“UNE STUDENTS SHINE IN ‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ AT CITY THEATER”

Brianna Turcotte as Audrey. Photo by Audra Hatch (www.audrahatch.com)

Brianna Turcotte as Audrey. Photo by Audra Hatch (www.audrahatch.com)

James Muller as Seymour. Photo by Audra Hatch (www.audrahatch.com)

James Muller as Seymour. Photo by Audra Hatch (www.audrahatch.com)

April, 2014

What do you get when you combine (two huge community resources), the chemistry of University of New England’s student theater group and the spirit of Biddeford’s City Theater with a popular 60s rock/r&b/doo-wop musical? You get a must-see win-win-win community theater experience par excellence that is nourishing for everyone—especially an unsuspecting audience.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is coming to the City Theater stage, 205 Main St., Biddeford, for one weekend only: Friday and Saturday, April 11 & 12, 7:30 PM, and Sunday, April 13, 2PM. General Admission tickets are $10 (free for UNE students) and will be available at the door. FMI, call UNE at 602-2891.

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, a favorite with young theater groups since it exploded off-Broadway in 1982, is a comedy horror rock musical (book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken) about Seymour Krelborn, a poor young nerdy orphan guy who raises a mysterious plant that brings money to the run-down flower shop he works at. His fame mushroomsalong with his secret love for co-worker Audrey, who is “tied up” with her sadistic dentist boyfriend.

As it turns out, Audrey II, the once “unique and interesting plant in the window”, feeds on human blood and flesh and has come from an unknown planet to conquer Earth (ugh, I hate when that happens). Seymour then battles some rough choices with conflicted heart, i.e. save the girl or save the world?

James Muller and Brianna Turcotte make a perfect leading couple, very closely emulating the Rick Moranis-Ellen Greene duo who immortalized the roles in the 1986 movie. UNE’s duo was in sync from beginning to end, easily executing their comic relief shtick with precision yet capturing their emotional moments with realistic tenderness. Vocally, it was their show and they hit it out of the park—individually and together! Bravo!

Cudos to Director Valerie Lyons whose brilliant casting choices and creative adaptation to “fit” the cast were appealing and refreshing. Kaylee Dubois brought the perfect chutzpah to her role as Mrs. Mushnik, and Nickalaus Collins was flawlessly fabulous as Orin. There was not one scene that Dubois and Collins could perform any better.

The outstanding performances were relentless. Every ensemble member exuded a commanding professionalism that made their presence and characterizations believable and vital, truly transforming Main Street in Biddeford to Skid Row. The winos (Alexandria Makucewicz and Halie Pruitt) were classic. The soloists in “The Meek Shall Inherit” were absolutely divine (Standing O to Colleen DeCola, Abby Randall and Chloe Rossignol). Notable roles were also rendered by Briar Bragdon, Casey Hutchinson, Samantha Levesque and Eliza Richard.

But what set this production immediately into its rightful groove was the supreme (pardon the pun) doo-wop trio that rocked and wailed their threads of the story with trademark wall-of-sound vocals and just the right amount of z-snapping diva attitude. Katie Getz, Nicole Mirando and Jacki Noto as Crystal, Chiffon and Ronnette are a show-within-the-show. You won’t want to miss a single subtle nuance, facial expression, and the not-so-subtle-but-appropriately- decadent tribute to Motown (thank you Barbara Kelly).

Special acknowledgments need be given to two individuals who were unseen by the audience, whose parts in the production were arguably the most critical: Alyssa Funke, the puppeteer for the ever-growing Audrey II creations, and Becca Minardi who spoke and sung the words of Audrey II from her backstage perch. Funke and Minardi met the physical and logistical challenges of their tasks with finesse and credibility. (And again, cudos to Director Lyons for daring to create a monster with a female voice…it worked for me).

The show has some awesome and memorable music. Music Director Bethany Perkins, a woman with many hats in Southern Maine’s theater circles, aptly and consistently led the pit with drive and energy.

Choreographer Mariel Roy did a great job catering to the cast’s varying levels of dance experience in creating wonderful tableaus with simple, upbeat and fun moves and dances that worked well with every number.

But even more powerful than the vibrant, entertaining show the UNE Players can be credited for is the process that has birthed interesting metaphoric tentacles of reality and wonderful life lessons that this monster of a show holds for all who participated.

Unlike typical community theater shows where wanna-be actors, singers and dancers, some strangers, of various sizes, ages and experience levels filter in from area towns for the chance to be on stage, this cast was already a cohesive group of talented students and friends even before auditions, making this run of Little Shop perhaps even more unique.

“UNE doesn’t have it’s own theater space so they rent City Theater,” said Linda Sturdivant, City Theater’s Artistic Director who also teaches a class in theater production at UNE each Spring as part of the school’s Arts program. “That class is directly connected to the production and everything that I have to do to produce the show they do right along with me from props to press releases.”

About two weeks prior to opening night, the students move in to the performing space where City Theater technical crews are prepared to provide the cast with an enriching opportunity and a great place to play.

“These students are just plain nice,” said Director Valerie Lyons.  “They function as a team, as if by instinct.  They help and teach each other, swooping in to take each others places wherever necessary to keep everything moving, good-naturedly and without ego.  They are self-supporting, and this production would not have been possible without that.”

“Everyone of the cast members performed a transformation, each to the very limit of their ability, and created characters that, for the most part, were diametrically opposed to their real-life personas.  These sweet, innocent young adults became an evil sadist, a cranky old lady, and a desperate murderer.  And they’ve had a great time doing it…” Director Lyons added.

Music Director Bethany Perkins said: “Everyone was really conscientious about learning their parts – and there are some tough pieces! I’m very pleased with their dedication. And they were fun! We often got laughing but we stayed on task.”

As with most student groups, despite their success with this performing arts effort, admittedly some of them will soon be headed into a medical career (that’s what UNE is known for). Some may continue to pursue their stage skills, and some may never set foot again on a stage. Having witnessed firsthand the level of talent within this group of UNE Players, it would be sad if some individuals gave up their dreams of being on stage too soon, without fully experiencing the possibilities. Hence, the UNE-City Theater relationship is vital for the development of the arts and all sorts of personal and inter-personal skills.

Finally, from Seymour: “Often the process feels daunting but rewarding. You leave strike on Sunday afternoon feeling a weight lifted from your shoulders, but also a little empty. But THIS particular cast is much more justified in calling the experience bittersweet. The play itself is fun, has good music, is visually appealing, and tells an interesting story. So if I had to sum up this particular process, I’d call it unifying. Everyone will know what I mean when I say that, somewhere along the line, this became ‘our show’”.

And from Audrey: “This whole experience, from UNE to Levittown, has been a wild rollercoaster, and we couldn’t have done it without the help of our producer, director, tech crew, musicians, costumer, fellow actors, and everyone involved in this show. Every single person has helped out equally, and I can personally say I have had a blast getting to know everyone and watching them grow!”

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–Louis Philippe

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