'Little Shop of Horrors' stars (from left) Sam Lamon (Mushnik), Will Oliver (Seymour), Abby Mae Tucker (Audrey) and Robert Mc-Crary (Orin).
You can’t help but laugh at the premise of “Little Shop of Horrors,” a musical about a downand-out skid row floral assistant who becomes an overnight sensation when he discovers an exotic plant with a mysterious craving for fresh blood.
But the reason Tina Radtke signed on to direct Kingsport Theatre Guild’s season-opening production of the beloved Broadway show might have you wiping tears instead.
“My first show at Northeast State, we did a Broadway musical revue, and one of the songs we did was ‘Dentist!’ from ‘Little Shop,’ ” Radtke said. “The guy who sang the song for that revue show at Northeast became a good friend of mine and then passed away earlier this year. So when Sharon [Hurd, KTG’s executive director] mentioned that [‘Little Shop’] was a show KTG was doing this year, I knew I wanted to direct it.”
In this gleefully gruesome rock musical, opening Thursday at the Kingsport Renaissance Center, Seymour Krelborn is a poor florist’s assistant working at a rundown flower shop owned and operated by the cranky Mr. Mushnik. While browsing the wholesale flower district, Seymour stumbles upon a strange plant, which he names Audrey II after the coworker he secretly loves, and believes it’s the key to bringing himself and the struggling flower shop fame and fortune.
Soon, however, Audrey II grows into an ill-tempered, foulmouthed, R&B-singing carnivore who offers Seymour the fame and fortune he seeks in exchange for feeding its growing appetite, finally revealing itself to be an alien creature poised for global domination.
One of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows of all time, this affectionate spoof of 1950s sci-fi movies has become a household name, thanks to a highly successful film version starring Rick Moranis and a score by the songwriting team of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, who redefined the animated musical film with Disney’s “The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin.”
Directing such a well-known show is both a blessing and a curse, Radtke said.
“It makes it easy because the people who come in and audition are like, ‘Hey, I know this song,’ ‘I know this show,’ so we don’t have to spend a lot of time on music,” she said, “but at the same time, I don’t like being like everyone else. It’s like, what can I do that’s not going to be super, super controversial but that’s going to be different, that people aren’t going to walk away going, ‘It’s the same old show I’ve seen a thousand times.’
“I think the show has enough pizzazz in itself that even if we don’t detour completely from the normalcy that is ‘Little Shop’ — or whatever normalcy is in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ — the show itself is so much fun that people are going to leave feeling like they’ve been entertained.”
By the time Radtke had finished reading through the script, she already had the set built and costumes designed — in her mind.
“Now, that doesn’t always come to fruition on stage because we have limitations — space limitations and monetary limitations. I love dreaming big, and community theatre is all about dreaming big — and then building a little bit smaller,” Radtke said, laughing.
There’s nothing small, though, about KTG’s “Little Shop” set.
“This set is, I believe, a little bigger, maybe a little more complicated than the Agatha Christie ‘And Then There Were None’ set, when we did the hunting lodge,” Radtke said. “And the last three shows I’ve done here have been no set whatsoever, so I’m really excited to do a show where I’m building this set where it’s got walls and moving parts and doors and windows.”
Tony Dean donated the use of a large porcelain chair, and The Haggle Shop loaned KTG an instrument stand for the scenes that take place in Orin Scrivello’s dental office.
Of course the star of “Little Shop of Horrors” is Audrey II. Constructing the plant in all his incarnations, from seedling to towering flower, can be costly for community theatres. That’s why
Radtke was thrilled when Barter Theatre agreed to donate the use of its Audrey II props.
“We could have done it because we have the artistic talent to build it, but the fact that we had a local organization like Barter that was willing to let us borrow theirs was huge,” Radtke said.
Radtke also managed to recruit a live band for KTG’s “Little Shop” production. The musicians, all of whom are donating their time and talents, have been affectionately dubbed the “Little Shop Band.”
“It’s people from the community,” Radtke said. “None of these people have done anything with KTG before. Some of them know each other. Two of them have played together before, but the majority of the band members have never met each other before.”
Performances are at 7 p.m., Sept. 22, 23, 30 and Oct. 1, and at 2 p.m., Sept. 25 and Oct. 2.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.
“Little Shop of Horrors” is not recommended for small children.
Kingsport Theatre Guild’s 64th season will continue with the main stage productions of the adult comedy “Not A Creature Was Stirring Not Even A Moose,” Dec. 15-18; the adult drama dinner theatre “Love Letters,” Feb. 9-14; and the all-ages musical comedy “How To Eat Like A Child,” May 1-13.
For reservations or more information, call KTG at (423) 392-8427 or visit kingsporttheatre.org.