Just in time for Halloween and the fun that October brings, ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) of Connecticut is staging the horror musical comedy “Little Shop of Horrors” through Nov. 3, under the direction of Jason A. Sparks, whose credits include Broadway’s “Hello Dolly!” and “She Loves Me.”
Originally an off-Broadway smash in 1982, “Little Shop of Horrors” was written by composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, and was based on a low-budget dark comedy from 1960, which featured a young Jack Nicholson in one of his first movie roles.
The off-Broadway musical also spawned a hit movie starring Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene, reprising her role as Audrey from the original production.
The satirical story revolves around Seymour Krelborn, a down-on-his-luck floral shop assistant who discovers a strange plant, which he affectionately names “Audrey II” after his crush, and the plant shockingly develops a soulful R&B voice and an unquenchable thirst for human blood.
As the plant grows, Seymour becomes an overnight sensation and the skid row floral assistant starts to experience fame and fortune. But the one thing he really wants is the love of Audrey.
In ACT’s version, Robb Sapp and Laura Woyasz play the denied lovebirds Seymour and Audrey.
“This is a role I’ve always wanted to play,” Sapp said. “I saw the film when I was a kid and I was immediately drawn in by the great score, the music is so fantastic. I also felt a kindredship with Seymour. I’m really excited to be doing it at this theater.”
Although he’s never worked with Woyasz before, the two knew of each other and their respective careers.
“She is so delightful and so creative. We are both ‘Wicked’ alum, but from different times, but we have that in common,” Sapp said. “Since the first day of rehearsal, we have been building on that foundation.”
Woyasz considers the show’s music as some of the best that has ever been written for the stage. Also, she feels the script is so thorough with the characters that it makes them so exciting to play.
“Audrey is funny, but she’s also really sweet and kindhearted, and this is a show that’s about people trying to have a better life,” she said. “It’s a perfect example of great musical theater.”
With her part being so associated with Greene, she admits it was something of a challenge to make Audrey her own.
“Whenever you are doing a role that’s so beloved and so well known, you don’t just want to copy what someone else has done; you want to put your own stamp on it,” Woyasz said. “It was exciting for me to do my version of Audrey.”
A warning for those who are a fan of the movie musical: the staged version is much darker, and while it does have a lot of campy humor and fun songs — like the incredible “Suddenly Seymour” — the happy ending in the film is not what you should expect. In fact, the original writers called it a tragedy.
Daniel C. Levine, ACT’s artistic director, is playing Audrey’s sadistic boyfriend, the dentist played by Steve Martin in the movie.
“As the artistic director, when we were first creating this theater, I knew ACT would be the perfect venue for intimate productions or those that may have been big Broadway splashes, but could be rethought or revisited for a more intimate audience,” Levine said. “I was a part of the Broadway company of Little Shop, and knowing the show so well and understanding our space, I knew this show would play so well here.”
Levine describes “Little Shop of Horrors” as a “campy, hysterical, moving, poignant” show and the fact that the audience will be so close will really add to the fun and make people feel as if they are right in that flower shop.
“The other thing is that it’s a scary show, with huge puppets that are scary, and some of the subject matter in the show is adult-based, so to be able to witness that action from a few feet away, as opposed to witnessing it from the balcony, is a completely different experience,” Levine said. “You really feel like the plant is going to come over your row and eat you.”
As an actor, Levine wanted to return to a role in which he played many times, having also toured with the show after the Broadway run.
“When I became artistic director of ACT, I sort of put my performing away, but when we announced this, it just felt like a great fit,” he said. “I knew it would be fun for me and really fun for our audiences, many of whom have never seen me perform and only know me as the artistic director of this great regional theater.”
In addition to playing the Dentist, Levine plays several other little parts throughout the show, and it almost becomes a “Where’s Waldo?” type of thing for the audience, as he comes out with different wigs and costumes as different characters.
The show also stars William Thomas Evans as Mr. Mushnik, Kent Overshown as Audrey II, Kadrea Dawkins, Rachelle Legrand and Ashley Alexandra Seldon as the urchins, and features Jaclyn Mercer, Ian Shain and puppeteer Thomas Bergamo.
“There’s so much to like about this show,” Sapp said. “We have a wonderful cast, a gorgeous set and the costumes are beautiful. Visually, it will be really exciting, but I also think people are going to leave feeling like they had an enjoyable evening in the theater.”
Woyasz feels people are going to be invested from the first notes in the first scene. “Plus, I think everyone can relate to these characters. They have a chance to better themselves through this weird circumstance, and there’s so much heart and comedy,” she said.
ACT of Connecticut presents Little Shop of Horrors through Nov. 3. For more information, visit www.actofct.org