Like a Kid in a Flower Shop
by James McCusker
“Inside Geva Theatre’s third floor rehearsal hall a well-controlled flurry of seventy or so people are swirling about with chicken wings, green salads and drinks teetering in hand. This rough head count doesn’t include about four or five children and the small dog. It’s the largest gathering ever for Geva’s Meet and Greet, a traditional first read thru for the creative team (and invited guests) of an upcoming production. The well fed and talkative mob includes the show’s cast, assorted board members, Geva’s Cohort Club and high school students of Geva’s innovative Stage Door Project.
Swirling around the far wall are possible costume renderings. These pages include a dentist wearing a black, rubbery gasmask, backup singers decked out in greaser fashion and a nerdy schlep whose costume pencilings move from disheveled to highly polished. Photos which look torn from vintage magazines also dot this space. A dapper 1950’s Pop donning a brown flannel suit. A toothless homeless wino. Broken-down tenements. On the far side of the room, on an opposite wall, four large sketches revel a flower shop in ever-changing stages. The first sketch is of a drab, colorless, shabby flower shop that’s seen better days. The last in the series sports a colorful, polished, well maintained florist’s emporium with even the urban walls outside of the shop now showing signs of brightness and literal LIFE (a billboard with the logo of LIFE magazine.) But dominating the store’s floor space in this last sketch is a gigantic green plant. A combination Venus flytrap and avocado. Audrey II.
In the center of the room surrounded by a whirl of posted rehearsal schedules, colored plot printouts and script page breakdowns, sits four long tables pushed together to form a squat square. These tables are littered with Brita water pitchers, marked up scripts, half empty Diet Coke bottles, hand disinfectant and a variety of notebooks and loose yellow legal paper. At an angle connecting one side of this square to another, an unattended, mute piano waits.
But this cacophony of activity even stretches and spins outside the rehearsal room’s buzzing activity and cluttered walls. First week tickets for this production, which rolls into previews on January 13th, are flying out the door faster than clippings from Audery II.
In the vortex of this creative storm and box office darling stands Sean Daniels, the director of Geva’s upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors. Daniels admits during opening remarks that the musical is a “sweet spot” show for him. He fell hard for this Retro Doo Wop/ Motown beauty 35 years ago when performing it in high school. Daniels happily proclaims it’s a “Geek Musical” and he couldn’t be more right.
Little Shop of Horrors follows the not so clichéd plot of boy longs for girl, boy meets plant, plant and boy strike up Faustian bargain. An assortment of blood, carnage, and laughs with serious undertones of the haves and the have nots ensues. The show originally opened Off-Off Broadway in 1982 then on to Off-Broadway for a healthy five year run. Since then the musical has hit the movies, been revived on Broadway and is currently being cast for Off-Broadway’s Encore Series. And don’t even bother to try and count the musical’s numerous high school and regional theater incarnations.
The chaotic storm quickly subsides. Chaos quickly morphs into order as Daniels and the gifted cast and company members sit down around the squat square. Daniels states that this is a “Read Thru – Sing Thru” and with a laugh announces we’re going to “start and try to get to the end.” Don sits at the piano — with page turner nearby – and pounds out the opening chords of the show as John Gregorio’s booming narrator’s voice begins the “Prologue”.
From the first chord to the last fanfare, Alan Menken’s score and Howard Ashman’s lyrics sing. It’s close to unbelievable – and this speaks to the score’s clever construction and the seasoned cast — that this is the first read and sing thru. Daniels’ “first choice” cast seamlessly harmonizes as they move through book and score. The director quietly oversees the proceedings. Occasionally nodding, occasionally smiling, and occasionally scribbling down a note.
During the reading, Daniels is directly seated across from actor Will Blum who’s playing Seymour Krelborn, the kid with the plant. It’s striking. They appear to be mirror images of each other. Seymour looking at Seymour. Both are donning black rimmed glasses and are neatly dressed. Blum happily moves through the script and score as Daniels quietly observes. Daniels has been waiting for over three decades to speak directly to Seymour Kreldorn. And one can see he is like a kid in a candy store…scratch that, I mean — like a kid in a flower shop. Daniels has a lot to say and is ready to celebrate this production with cast and crew.
Less than three hours later the reading has wrapped; the party is over. The chicken wings are gone, the salad is wilting and the hall is quickly emptying out. Empty plastic drink cups line every surface. A costume sketch slips and falls to the floor. The storm has passed.
Art is an accumulation of a series of choices. And there are hundreds of choices to make within all the moving parts of a live musical. As I move to the door I see Daniels walk over to Blum, Seymour to Seymour. Earlier in the evening Blum as Seymour sang, “Looks like you’re not happy,/’Less I open a vein./I’ll give you a few drops/If that’ll appease./Now please-oh please-grow for me!” These lyrics could easily spring from Daniels’ mouth as well. Daniels and company now start the intense process of making choice after choice in order to shape this Audrey II into life.” – James McCusker