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Young Actors' Little Shop of Horrors Features a Gender Re-do for "Audrey II"

Tallahassee’s Young Actors Theatre is revisiting a much-loved musical comedy for its latest production. But this version will have some big differences from its predecessors.

Young Actors’ Director Robert Stuart says there are so many reasons why “Little Shop of Horrors” is such a popular offering of stage and screen.

“I think a lot of us grew up seeing the movie in 1986,” he speculated. “That had Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. The idea of a man-eating plant is kind of macabre, but it’s also tongue-in-cheek funny. It’s hilarious!”

In case you’ve forgotten “Little Shop’s” basic plot line: Meek flower shop assistant Seymour Krelborn - played in the movie by Rick Moranis - yearns for co-worker Audrey. During a total eclipse, he discovers a strange plant, that he names “Audrey II.” The unusual flora brings lots of new business to the previously struggling store. Nate Jones plays Seymour in the Young Actors’ rendition.

“As the show goes on, that plant has a mind of its own and it starts telling me some negative things to do, like – spoiler alert – to go start killing people to feed it,” Jones laughed. “And that turns into something that I have to start dealing with as a character. I’m wondering if it’s the right thing to do, but the plant’s like the little devil on your shoulder telling you what to do. You’re like, ‘No! I shouldn’t do this,’ but Audrey II is in the back going, ‘Yes, you should and you’re going to because I control you.”

It’s about as well known and predictable as a musical comedy gets. So Director Stuart started looking for ways to flip the script. Literally.

“This is our fourth time doing the show in 40 years,” he noted. “So how can we approach it differently? Well when I was looking at the script, I wondered about these puppets. My colleague, choreographer Valerie Smith, saw an online production where it was a human playing the plant.”

And why stop with simply making Audrey more human? How about a different gender of human?

“It’s always a male voice. Why isn’t it a female, because Seymour wants Audrey, this girl that he works with, but he can’t have her. So he names a little plant that he finds after her as an homage to her.”

But in essentially re-inventing such an iconic character, a real challenge presented itself in the casting department.

“The only person to play this role in my mind was Leslie Gray,” insisted Stuart. “She worked with us before. In ‘Hairspray’ she was ‘Motormouth Maybelle’ and she’s done many, many roles and I’ve worked with her myself. That solidified it! So now you see a working relationship that is personified on stage with Nate and Leslie and they just connect! You couldn’t ask for anything more!”

Jones said that opens up whole new dynamic possibilities between his character and “Audrey II.”

“It was a bond and we have worked really well together,” he exclaimed. “I’m really excited for people to see this new element that we’re adding to the show because I think everyone’s at least somewhat familiar with they show, but you’re going to go in not really knowing what to expect.”

Certainly, added Director Stuart, the production has much more to offer than the interactions between Seymour and his homicidal hyacinth.

“There’s a cast of 23, behind the scenes is very busy because there are all these technical elements. There are amazing costumes by Lea Reeves. P.J. Wilford is our music director. We have a live band and that’s wonderful!”

And this is opening week for the Young Actor's Theatre presentation of "Little Shop of Horrors."

“We run March 29 through April 7 at Young Actor’s Theatre and you can get tickets from: www.youngactorstheatre.com,” explained Stuart.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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