‘Little Shop of Horrors’ offers sophomore taste of college

Set+of+Little+Shop+of+Horrors+photo+by+Madi+Mertz

Set of “Little Shop of Horrors” photo by Madi Mertz

Madi Mertz

Set of "Little Shop of Horrors" photo by Madi Mertz
The set of Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Madi Mertz
 
Audrey II puppet from "Little Shop of Horrors" photo by Madi Mertz
Audrey II puppet from Little Shop of Horrors. Photo by Madi Mertz

Inside Columbia College’s practice hall lies a tiny theater with only 55 seats.  In that theater currently resides Mushnik’s Flower shop, the setting of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s cult musical about a blood-thirsty plant and his meek protector.

“I don’t think it’s just this creepy little story about a plant that eats people. There are little moments of humanity in this show,” director Nollie Moore said. “I think there are elements [in] … the characters that I think we all identity with.”

Under all the blood and violence lies a story that not only lends itself well to the audience but to its small setting.  Moments when the actors break the fourth wall and interact with the audience only have more impact when the actors are three feet away from the people they are addressing.  When the main characters, such as Audrey and Seymour, reach out to the audience for protection from the villainous plant, Audrey II, it’s not strange to want to reach out and help them.

But the big mystery is the plant a few feet ahead our heroes. Sure, it’s not real, but is it really anything to be afraid of?  Only if Alex Isgriggs seem like a particularly menacing individual, because the artist and movie buff happens to be the man behind the fly-trap.

“My sister, Jordan Isgriggs, she likes to do musicals, and she’s very into musical theater and choir,” Isgriggs said, “and she told me that she was — that Columbia College was gonna do Little Shop of Horrors, which was very exciting for me because it’s one of my favorite musicals, and I’d never seen it performed on stage.”

He began asking about the puppets.  Every production of Little Shop has a different sort of puppet for Audrey II.  There are different color options and ways to manipulate the puppets.  Audrey II in the 2003 Broadway production stretched out into the audience on a hydraulic mechanism. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the Mean Green Mother from Outer Space.

“She asked me if she wanted to — if I wanted her to ask Nollie Moore if I could be the puppeteer,” Isgriggs said.

After couple weeks of rehearsal, he’s terrorizing the occupants of Mushnik’s Skid Row location. Don’t be deceived by the flower shop’s worn-out appearance, however. Those water stains and white bricks were added by none other than RBHS’ former music teacher, Bob Bohan.

“When you’re doing a set on stage, I tell, I used to tell kids when I taught tech theatre at Rock Bridge High School that if you’re building a set on a proscenium stage, if it’s, you know, if it looks good from a galloping horse, then it’s probably gonna work,” Bohan said, comparing the experience with such a small theater to experiences at larger theatres at RBHS.

Details such as a house number “666” stuck on a stage-right mailbox and price tags on the flower shop’s merchandise or the water stains falling halfway down the wall from the ceiling add an extra kick of realism to the dilapidated store front.  This set would look just as good from a galloping horse as from a stationary horse.

“I had to use more real textures [for a small theater],” Bohan said, “and things that actually looked right up close.”

The added texture makes the actors and their incredible antagonist stand out that much more in their possibility of existence.  It might not look perfectly real, but you start to believe anything is possible when you’re engrossed enough in the story.

“[The plant] could be metaphorically representative of any sort of alluring way out of a bad situation,” Moore said of Audrey II.

With its gleaming offers to Seymour — a Cadillac car, a guest shot on Jack Parr and a date with Headie LaMarr — Audrey II shows the gardener the only thing he’s ever really wanted: a way out.  Seymour does all he can to get the girl and the life he’s always dreamed about as his plant lies in wait for its supper.

“It kind of sucks. You’re in there with your arms up, with your head in an awkward position, with your legs crossed for three songs, plus dialogue,” Isgriggs says of Act I. “Then you actually have to start moving. My arms get worn out just holding [the puppet] up there.”

He holds out for the right moment to harass Seymour Krelborn, and a change comes in the show.  The horror in the title doesn’t come in until the plant wants it to, and when it does, it doesn’t go halfway. The plant gets what it wants by any means necessary. But those methods are the conflict that make this show so captivating.

“I love Little Shop of Horrors,” Isgriggs said.” I think our show’s really cool. I think we’re taking advantage of the space very well and a lot of the people in the cast are very very talented … the puppets are pretty cool looking.”

Behind the scenes, RBHS alumni work to bring Skid Row to Columbia, and they truly care about what they’re doing. But whatever they offer up, don’t feed the plant.

Little Shop of Horrors has six more performances left, on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. in Columbia College’s practice hall. Call 875-4568 for ticket information.

By Madi Mertz
What is your favorite scene from the musical?