Theatre Aspen teen troupe stages ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ |

Theatre Aspen teen troupe stages ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Stewart Oksenhorn
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesZoe Levine and Keillor Wright star in the Theatre Aspen School production of the musical "Little Shop of Horrors," opening Friday, Dec. 2, at the Aspen District Theatre, with additional performances through Dec. 11.

ASPEN – Earlier this year, the Theatre Aspen School’s Winter Teen Conservatory performed “The Curious Savage,” a straight play from the 1950s involving stepchildren, an inheritance, an asylum. Which meant that Graham Northrup, Theatre Aspen’s director of education and outreach, had to engage in some persuading with his troupe.

“These kids aren’t used to doing straight plays,” Northrup said. “They do musical after musical after musical. So it took some convincing.”

For the group’s latest production, Northrup made it easier on himself. Responding to repeated requests from the young actors, he chose “Little Shop of Horrors,” a musical that features finger-snapping doo-wop songs, romance, a sadistic dentist and, best of all, a human-eating plant intent on planetary conquest. “Little Shop,” by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman – the team behind Disney hits “Beauty and the Beast” and “Aladdin” – was a well-received 1986 film, and had been performed onstage a few years ago in Theatre Aspen’s summer season, adding to its appeal.

“They’re eating it up. No pun intended,” Northrup said, noting that rehearsals have been three days a week, for three or four hours a day, since late September. “I have not heard any complaints about rehearsals or times – which, given that they’re teenagers, is kind of amazing.” Northrup added that two cast members – Egbert Ospina, who plays the wino on Skid Row and does the voice of the malevolent plant, Audrey II; and Marissa Jewell McKinney, who plays the doo-wop-singing street urchin Chiffon – decided to get into theater after seeing productions of “Little Shop.”

The musical opens Friday at the Aspen District Theatre, with additional performances on Saturday, Dec. 3, and Friday through Sunday, Dec. 9-11. The production features Keillor Wright as the socially awkward Seymour Krelborn, Zoe Levine as the timid Audrey, and Luke Wampler as Mr. Mushnik, the cranky owner of a failing florist shop in a shady part of town.

Northrup says there are challenging aspects to producing “Little Shop of Horrors.” Having a convincing Audrey II, which grows from a potted plant to a human-sized monster, is either a technical difficulty or a financial one.

“You can build your own plant, but that can be real hard and takes a lot of time. Or you can rent a plant, and it becomes a very expensive show to do,” Northrup said. For its current production, Theatre Aspen rented an Audrey II from a California company for $2,300, shipping included. “That’s more than some high schools’ entire theater budget.”

Not among Northrup’s concerns is his keeping his actors focused, or entertaining his audience. “There’s a reason it’s one of the longest running shows Off-Broadway, and one of the highest grossing,” he said. “The music is fantastic, the story is fun, it’s wacky. It’s great entertainment. The characters are strong; even the street urchins have a strong presence.

“And you’ve got a plant that’s eating people. So it’s got everything.”

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