One ‘Little Shop,’ one big hit

Tyler Crews as Seymour has a man-to-man-eating-plant talk with Seymour II (Dawn Scott). Photo by Amanda Phillips.

“Little shop, little shop of horrors . . . bop sh’bop . . . little shop of terror . . .” The mammoth undertaking of a full-length musical production surfaced in the seemingly innocent and most unlikely of places – the Rappahannock County High School auditorium!

Last weekend, in a two-night sensory extravaganza (May 7-8), the RCHS drama club collaborated to produce Howard Ashman’s and Alan Menken’s classic, “Little Shop of Horrors.”

The play’s story featured a misfit, botanical genius named Seymour who labored, alongside the beautiful Audrey, in Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop on Skid Row. As Mushnik, Seymour’s adoptive father, sought to cash in on his son’s genetic creation, a blood-thirsty plant named Audrey II, the audience was treated to scenes of comedic terror that displayed the theme of greed corrupting morals.

Director and teacher Russell Paulette cast the production perfectly. From doo-wop girls to the mechanical operations of a man-eating plant, the RCHS drama students drew a packed house into the emotion of every moment. Laughter and spontaneous applause reigned throughout both evenings, and each night the audience delivered a much-deserved standing ovation.

Doo-wop girls meet evil dentist (Austen Cloud). From left: Carly Day, Kelsa Settle, Addie Swindler, Mairead McLoughlin. Photo by Amanda Phillips.

Tyler Crews effortlessly portrayed the main character, Seymour, and sang the house into the “sunlight” of his willingness to “open a vein” for his demanding plant. Zach Huff played Mushnik, the flower shop owner, and lifted his voice to reveal a plot to “share the plant and share the wealth” by adopting Seymour. An animated and expressive Austen Cloud brought to life (and later to death) the character of Orin, the evil dentist and suitor. His lyrical account of asphyxiation was a gas for the entire audience.

In flawless renditions of “Suddenly Seymour,” Morgan Cloud and Sarah Wheatley revealed the transformation of an awkward male protagonist into an object of enduring affection.

Sprinkled throughout the play, the doo-wop girls (Kelsa Settle, Carly Day, Addie Swindler, and Mairead McLoughlin) famously vocalized plot-interpretive songs and added visual flair with their fabulous costumes. And the cast of extras, who depicted everything from winos to magazine executives, brought extraordinary flavor to the stage.

In an unprecedented collaboration of resources and talent, the other stars of the event appeared behind the scenes. Maureen Day tapped into years of experience to lead the choreography, and Alyssa Cross stepped in with some vocal coaching.

The live pit orchestra, conducted by RCHS’s own David DeBoer, merged students and teachers, its members being Taylor Light, KT Milam, Michael Caporuscio, Dane Wellemeyer, Steve Hraback and Ben Beasley (who also served as choral director). Art teacher Joy Sours brought her department in to design and paint the ideal set. Scott Schlosser and his students offered their talents to design the set and to expertly construct the deadly plant.

Even in the lobby, evidence of collaboration revealed more of the familiar Panther Pride. Drama Club conducted a raffle for a signed, oversized “Little Shop” poster, while the newly formed Drama Moms made concessions possible and aided with dozens of other tasks.

Each night, Trista Scheurlein, Beth Gall and David Naser brought the Farm-to-Table’s theme-based plant sale. In a show of good botanical faith, customers had a wide variety of choices, including the infamous carnivorous plants. Finally, thanks to Sours, theatergoers also had an opportunity to enjoy the art show and contest on display in the commons area.

Flawless set transitions between scenes, quality sound and lighting, professional-grade musical accompaniment, practiced manipulation of a mechanical plant, stupendous performance from the ensemble and an overwhelmingly impressive group of thespians rounded out the ingredients for a magnificent accomplishment. Bravo to the RCHS production of Little Shop!

So, Mr. Paulette, what’s next?