Chaslee Schweitzer is making her directorial debut on “Little Shop of Horrors.” But in a way she has been preparing for this show since middle school.
The musical comedy opens Friday and runs through May 31 at NOVA Center for the Performing Arts. Call NOVA at 591-9535 for tickets and show times.
Schweitzer earned a theater degree from Rocky Mountain College, studying under Gerry Roe. But the theater bug and her love of musical theater began a whole lot earlier than that.
“I’ve loved this musical since I first saw it when I was 12,” Schweitzer said. ”I was obsessed with it.”
NOVA’s interim managing producer Craig Huisenga said he could have directed the show, but he felt like the time was right to turn Schweitzer loose as a director.
“When I first moved back to Billings, Chaslee was in one of the first shows I saw here. She has that kind of joyful presence every time she’s on stage and I thought she’d be great in this show. But I wanted to give her an opportunity to direct.”
Schweitzer also said she was excited to sing in this campy musical, which was written by Howard Ashman with music by Alan Menken. But she’s having a blast seeing it from the other side and watching her actors grow into their roles. Recent Rocky graduate Travis Kuehn, who got a degree in vocal performance, plays the well-meaning nerd Seymour and Liz Gage plays the girl he’s trying to impress, Audrey.
“Travis has been a joy to work with and Liz Gage has been in so many roles, it was nice to see her take a leading role,” Schweitzer said. “They are both doing a great job.”
Kuehn performed as Tommy in the musical “Tommy,” a showcase for his rock side and ability to connect with the audience. He said he is pretty much Seymour in real life.
“Seymour is a little bit socially awkward with a good heart. That’s basically me. That’s why I love singing this role,” Kuehn said.
The musical opened off Broadway in 1982 and after the 1986 film came out made it to Broadway in 2003. The musical takes its basic concept from the 1960s film, featuring a young Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient. Bill Murray played the role in the 1986 film, but the character is not in the musical adaptation.
“Little Shop” is set on Skid Row in New York and opens with the 1960s street urchins, dubbed the Ronnettes, performing one of their many doo-wop numbers, “Skid Row (Downtown).” The trio is played by powerhouse vocalists Amanda Pettengill, Karlie Drinen and Bobbi Adler.
The whole Treglown family, including longtime performer and costumer Gary Treglown, helped outfit performers in 1950s and ‘60s clothes — pedal-pusher pants, leopard-print tops for Audrey and bouffant hairdos for the Ronnettes.
David Otey adds his authoritative presence as the nagging Mr. Mushnick, trying to keep his floral shop in business despite opening it on the wrong side of town.
Dan Nickerson plays the bad boyfriend and evil dentist, Orin, and Quentin Higbee, Andrew Seeman and Richard Leeds chime in as a voices of the bloodthirsty plant, Audrey II, and other characters.
NOVA rented four fabric and foam puppets from Billings Studio Theatre that were last used in their production of “Little Shop of Horrors” about a decade ago at the Alberta Bair Theater.
In the musical, Audrey II, an exotic plant that Seymour buys during an eclipse of the sun, feeds on human blood. Seymour obliges as long as he can keep opening a vein for Audrey II, but as Audrey gets bigger and the bandages become more plentiful on Seymour, the situation gets way out of hand.
“Little Shop” spoofs sci-fi films of the 1950s and ‘60s, and even though Audrey II turns into a foul-mouthed carnivore, the show is too campy to be creepy.