What do you get if you combine a plant with a taste for human flesh, a hapless florist, catchy rock tunes, and a director with a flair for originality?
Answer: a dark and imaginative twist on a classic black comedy musical.
Tracey Hutley directs Phoenix Ensemble’s unique take on the Broadway (and cinematic) hit, Little Shop of Horrors, which runs over five weekends at Beenleigh’s boutique Pavilion Theatre from 8 August.
The show tells the story of a mild-mannered florist who inadvertently raises a plant (named Audrey II) that feeds on human flesh and blood. Tracey, who directed last year’s smash hit The Full Monty, recognised early on there was an even darker side to the musical – even beyond the carnivorous plant!
In the traditional telling of the story, the Ronnettes (the three quirky vocalists) are essentially narrators, but in Tracey’s interpretation, they – and Audrey II – become voices in Seymour’s head as he struggles with his psychotic tendencies.
‘It’s been really interesting to see all the characters develop and to identify how well the script actually lends itself to this more layered retelling,’ Tracey says.
‘The idea of exploring that darker element really interested me, and I knew the cast would enjoy the challenging process of keeping true to the story but still putting a new spin on such a well-known musical. For me, staging a show is as much about developing characters and work-shopping ideas as it is about delivering a great final product that audiences can enjoy.’
Directing shows with puppets is becoming somewhat of habit for Tracey, who helmed the adults-only Avenue Q in 2012, for which 29 puppets were created. This time around, the show only has four, but the final version of Audrey II fills most of the stage.
‘The key difference between the two shows is the fact that the plant puppets in Little Shop are on a much larger scale and need to have different mechanisms – including the ability to swallow people!
‘The weight of the plants is quite heavy and Blake Russell’s job of manipulating the puppets is one of the most physical roles in the show.’ (Doug Rumble provides Audrey II’s voice.)
Tracey is particularly proud of the way the 13-member cast has pushed themselves to bring together what promises to be another ground-breaking Phoenix show.
‘Some of the music in particular is very tricky and the cast is doing a great job bringing the show together. The Ronnette's (Heather Scott, Kate Doohan and Jo Mikkelsen) do an amazing job carrying most of the vocals throughout the performance. And Scott Johnson's portrayal of Seymour is also outstanding. His stamina in delivering the "crazed" personality is so intriguing to watch.’
Tracey is confident fans of the more traditional interpretation of Little Shop of Horrors will still get a kick out of the show.
‘They will definitely enjoy the songs – they just need to come with an open mind to look at the production in a whole new light.’
Little Shop of Horrors features musical direction by Casey Chadwick and Nick Ng, and choreography by Heather Scott.
Venue: Pavilion Theatre, Beenleigh Showgrounds, James Street, Beenleigh
7.30pm: 8, 9, 15, 16, 21 22, 29, 30 August; 5, 6 September
Tickets: $26 adult; Concession/child (under 15) $24; Member $22
Seymour Krelborn: Scott Johnson
Audrey: Michelle Dagan
Mr Mushnik: Luke Hutley
Chiffon: Kate Doohan
Crystal: Jo Mikkelsen
Ronnette: Heather Scott
Audrey II (voice): Doug Rumble
Audrey II (manipulation): Blake Russell
Orin Scrivello/Skip Snip, Patrick Martin/Bernstein/Mrs Luce: Will Boyd
Male Ensemble: Alex Milosevic
Male Ensemble: Dennis Clarke
Female Ensemble: Julia Lefik
Female Ensemble: Michelle Phair