Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
What happens when a plant shows its true colors…and it is not green? Alexandria City High School's rendition of Little Shop of Horrors provides the answer to this question as they introduce the audience to the perilous side of nature.
The musical was first produced in 1982 with book and lyrics written by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken. In a rare combination, Little Shop of Horrors is told as a horror comedy with segments of rock songs throughout and offers commentary on the deceptive disposition of the natural world. Seymour Krelborn is an anxious young florist from Skid Row who works with Audrey, a dreamer who longs for a better life, at Mr. Mushnik's struggling flower shop. As Seymour raises a plant named Audrey II that attracts crowds to the shop, he starts to notice an odd attribute of the flytrap. Audrey II feeds on human blood.
In an impressive show of creativity, Alexandria City portrayed Audrey II in several ways as the plant continued to grow throughout the show. Both the actor voicing Audrey II (Isa Valenzuela) and the technician operating each puppet (Cameron Beaujon) worked together cohesively to give the character a defined, menacing personality, moving Audrey II's mouth in sync with each line and lyric and even adjusting the plants posture to showcase different emotions. Even without a physical human presence, the plant struck fear in many.
With inspiring tenderness and care, Stuart Conrad took on the role of Seymour, using stiff postures and flustered hand gestures to indicate the character's nervous tendencies. Conrad also leaned into the sweeter moments between Seymour and each other character with strong vocals and innocent enthusiasm. One such relationship was with Audrey, played by Erin Burns, as she grew closer to Seymour and eventually fell in love with him. Burns' vocal skill was unmatched throughout the show as she had the audience in pin-drop silence during "Somewhere That's Green" with comedic timing that perfectly served to ease the tension created by the storyline. Between Conrad and Burns, "Suddenly, Seymour" was a beautiful display of the actors' talent, with power in each lyric and passion emanating from them both.
Designed by Ella Bruinooge, the set featured a pair of staircases and sliding doors that easily explained each of the different locations in the story, including a dentist's office and other areas around Skid Row. The shop itself was artfully crafted as a rotating platform, with painted designs to match the rundown aesthetic of the town on the exterior and to create a homely and more comforting feel for the interior. Each of these features was further accentuated by the traveling spotlights of various colors as characters migrated across the stage. Operated by Maya Huddle and Yahney-Marie Sangare, these lights were skillfully utilized to highlight actors moving up the staircases, around the shop, or the ever-hungry jaws of Audrey II.
Through their bold imagination and ambitious planning, Alexandria City High School left the audience shocked and awed by this new perspective on nature. For many theatergoers, Little Shop of Horrors took root and invaded the mind, just as any flesh-eating plant ought to do.
Leydi Cris Cobo Cordon
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
In a split second, Alexandria City High School's auditorium became enveloped in leafy vegetation. Ivy extravagantly descended from above as baby cannibalistic plants danced around menacingly and the voices of those recently deceased warned, "Don't Feed the Plants." This wasn't a fever dream, but Alexandria City's stand-out production of Little Shop of Horrors, a cautionary sci-fi tale.
Down in Skid Row, Mr. Mushnik's botanical shop quickly rises to newfound fame as one of his employees, Seymour, uncovers a new species of plant: aptly named Audrey II after Audrey, the co-worker he's crushing on. However, Seymour discovers that this interesting, new plant has a dark secret- its primary diet consists of humans. Trying to reconcile morality with his own personal desires for love and fame, Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's musical follows Seymour's corruption as he eventually learns he shouldn't have fed the plant.
Bringing to life the botanical maniac, Stuart Conrad's Seymour was grounded in reality, enhancing the show's darker side and adding an extra fear factor. Following the shift into the more horrific second act, Conrad was much more conscious of his movements, having a tense and closed off posture to reflect the secrets he was keeping. Whenever Conrad was alone, his movements became increasingly jumpy and frantic as he no longer had to hide his crimes. For instance, when attempting to kill his first victim, the Dentist, Conrad appeared to be bouncing around the walls of the small office as he constantly got in and out of the chair and paced. Every ounce of his body was trembling, and his hands were constantly in motion as he tried to quell his inner moral dilemma.
With a refreshing take on a typically timid role, Erin Burns' Audrey was a vocal powerhouse with a voice as bold as her confidence. Burns kept her voice stable, despite the physically demanding nature of the role. In "Suppertime," Burns' beautiful rendition of the song was delivered as she was laying on the ground, dying in Seymour's arms, yet her delicate voice clearly rang throughout the entire theater, while in "Somewhere That's Green" Burns belted her heart out as she gracefully climbed up a staircase in heels. Burns' longing and vulnerability truly shone through in the way she glided across the stage with slow, dream-like movements of her arms and head. Another one of Burns' many vocal achievements was masterfully maintaining her New York 60s inspired accent throughout the entire performance.
Adding detail and diligence to her work, the set design by Ella Bruinooge played with depth and height to create a real-feeling Skid Row. With a wide range of painted storefronts in the background and towering staircases in the foreground, the shop itself was nicely framed in the center of the stage and was set-dressed to the nines. The store became consumed by flowers as Audrey II brought more success to the business and its ability to be rotated allowed for creative blocking choices based on what was visible through the windows. To create a horrifically astonishing grand reveal, the stage management team and the Little Shop of Horrors Stage Crew collaborated to time various plant-themed reveals. The ivy garlands descended from the ceiling in the blink of an eye and the city-themed banners popped up along the sides of the audience with minimal delay from the lyrics.
Despite the title of the show, putting on such a fright-filling performance was no little feat, and Alexandria City High School's chilling production surpassed it, brimming with detail and tenacity.