Little Shop of Horrors

Utah Shakespeare Festival

September 2003

Peter Riopelle, Tina Stafford

Little Shop of Horrors is set for a glitzy revival on Broadway, but Utahns who love this off-beat little musical would do well to head to Cedar City instead of New York.  It is hard to imagine a Little Shop that is any more fun than the one that opened Saturday at the Utah Shakespeare Festival.. It is the most elaborate production so far for USF’s fall season, and it is a high-camp hit.

Little Shop” is a strange mixture of 1950s kitsch, Greek tragedy, old horror movie and frothy musical.  It occupies a niche in some Twilight Zone where ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ intersects with ‘Grease.’ The plot sounds awful when explained, but when enacted with an expert dose of sly humor—as it is here—it is a guilty delight.

Little Shop qualifies as a “small” musical, but it is produced in a big way at USF.  The Beowulf Borritt set has every bell and whistle imaginable, and the technical challenges of bringing Audrey II to life are cleverly surmounted.  Under the skillful direction of Paul Barnes, all aspects of the production radiate quality and loving care.

“Sure, it’s a strange show, but don’t be afraid to give it a chance.  Like its herbaceous star, it will grow on you.”

    Celia R. Baker

    Salt Lake Tribune

“Although it’s based on a classic 1960 B-movie, this stage musical version of Little Shop of Horrors gets A-class treatment at the festival—a stage-filling set, terrific performances and probably one of the most talked-about ‘props’ ever created for the festival.

“Director Paul Barnes has added a short ‘megamix’ finale, partly to showcase bits of the show’s best songs, but—most likely—to prove to youngsters in the audience that there is life after Audrey II.

Little Shop of Horrors” may not be filled with deep-seated messages (except, maybe, the risks involved with taking chances).  It’s just thoroughly entertaining.”

    Ivan M. Lincoln

    Deseret Morning News

“The Utah Shakespeare Festival has done local theater patrons a big favor.  If you are a fan of Roger Corman’s infectious ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ there now is no need to travel to New York City to see its revival, which premieres there next week.  Not only has the USF saved you time and money by negating an East Coast trip, you can avoid the nasty aftermath of hurricane Isabel and any recurring power-grid failures.

“Better to stay at home and enjoy a charming interpretation of the theatrical version of Corman’s film from 1960 which was re-done and made famous in 1986 starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.

“Featuring songs and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken. . .  the USF’s version is soulful where it should be, funny when it needs to be, and surprisingly touching, even for fans who may have seen the show many times.

“The macabre results are deliciously presented by the energetic cast who breathe new life into the Motown-inspired music.  [Peter] Riopelle is terrific as the little schlemiel Seymour and is made even funnier cast against the striking, tall [Tina] Stafford. . .

“A worn out descriptive cliché of theatre is a show that makes you laugh and cry—but Stafford’s touching interpretation goes one step further.  Her version of ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ where she dreams of a ‘matchbox’ home and a fence of ‘real chain link’ provokes humor and sadness in the same musical measure—a climatic highlight in a show filled with catchy songs.

“Also worthy of mention are scenic designer Beowulf Borritt’s splendidly detailed and intimate set coupled with director Paul Barnes and choreographer Toni Grates’ efficient blocking which keeps the proceedings bouncing and busy.

“And shing-a-ling!  Singing trio the Ronnettes are displayed where they should be, not consigned to the background but as a major focus, especially when they feature delightful costumes and the supreme voices of Melinda Pfundstein, Sierra A.R. Rein, and Ashley Martinez.

“The USF’s fall season. . .  continues to offer an incomparable bargain for theater aficionados.  Suddenly, Broadway’s in your own backyard.”

    Bruce Bennett

    The Cedar City Spectrum


What I learned. . .

Once again, I learned to trust good material and just tell the story. Although often thought of and described as a ‘small’ musical, there’s really nothing very small about Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken’s Little Shop of Horrors.  It’s a complex, complicated show, and one of the more technically challenging musicals you can take on.  The goal is to make it all seem smooth and effortless, but with a flower shop that must transform from assigned-to-the-dustbin/going-out-of-business status to highly successful enterprise within a few short scenes, Little Shop is challenge enough.  Add to that a man-eating plant that must continue to grow in size, and you’ve got your work cut out for you.  Fortunately, Beowulf Borritt (Set Designer) and Ben Hohmann (Properties Director), were entirely up to the task and proved themselves theatrical wizards.  Tim Dial (Costume Designer) demonstrated that behind his innocent, choir boy looks, their lurked a wonderfully wicked mind, and produced witty period costumes that had just the right amount of tongue planted firmly in cheek.  

Little Shop is plenty ‘camp’ all on its own. . .  it doesn’t really need a director with “bright ideas” to embellish what’s already there.  My job was all about fleshing out the story, trusting and respecting the script and the music, and finding the heart of the love story within the musical.  Fortunately, my on stage collaborators were as gifted and committed as was my off stage design and tech team.

I had a wonderful cast, and was particularly happy to have an Audrey (Tina Stafford) who could not only sing and act the hell out of the role, but who also didn’t mind the fact that she was a good head taller than her leading man (Peter Riopelle).  If I have a favorite directorial moment, it was the ‘button’ of the splendid, rock-the-rafters ballad, ‘Suddenly Seymour,’ in which I got to reverse the traditional Nelson Eddy/Jeanette MacDonald pose, this time with Audrey cradling Seymour from behind, arms tightly wound together, looking dreamily upwards in best Hollywood-Broadway musical fashion.  

Although they weren’t the most racially diverse group of Ronettes ever to grace a production of Little Shop, my Ronettes (Melinda Pfundstein, Ashley Martinez, amd Sierra A.R. Rein) had plenty of Skid Row attitude and sass, and became an ever-costume-changing, whiplash sort of presence throughout the production.  

Other favorite memory: seeing Fred Adams, the Festival’s founder and Producing Director, sneak into the back row of the rehearsal hall with his wife Barbara, to watch run-throughs.  I knew we were on track with the production based on the number of times I turned and found them grinning and holding hands in the back row shadows.

My one regret: not being able to attend the student performance during the Festival’s annual middle and high school Fall Shakespeare Competition.  I understand the screams of appreciation and delight reverberated for days.