Little shop turns into stage for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

The musical’s full title may be “Little Shop of Horrors,” but the little shop where it’s being staged — Alios, on Main Street in Las Vegas’ downtown arts district — is a place of happiness. At least as far as director Troy Heard is concerned.

“Step outside, and you see this,” he says, gesturing to surrounding nightspots, restaurants and stores.

“And not a desolate shopping center,” Heard adds, referring to the site of Commercial Center’s Onyx Theatre, where he spent two years as producing director before announcing his departure in August to form a new company.

That company, Majestic Repertory Theatre, is presenting Heard’s previously announced “Bring on the Bad Guys” season at Alios before embarking on its goal of “exploring the American canon, old and new.”

But “Little Shop” definitely qualifies as a modern classic, he notes. After all, it opened more than 30 years ago.

Inside, the front of Alios, a specialty lighting store (and sometime art gallery), is transforming into “Little Shop’s” title setting, Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists.

Audience seating hasn’t yet been installed on either side of the central stage. And a turntable — which will rotate interior and exterior views of Mushnik’s flower shop — isn’t in place.

But at least Audrey II’s in the house.

Make that multiple versions of Audrey II, the mysterious, ravenous plant that puts the bite on unsuspecting residents of “Little Shop’s” gritty Skid Row setting.

From petite seedling to monstrous menace, Audrey II stands out as one of “Little Shop’s” star attractions, requiring not one but two performers (Joshua McCool supplies its voice, Cody Angelo its movements) and its own director, RuBen Permel.

Permel’s been communing with Audrey II and “Little Shop” since he saw the original off-Broadway production in 1983.

A few years later, he began working as an Audrey II puppeteer in “Little Shop’s” national tour.

A longtime wardrobe head for the Cirque du Soleil shows “Ka, “Viva Elvis” and “Zarkana” — which closed in May — Permel is now doing freelance costume and puppet design.

“When Troy said he was doing the show, I said, ‘I love the show,’ ” Permel explains.

He’s providing his expertise on how to make Audrey II’s four incarnations come alive for “Little Shop” audiences. (He’s also creating “Little Shots of Horror” — an art show to benefit Majestic Rep, featuring paintings of Audrey II — at the neighboring bar/antique store ReBar.)

The smallest Audrey II interacts with its nerdy owner, hapless Seymour Krelborn (Cory Benway), as Seymour attempts to get Audrey II to grow. Seymour himself manipulates the medium-sized Audrey II as the strange plant’s growth begins attracting customers to the usually deserted Mushnik’s.

An even larger version of Audrey II requires the puppeteer to “sit still in the puppet plant for 17 minutes with his legs crossed,” Permel explains.

And as for the giant Audrey II who (SPOILER ALERT!) chomps several cast members, “I’ve never been so tired after a rehearsal,” Benway admits of the preparations for Audrey II’s climactic rampage.

“It all has to be choreographed,” Permel says. “There are a lot of technical things.”

Even more important than the technical challenges, however, the intimate nature of the “new theater” means “it’s really close and there’s no hiding,” the puppet director says. As he advised Benway, when he makes the puppet come alive, the audience is going to think it’s alive.

“We’ll be bringing a lot of production values to a very small space,” Heard says.

The musical may be based on director Roger Corman’s schlocky 1960 sci-fi movie of the same name — perhaps best remembered today for young Jack Nicholson’s performance as a demented (and masochistic) patient eager to experience painful dental treatment.

But the musical’s rollicking, rockin’, doo-wop flavored score — by future Disney Oscar-winners Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid”) — definitely elevates “Little Shop,” Heard says.

So does the “beautiful love story” between Seymour and his woebegone, daydreamy co-worker Audrey Fulquard (played by Kady Heard — and yes, she’s married to the director).

Not to mention the musical’s depiction of Skid Row life, which “we can have fun exploring right now in this contentious election season,” according to Heard, who cites the savvy depiction of “class discrepancies” in such numbers as “Skid Row.”

Joined by Audrey, Mr. Mushnik (Rob Kastil) and the show’s girl-group chorus of Crystal, Ronette and Chiffon (Breonna Dobbs, Destiny Faith Nelson, Jillian Austin), Seymour sings of his downscale neighborhood: “Downtown … that’s your home address … when your life’s a mess … where depression’s just status quo, down on Skid Row … ”

No wonder, Heard says, “I can see Willy Loman” — the tragic title figure of “Death of a Salesman” — “easily shopping at Mushnik’s.”

As for “Little Shop” in the little shop, “we’ll be bringing a lot of production values,” he says, “to a very small space.”

Read more stories from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

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