Two more chances to see ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at the Roxy

Friday, June 25, 2021
The cast takes an opening-night bow. / Pilot photos by Dana Larsen

Buena Vista Community Theater came bursting out of a dark year with style, opening its sassy production of “Little Shop of Horrors” last weekend at the venerable Roxy Theater in Alta.

Under a pandemic, it had been a long year with no live theatre, but according to director Carrie Buddenhagen, reviving the 30 year tradition of local community theatre was a joy.

“It wasn’t really difficult to get it going again. We had planned this musical for last year, so we had a bit of the legwork already in place. The waiting - and waiting - was the hard part.”

The girl-group trio belts out campy music from their Skid Row alley spot.

Casting went smoothly, with an eager troupe of performers turning out. “It just kind of fell into place, with a great bunch of talented people. It was really a pleasure to do,” Carrie said.

The audience was more of a concern. “We didn’t know if people would be ready to go back to see live theatre. It has not been as big a house as we have seen in recent years, but I’ve been happy with the turnout. We’re just so happy to be able to perform this year that we told ourselves we would be thrilled to have anybody, really.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” takes root from a low-budget 1960 black comedy film, which later inspired a 1980s hit movie and Broadway musical.

Levi Owens and Tessa Radcliff as lead characters Seymour and Audrey.

In the campy tale, meek flower shop assistant Seymour pines for co-worker Audrey. During an eclipse he discovers an unusual plant he names Audrey II - but the plant feeds on flesh and blood, growing to enormous size. Audrey II attracts fame for the struggling Skid Row store and Seymour, but how can he satisfy his increasingly bloodthirsty plant?

The local production of “Little Shop” utilizes Audrey II puppets rented from the Spencer Community Theatre, girls dressed in elaborate greenery to serve as the plant’s vines, and stark red lighting for the most gruesome scenes, while maintaining the show’s humor throughout.

“It’s not like doing ‘Shrek’ or ‘Beauty and the Beast’ where the name alone is going to fill a theater. You kinda have to be a fan of ‘Little Shop,’” Carrie says. “What really appeals to me is the upbeat music throughout - even when the subject matter is gloomy, the music is so fun.”

Matt Buchholz, the sadistic dentist, stands in the way of Seymour’s romantic hopes.

The sound is early ‘60s rock ’n’ roll, doo-wop and Motown, including songs that will stick in your head for days, like “Skid Row (Downtown),” “Somewhere That’s Green,” and “Suddenly Seymour” - much of the music performed by a girl-group trio that pops up unexpectedly from behind a brick alley wall or reading newspapers on a park bench.

“I’ve loved this since I saw the movie years ago. I always thought it would be one I’d like to direct,” Carrie says.

Between community theatre and her work with Alta-Aurelia schools, she’s staged nearly 20 productions now. Her bucket list has included three musicals - “The Wizard of Oz,” “Cinderella” and “Little Shop,” and she has now directed them all.

Her only disappointment this year is that it isn’t possible to do a large youth production, like the community theatre did a couple of years ago with “Frozen Jr.” “We realize this is just not the year to try to get a big number of young people together in a small theater,” she says, noting that some smaller day camps are being offered instead.

The Roxy is a unique setting for local productions as well as A-A high school performances, a treasure for the community, according to Carrie.

“I love the Roxy. To perform there, you are so close to the audience, you can feel that feedback coming from them. It is a small, intimate space, and yet it can seat a pretty good crowd at 250. I also love the history of this building. I grew up in Alta, and I can remember checking out books when I was young and the library was part of it. There were youth dances and so on in the basement when it was the community center.”

The “Little Shop” cast includes 22 performers, representing nine different area communities.

“It’s interesting because all of our teenagers have been in numerous shows - they are kind of the veterans, while our adults are the newbies who have just been bitten by the bug.” You could see the excitement when the cast, as is tradition, spills over onto Main Street outside the theater to meet the departing crowd after the opening night show.

A unique aspect of “Little Shop” is the puppetry skills required to bring Audrey II to life. Brody Bisenius is the puppeteer for the show, tackling the complex job of learning all the dialogue and music in the show, so that the giant plant’s motions would be in sync with the gravely voice of the character performed by Steve Smith, and the rest of the action. “Brody is doing a great job emoting for the character, and it’s been fun to see how Steve and Brody have been able to mesh together,” Carrie said.

Levi Owens, as lead character Seymour, had previously appeared in the community theatre’s “Beauty and the Beast” - this time not dressed as a candelabra. “He’s an Alta-Aurelia graduate, so he’s been at the Roxy since he was really young. He brings enormous range to the show.”

Tessa Radcliffe, as Audrey, combines both a naughty worldliness and an endearing naivety for her role, with a singing voice that stunned the audience - even though delivered through a mask. “She started out in Cinderella when she was 15, and went though the school shows and speech, and is now my assistant with the high school speech program. She has an amazing voice,” Carrie said.

Nearly stealing the show is Matt Buchholz as Orin, the sadistic dentist and uncouth leather-jacketed boyfriend of Audrey, who has a nasty habit of partaking in too much of the laughing gas intended for his patients.

There are two chances remaining to see the show, tonight (June 25) at 7 p.m., and Saturday the 26th at 7 p.m. Adult seats are $15, youth seats $10 (though parental discretion is advised for ages 13 and under due to some adult language and scenes of peril.)

“Give it a shot,” the director encourages. “We have such amazing talent locally that no one ever gets to see. It’s like ‘Surprise! Oh I never knew my mailman could sing.’”

The future looks bright for the community theatre. “I really love that we have such a driving program for a small area, and that we have an actual theatre to perform in instead of some high school gym,” Carrie says.

The program hasn’t decided on what will be the next major production. “I always get asked that. It depends on who wants to direct, and what performers will be around for a certain time. You start with a core group, then choose a show and go from there. The main goal is what would be fun to do for our community.”