 p.m. Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays to Sept. 11

Where: Cygnet Theatre Company, Old Town Stage

4040 Twiggs St.

Tickets: $39-$59

Box Office: (619) 337-1525