'Little Shop of Horrors' to hit Riley stage at BBA

MANCHESTER - It sounds dark and grim, but it's really just fun and entertainment.

Burr and Burton Academy's Media and Performing Arts Department will be staging "Little Shop of Horrors," a musical that had its origins as a noirish 1960 comedy film directed by Roger Corman, and featured a small role for a young up-and-coming actor named Jack Nicholson.

There it might have languished, occupying a decidedly smallish niche in the history of the performing arts, had it not been revived - the term seems apt - in an off-Broadway production in 1982, and reincarnated as a musical.

You know the rest. It ran for five years, earning several awards, and was remade into another movie in 1986, starring Ellen Greene and Steve Martin. It was in turn revived as a musical on Broadway (finally) in 2003, although this one didn't enjoy the same success, critical and commercial, that the original off-Broadway version did.

But with its perky soundtrack based on late fifties/early sixties rock, doo-wop and Motown flavored tunes, and quirky storyline involving a mysterious plant seemingly intent on devouring anything that comes within its grasp - along with a nod to a Romeo and Juliet love story - it's a popular comedy for schools and off-off Broadway locales. And that's one of the features that led Jim Raposa, the show's director and drama instructor, to choose it for this year's spring musical.

"It's just fun, entertaining theater," he said. "It's really about how people's lives can be changed but when they get changed due to want, need and the striving for power, how that can all fall apart."

The plot pivots around two employees of a skid row flower shop, Seymour and Audrey. Both are attracted to each other, but don't realize their feelings are being reciprocated by the other. Seymour obtains a plant that looks vaguely like a Venus flytrap, but it doesn't seem to be doing well in the little flower shop owned by the grouchy Mr. Mushnick. One day, Seymour accidentally pricks his finger and some blood strikes the plant. It turns out it thrives with that infusion, and becomes a commercial attraction for the once seedy flower shop. One thing leads to another, including Seymour and Audrey's relationship, but the plant, nicknamed Audrey II by Seymour in honor of his romantic interest, begins to exert a force and mind of its own. The plant, it turns out, has a large agenda indeed. Bailey Ring plays Audrey in Burr and Burton's interpretation of the musical, and Owen Barclay plays Seymour.

This production will offer a contrast with "Chicago," last year's spring musical, which delved into the vagaries of the judicial system in Prohibition-era Chicago, Raposa said.

This one will offer a set of puppets, a stage designed to look like a graphic novel and a five-piece band to belt out some of the well-known hit songs from the musical. They include pieces such as "Skid Row (Downtown)," "Suddenly Seymour," and "Feed Me (Git It)."

Creating the graphic novel feeling for the stage was one of the big challenges of this production, Raposa said. He worked closely with Paul Molinelli, an interim technology teacher and set designer, to make that occur.

With upwards of 40 students taking part in the show in one way or another, getting the staging concept to fit on the Riley stage was no simple feat, he said.

This will be Raposa's sixth spring musical, a run that started in 2007 with "Grease." It's been a learning curve to put together a formula that works at the secondary school level for complex theater pieces like musicals. There are parallels to coaching sports teams, but there are differences as well, he said.

"As in sports, there's a lot of improvisation," he said. "(But) in theater, it has to be very regimented. You also may be bringing along people who haven't sang, acted or danced before. And they get better."

The cast rehearses three hours and day, five days a week once the actors have been selected, he said.

"You have to take the time to cast, and then allow them to become almost bored with it, then get their energy back up," he said.

"Little Shop of Horrors" will be presented on the stage at the Riley Center for the Arts from May 14-18, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $7 for BBA students, faculty, staff, parents and children under 18 years-old. For the general public, tickets will cost $12 each. The box office will open one hour prior to each show, and orders for tickets may be placed online at bbatickets.com. For more information, call 802-549-8224.


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