Millennial Theatre Project Reminds Akron “Don’t Feed the Plants”
Bart Sullivan, 10-09-2018

Cast of Little Shop of Horrors perform "Ya Never Know." (From left to right) Josh Budd, Keith Stepanic, Morgan Jane, Lexi Denney, Ben Mowrer.

If you asked the average person on the street what Little Shop of Horrors is, chances are they would recall the 1986 Frank Oz-directed film musical starring Rick Moranis. Oz’s film is an adaptation of the stage musical of the same name written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, which itself is an adaptation of a 1960 Roger Corman film. Add to this the several short stories believed to have inspired Charles B. Griffith’s screenplay for the Corman film, and the complicated creative lineage of Little Shop of Horrors is evident.

The stage musical Little Shop of Horrors, true to its roots, is a B movie-style musical centered around a peculiar fly trap-like plant, which a florist finds during a solar eclipse and uses to draw business to the floral shop where he works. The florist, Seymour, names the one-of-a-kind plant “Audrey II” after Audrey, a coworker he is in love with. Unfortunately, he learns that the plant will only eat fresh human blood, and the more it eats, the bigger it grows, until it literally begins demanding more and more. Eventually, Audrey II makes meals of most of the central characters, and a dark ending reveals that new Audrey IIs have appeared to conquer Earth. This intricate story, on stage and film, was what drove director Megan Renner to go into theatre, and she got her chance to direct Little Shop of Horrors as one of Millenial Theatre Project’s two August stage productions at Akron Civic Theater.

The Millennial Theatre Project was formed by Francine Parr two years ago in an effort to bridge the gap between youth and adult community theater opportunities. The shows maintain a certain intimacy by using cabaret seating on the Civic Theater's stage. There are very few backdrops, allowing the audience to focus “primarily on the interactions between the characters/actors as opposed to the shock and awe of elaborate sets that are so common in modern musicals,” Audrey II actor Josh Budd explains. This also reduces the time for scene changes and keeps the audience’s attention. The seamlessness of the show can also be attributed to how close the cast grew while perfecting the show. Shelby Olive, who plays Audrey, explains that “in theatre, ego and drama can often get in the way, but with this cast, it has been nothing but dedication and support. Everyone brings something so very unique to the table and we all really lift one another up. I’ve never been a part of a more positive cast.”

Renner made the decision to present Audrey II in three forms—a small hand puppet that grows in its can, a giant speaking plant controlled by a puppet master inside the frame, and Budd as its persona. Dressed in a dark green suit with sparkling green highlights in his hair, the genderbent cosplay that could just as easily be Batman villain Poison Ivy was perfect for associating his deep voice with the plant seen at the edge of the stage, whose puppeteer’s movements synchronized with Budd.

Introducing Audrey II to the story are Seymour, played by Ben Mowrer, and Audrey, played by Olive. Both actors, unlike many previous versions of the roles they had seen, took a more serious turn with their characters, ignoring the one-dimensional clumsy and “dumb blonde” personas they’re often portrayed as. While serious in theme throughout, this did not deter from the show’s often wacky plot, as seen with Ryan Dyke’s portrayal of Dr. Orin, Audrey’s masochistic dentist boyfriend. Combining his comedy and drama backgrounds, Dyke brought laughter to the audience in his final scene as the dentist with a tragic, non-violent end.

Another pleasant surprise was Keith Stephanic as Ronnette, one of three Greek chorus-style narrators who provide backup vocals throughout the show. Though normally cast as a trio of female singers similar to Martha & The Vandellas, Renner chose to make the character more androgynous, inspired by Boy George and other icons of the 1980s, during which she set this production. Rather than detracting from the group, Stephanic, alongside Morgan Jane and Lexi Denney as Chiffon and Crystal, exemplify the look and style of the mid-1980s. These changes refreshingly set the production apart from its typical look and feel.

In addition to Little Shop, the Millennial Theatre Project also presented Sweeney Todd in August, and their next show, The Rocky Horror Show, will open October 30th.

For more information on upcoming Millennial Theatre Project shows and auditions, visit https://www.facebook.com/millennialtheatreproject.


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