Theatre Tulsa’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” might not have happened had executive director Jarrod Kopp not attended a cabaret show a few years ago.
“Kia Hightower, who has done shows with us in the past, had put together a show called ‘The Evolution of African-American Music,’ and one of the songs she included was ‘Suddenly, Seymour,’ from ‘Little Shop,’” Kopp recalled. “I thought Kia and the others in the cast did a great job with that song. And that started me thinking.”
What Kopp thought about was creating a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that would cast people of color in all the major roles.
It was a concept that instantly appealed to Kopp’s co-director for the production, Obum Ukabam, in part because for all its horror-movie trappings, “Little Shop of Horrors” is at its heart a comedy.
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“Most of the time when a show is cast with people of color, it’s telling a story of trauma and pain,” Ukabam said. “Those stories are important to tell, but as artists, we want to be able to show the range of our talents, that we can do any sort of role.”
“Little Shop of Horrors” began as an extremely low-budget film in 1960 directed by Roger Corman, about a clerk in a run-down florist shop who cultivates a plant that requires human blood to survive. The film gained a cult following, in part because it features one of Jack Nicholson’s first film roles, as the willing patient of a sadistic dentist.
Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, who went on to write Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast,” turned the film into a musical in 1982, which was adapted into a film in 1986 starring Rick Moranis and Steve Martin.
Theatre Tulsa’s production stars Graceson Todd as Seymour, the meek florist; Majeste Pearson as Audrey, Seymour’s co-worker upon whom he has a crush; Nash McQuarters as Orin Scrivello, the sadistic dentist who wants Audrey for his own; Justin Daniels as Mr. Mushnik, the shop’s owner; Joseph Wright as the voice of Audrey II, the very vocal, blood-loving plant; and Jamia Newsome, Alexandria Moore and Elara Ford as Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette, respectively, a trio of girls from the neighborhood who serve as a kind of Greek chorus for the show.
“It’s going to be a very different show from what anyone has seen before, and I definitely think it’s going to be a better show,” Kopp said. “The talent that came out to audition for this show was just through the roof. We had a lot of people audition that I had never seen or heard before, and the level of talent just blew me away.
“It made casting very tough, because the competition for the lead roles was very tight,” he said.
Pearson, who plays Audrey, said the most difficult part of taking on the role is that the character she portrays is very different from her own persona.
“I kept getting told I was too grounded and competent,” Pearson said, laughing. “I really didn’t know how I was going to turn into her, but with Jarrod and Obum’s coaching, it was fun challenge.”
“Audrey is a very small and mousy kind of character, and Majeste is definitely not a small presence — on stage or in life,” Kopp said, laughing.
McQuarters faced a similar challenge taking on Orin Scrivello, the dentist.
“The character is very Elvis-based, but I knew I didn’t want to do that,” he said. “I decided to make this character my own by bringing in a little Cab Calloway, a little Bert Williams, a little Marvin Gaye, a little Usher.
“And I usually don’t get the chance to play the villain,” McQuarters said. “It’s been a lot of fun to be able to kind of switch that on, to be the person who gets to act that way.”
While “Little Shop of Horrors” is definitely a black comedy, Kopp said the show has taken on an added dimension in this production.
“The whole idea of this thing that you have to feed, that grows like a cancer, that’s going to hit a little differently with this production,” Kopp said. “I came to realize that this show becomes about capitalism and exploitation. Yes, it’s a story about moral compromise and temptation, that Faustian bargain. But it’s also about someone taking advantage of a situation to try and get ahead.
“So while we’re going to be funny,” Kopp said, “but we’re also looking at the darker implications of this story. It’s an interesting tightrope to walk.”
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