Audrey II Comes To Carnivorous Life In 'Little Shop Of Horrors'
New Village Arts Theatre delivers delightfully inventive production
Roger Corman's 1960 B-movie "Little Shop of Horrors" became a popular musical in the 1980s. Now it arrives at New Village Arts in Carlsbad with a slightly different look. The carnivorous plant Audrey II is usually a puppet voiced by a man but in this production African American actress and singer Eboni Muse takes on the role.
"Little Shop of Horrors" is about an awkward young man named Seymour who raises an exotic plant that he names Audrey II after the woman he secretly loves. But the plant turns out to not only be carnivorous but also from outer space and with plans to take over the world. It's a story that drips with B-movie gloriousness.
"I love B movies," director A. J. Knox said sitting next to the "teenage" version of Audrey II as it appears in the play. "I love movies from the 50s and 60s. 'Plan 9 From Outer Space' is one of my favorite movies even though it's so bad and I really wanted to pay tribute to those old B-movies and the original 'Little Shop' was a B-movie. A Roger Corman film and so a lot of the design aesthetic, a lot of the the idea behind that kind of came from this fact that you'd watch an old B-movie and you always knew it was a person in a costume and sometimes the aliens were just people in costumes. So this idea of highlighting an actor in the role was really important to me going into it."
The actor to bring Audrey II to life in a new way for this production is Eboni Muse. She is a singer who brings a combination of Las Vegas flair, drag queen over-the-top outrageousness and gospel vocal power to the role of an outer space vegetation that craves blood and human flesh.
"It is a lot of fun," Muse enthused. "It's definitely a lot of fun. I've never played something as wild as this before. It took a little getting used to because it had never really been done before to have a person as the plant so I didn't really know what I needed to do physically."
Her reveal onstage is spectacular. First a large, tentacled and brightly colored pod is unveiled and then it opens and out bursts Muse in a caped costume with a large headdress and high collar and a voice that Knox described as "shaking the rafters."
Muse likes to call it her "spaceship."
"This is my spaceship and I grew within it, this is my backstory," Muse explained. "So I grew inside of it and now I'm finally out. So it's just the pod. The thing that brought me here to this planet."
Costumer Amanda Quivey said she researched carnivorous plants.
"We've got a little bit of a Venus flytrap kind of effect going on here, things like pitcher plants or sundew plants. It's all the things that eat insects in the wild and trying to incorporate the plant elements into the space queen idea essentially," Quivey said. "We definitely wanted her to take over the stage."
This kind of costuming challenge doesn't come along very often so Quivey embraces it.
"It's an absolute challenge because you've got some engineering to work on like with
the cape and how does it attach without having a big choker on it and then very specific things like all of these colors need to be the same. So finding those materials and then pulling the rest of the show together because budget-wise this stuff takes a lot of that money," she said.
Complementing the costume are the various puppets (a small baby Audrey II, a larger teenage one that the actor playing Seymour operates, and the large pod) designed by Madison Mellon.
"I did a lot of visual research into the different sort of colors and patterns on carnivorous plants, different types of toxic animals, things like that. And so yeah I had a lot of fun researching that and coming up with my own unique color scheme and the types of fabrics and textures I wanted to use," Mellon said.
Knox had his cast watch some of his favorite B-movies like "Plan 9 From Outer Space," "Day of the Triffids," "Devil Girl From Mars," and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." But don't think that because Knox is riffing off these old campy films that he's not taking the material seriously.
"There's a warning of sorts [at the beginning of the play] that says don't treat the play too campy, treat it honestly, which to me is kind of what those B-movies were all about. You see the most earnest acting and the most earnest design and desires in those old B-movies because people are trying their hardest and it's very authentic. And to me even as we're embracing that B-movie, that authenticity, that earnestness, that heart was always so important. So even as she emerges in this Vegas kind of drag, show-stopping moment. The drives behind them were really important for us that it was all very rooted in real desires and real needs and real wants."
Some of the reality the play gets to is by casting people of color in a number of the roles including love interest Audrey, played by African American actress Cashae Monya.
"There's a line where Audrey talks about wanting to move to a neighborhood that's fancy. And she talks about Levittown and Levittown are these planned communities that as we researched them we're like, oh they were whites only. And so we add a little moment in that for Cashae who plays Audrey as a woman of color. What would she be thinking about Levittown. And so we have these really earnest kind of moments," Knox said.
But the play also dives into the horror and the comedy to deliver an audaciously fun show.
"Little Shop of Horrors" runs through Aug. 4 at New Village Arts in Carlsbad.