Little Shop Preview

Ken AshfordLocal Interest, TheatreLeave a Comment

Usually, pre-show write-ups tend to be — oh, I don’t know — mundane.  But I kind of like the writing in this one.  It does a nice job promoting the play, but also the playfulness of the performers:

A darkly funny musical: Theatre Alliance to present Little Shop of Horrors

Sunday, October 14, 2007


At the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance, edgy productions are the norm. Consequently, its last two shows, Hair and Bug, closed the doors to anyone who was under 18. Nudity, profanity, raciness or any combination of these kept the faithful happy and the younger set out.

Now, however, the company is mounting a musical comedy that’s fit for the whole family, and at recent rehearsals, the cast of Little Shop of Horrors looked as enthusiastic as those for racier productions.

Granted, Little Shop is not exactly your Disney variety of family fare – the center of the attention is a plant named Audrey II, who lives on human blood. But it’s good-natured fun, the songs are upbeat, and the plant, herself, is quite fetching in a gigantic Venus fly-trap kind of way.

“What I love about it is, first of all, the music,” director Jamie Lawson said with a big smile. “It’s the family-friendly version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Cast members nod their heads in agreement. “It’s got all the innuendoes to entertain adults and enough visual animation to excite kids.” On opening night, 50 people from Big Brothers/Big Sisters will be treated to the show.

The plot, basically, is an ill-fated tale of would-be lovers – beautiful Audrey (the person) and nerdy Seymour Krelborn. Both of them work in a flower shop in need of business on New York’s Skid Row. Audrey encourages Seymour to seek out some exotic plants to give sales a boost, so Seymour buys a large plant for $1.95 and brings it back to Mushnik’s Flower Shop. Problem is, the plant is so exotic that it can live only on human blood.

From then on, business starts to boom, and Seymour is desperate to give Audrey II all the blood she requires, hoping, of course, that he will snag the real Audrey along the way. In the process, let’s just say, some people begin to disappear.

Cheri Van Loon plays Audrey. During rehearsals, she was decked out in a very blonde wig and red swishy dress packed with crinolines under its full skirt. “Audrey is sort of a cross between Marilyn Monroe and Goldie Hawn, but not as smart as either one,” Van Loon said. “Seymour works there, too, an incredibly sweet nerd who really loves Audrey.”

Van Loon has appeared in numerous local productions since moving here in 1990. Having taught drama for a year at Summit School, she moved on to Forsyth Tech where she has taught two courses, anatomy and physiology and medical terminology, for the past 10 years.

The best part about her current role, she said, is getting to play opposite an old friend, Gray Smith, who plays the role of Seymour. Smith most recently appeared as Malcolm in The Full Monty, giving a hilarious performance that holds great promise for his role as the nerd in the flower shop. The two actors have been in plays together since 1995, Van Loon said, but this is their first time they are playing opposite one another.

When Smith appears, the two immediately begin to laugh and finish each other’s sentences. Smith, like Van Loon, loves the music in the show, and he’s seen it several times regionally and on Broadway.

Smith, who owns Village Hair Designs in Reynolda Village, says that the show is “definitely family. There are barely three curse words in it, and none of them are bad ones.”

Van Loon got her start playing in La Boheme in the seventh grade; Smith says he started acting, alone, as a child in his family’s home in King. “Growing up, I’d do my own shows in my bedroom or the back yard.” And once he began playing in community theaters at age 14, his love for performing hasn’t skipped a beat.

He said he’s shy, always has been, but once he hits the stage, he’s a different person. “I try really hard to become the character, so I forget myself. I don’t feel shy anymore, because I’m somebody else.”

Neither Van Loon nor Smith wants to give away the plot, but knowing the plant’s voracious need for blood and Seymour’s zealous need to please, it’s not hard to imagine that things might not end up so cozily between the two of them in the play.

“Together forever,” Smith said with a laugh, “but somebody has to die.” The two actors nod to one another, take each other’s hands, then head for the stage, laughing all the way.

■ Little Shop of Horrors will be presented by the Winston-Salem Theatre Alliance at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Oct., 25, 26 and 27 and at 2 p.m. next Sunday and Oct. 28 at SECCA, 750 Marguerite Dr. Tickets are $16, $14 for students and senior adults. For reservations, call 336-768-5655.