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Audrey II Comes To Carnivorous Life In ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’

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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.

Speaker 1: 00:00 Roger Corman's 1960 B movie, little shop of horrors became a popular musical in the 1980s and now it arrives at New village arts in Carlsbad with a slightly different look. The carnivorous plant Audrey to is usually a puppet voiced by a man, but in this production it is African American actress and singer, Ebony Muse, KPBS arts reporter Beth Armando speaks with the play's director, a Jay Knox about the creative design of the show. Hey Jay, when you decided you want to do a little shop of horrors, where did you start in terms of how you wanted it

Speaker 2: 00:34 to look? I knew that pretty much every theater goer and San Diego has seen aversion of little shop and I didn't really know exactly what I wanted to do with it, but I remember driving home from Los Angeles one day and I was listening to the little shop soundtrack and I got this vision in my head of a woman in sequence singing supper time, which is the song that proceeds Mush Nick's death. And that's kind of where the idea started in terms of generating this idea of particularly of having Audrey to be a person. But then I think more generally, I love B movies. I love movies from the fifties and sixties plan nine 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, which are at the original little shop was a B movie, a Roger Corman Film. 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. You always knew as a person in a costume and sometimes the aliens were just people in costumes. So, uh, this idea of highlighting an actor in the role was really important to me going into it.

Speaker 1: 01:43 And Audrey to is usually a puppet or a prop on stage and also a male voice. Yeah.

Speaker 2: 01:48 We're doing a lot of gender bending in this show. We have Melissa Fernandez, Mush neck, and she's incredible. And we have Chris Bona is one of the urchins and Anthony Muse as Audrey to, and Ebony has just this powerhouse voice shakes the rafters every time she sings.

Speaker 1: 02:08 Yay.

Speaker 3: 02:12 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 02:15 we are having fun with some of the expectations that were challenging with this show, but it's still very much little shot. It just feels and looks different.

Speaker 1: 02:26 And tell me a little bit about the creative process of making Adri to this character that has a physical presence on stage and an actress that mixes costume and puppet.

Speaker 2: 02:37 Yeah. So we, we started our meetings with the design team. Well before the rehearsals started. It was a bit of a trial by error, but, uh, we had our puppet designer or a costume designer, our scenic designer, our lighting designer, we had everybody working together and really communicating, it was really important to me that everyone was really communicative and kept each other in the loop so that everything would feel cohesive and like it was all part of this shared world. And so the creative process to me was just entirely about collaboration.

Speaker 1: 03:08 And how did you work with ebony to create the kind of character you wanted her to be on stage? This carnivorous plant is what she is.

Speaker 2: 03:16 Yeah. So normally, you know, as you mentioned, when it's done as a puppet, the character work is all essentially we in the, in the puppets movement and in the vocal inflections, but with a human on stage, there's an added distance because now you have to believe that this person is also a man eating plant. What we talked about, we talked a lot, uh, in the early stages of rehearsal about what that means for her, my early ideas that we saw through to the end. Was that the chorus who normally just kind of float around in the background. One of the early images I had was Mutchnick being eaten and this bevy of arms coming out and pulling her into the pod, almost like vines are tentacles. And so we decided early on that the chorus was actually active participants in the, the murderous nature of the plant. They were part of the plan. But for Ebony and for all the chorus members, we said, you know more than anyone else, you are the, you rule this stage at any point you're on stage, you rule this stage, you're in control of every situation. And we had fun playing with as a person, you can do all these fun little magic moments where you know, she could snap her fingers and then all of a sudden something happens on stage and she now is in control of that moment.

Speaker 1: 04:37 Well with Audrey too, you have are kind of emerging from this big pod and it has this combination of like Las Vegas Show and Drag Queen and Gospel. Yeah. And B movie altogether.

Speaker 2: 04:51 There was a production, uh, I think last year in London that had to drag queen as Audrey, I believe, as Audrey to, to me, that those aesthetics are all just part of the camp. And part of the, the, the idea behind this as a new version, as something kind of feeling a little bit different in the beginning of the script, there's a, a warning of sorts that says, don't treat the play too campy and treat it honestly, which to me is kind of what those B movies were all about. That you see the most earnest acting and the most earnest design and desires in those old B movies. Cause people are trying their hardest. And it's very authentic to me, even as we're embracing that B movie, that authenticity, that earnestness, that heart, it was always so important. So even as she emerges in this Vegasy kind of campy Draghi show, stopping moment, the drives behind them, where it's really important for us that it was all very rooted in, in real desires and real needs and real wants.

Speaker 1: 05:56 Well that was all campy movies always

Speaker 2: 05:58 had this very kind of sincerity. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And, and, and part of that was scraping by with whatever you had on hand to IB. We have little nods to it. We have a Pie Tin Ufo we have on the larger pod. You can see these kinds of dryer to dry or duct stuff that we've spray painted. And so we're really embracing a lot of that hodgepodge quality of those, those films. And so a part of that aesthetic was, yeah, we're doing what we can with what we have. And I love that visual and it, to me, it triggers the audience think in that mode.

Speaker 1: 06:35 And also there's never a sense of wink, wink, nudge, nudge. Look, we're being funny.

Speaker 2: 06:40 Yeah, absolutely. That was really important to us as we were going in. We talked a lot about the realities of this show and the reality is particularly of casting it with mostly people of color in the, in the roles and still setting it in 1960 and what does that mean? There's a line in somewhere that screen where Audrey talks about wanting to move to a neighborhood that's fancy

Speaker 1: 07:02 mind, the little fancy like Levittown

Speaker 2: 07:11 and Levittown town, where 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 cache who plays Audrey as a woman of color. Why would she be thinking, what would she be thinking about? Leggett town? And so we had these really earnest kind of moments and, and when Mutchnick dies, uh, Melissa has a great blood curdling the movie screen, you know, horror scream. So we, we really lean into the actual horror of it, the actual reality of the situation. But try never lose sight of the fun.

Speaker 1: 07:49 You mean the, where am I supposed to the game? That was director a Jay Knox talking with Beth Ahca, Mondo about little shop of horrors. The production runs through August 4th at New village arts theater in Carlsbad. Look for Beth story on evening edition to see what Audrey two looks like.

Speaker 4: 08:21 [inaudible]

Speaker 2: 08:23 two.

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Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon host KPBS Midday Edition, a daily radio news magazine keeping San Diego in the know on everything from politics to the arts.