(JORDAN DEL VALLE TONOIAN / EYE OF THE TIGER)
A mean green mother from outer space is visiting Roseville High School Theatre Company this March 28-30 and April 4-6 in Little Shop of Horrors. The musical follows Seymour, a desperate, nerdy underdog with a strange knack for plants and a struggle to survive.
It’s your classic romantic comedy, with everything from mysterious love triangles to overbearing father figures, with one, small added detail.
Man eating plants.
Little Shop of Horrors features Audrey II, the carnivorous plant hungry for blood. Audrey II talks, dances, and sings, playing a pivotal role in the musical and the arc for Seymour as a whole. The 1986 movie starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, and Steve Martin had Hollywood magic and special effects. What does the Roseville High Theatre Company have?
The answer: four plant puppets, each one larger than the last with more tricks up their sleeve. Though the Audrey II starts at the size of a basketball, it eventually grows above six feet tall, with a wingspan to match.
These puppets, yellow in color, surrounded by luscious leaves and accented with pulsing green veins weren’t the creation of Roseville High School, as the process to build the plant from scratch is complex enough to serve as a college thesis.
The plants costs $1200 to rent for three weeks, and $300 more for each additional week of rehearsal. It’s a hefty price to pay, but one well worth the hassle, as it stuns as soon as the lights hit it. The question still remains- what brings this character to life?
That’s where juniors Annabelle Tiznado and Ethan Jones come in. These two incredibly different people contain one striking similarity– they play the same role.
Tiznado dubs the plant, contrasting the sweet, traditional musical theatre ballads with a rhythm and blues style, adding to the general Motown feeling Little Shop of Horrors already exudes.
“You’ve got to make a lot of decisions with your voice. You’ve got to keep your voice inflections crazy,” Tiznado said. “The plant is, as a character, super insane.”
Audrey II’s voice only serves as half of the whole that makes this musical one of a kind. Jones performs the manipulations of Audrey II, puppeteering the last two plants. Though they’re made out of a soft, foam material, Jones’ position and manipulations require incredible amounts of strength and endurance.
“I’m up there for a long period of time, and several points with the largest puppet, I have to hold it at about a thirty degree angle above the ground. We had to get a back brace for me to hold that up because we encountered some problems with the muscles in my spine,” Jones said. “I kid you not, that thing weighs like 45 pounds.”
It sounds like an exaggeration, but Jones’ reaction isn’t off base. The puppet is heavy, hot, and pitch black. The physical exhaustion and the discipline required may make the role sound like a nightmare, but according to Jones, it’s a dream come true.
“Who doesn’t want to be in a giant man eating plant and eat people in the middle of a play? It’s really eccentric, but it’s really intoxicating in the way that you do it,” Jones said. “It’s just kind of addicting once you get in the plant.”
Jones’ role in the show requires him to remain perfectly still for large quantities of time, and to pay extremely close attention to his counterpart’s choices, as Tiznado delivers her lines through a microphone off stage, barely able to see a glimpse of the puppet at work.
According to Jones, the syncing up of dialogue with plant manipulations has required him to become just as much of an expert with the material, even though he himself never utters a word.
“One of the things I was told is to learn to sing the song myself,” Jones said. “When we’re up on stage, I’ll actually be whispering to myself the lyrics along with Annabelle so that I can more accurately dub the words.”
Tiznado, who has been attending rehearsals since the beginning, has worked with Jones in the past few weeks to bring him up to speed, as well as aid in the synchronization of the text and manipulations.
“We sit [backstage] and we’ll work on it together. He just needs to know exactly what I’m saying and need to know how to do it every single time so we sync up,” Tiznado said. “It’s going really well.”
The plant represents an iconic moment not only for Little Shop of Horrors, but musical theatre in its entirety. Audrey II brings in an element of ridiculousness, a necessity for suspension of disbelief, and dares other musicals to be as bold.
“It keeps it interesting. I think if the plant wasn’t in there it’d be a simple story about two people falling in love,” Tiznado said. “But since the plant is there, it adds a weird, unique spark that not a lot of shows have.”
This uniqueness, this spark, per se, puts a heavy burden on Jones’ shoulders. (Heavier than the plant itself.) The musical has a bit of a cult following, with die hard fans maintaining a certain expectation for what the plant should look and act like. For many advanced puppeteers, the Audrey II is the challenge of a lifetime.
When asked if he had any experience in puppeteering, Jones laughed and simply replied, “With a sock.” Though inexperienced in this area of theatre, he is not ignorant of the high standards he has to meet, if not exceed.
“It kind of gives me a sense of anxiety, knowing that I’ve got to make sure I do this right otherwise it’ll look like a muppet on stage, and it won’t look quite as realistic,” Jones said. “It comes with a little bit of fear that I’m not going to make the show as plausible as it could be.”
It’s not every day where two people have to unite in order to create one cohesive character, but Tiznado and Jones eat, sleep, and breathe collaboration as they continue to develop the Audrey II, whether that be vocals, manipulations, or character as a whole. It’s a strange and interesting plant with a strange and interesting background- one that is sure to stun audiences as they venture into the Little Shop of Horrors coming at the end of March and beginning of April.