Vancouver — What do you do when “the human race has suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence” and carnivorous, alien plants are threatening to take over the world?
If you’re the folks at Vancouver’s Magenta Theater, you celebrate the successful opening of your latest production, “Little Shop of Horrors.”
The Vancouver community theater group will present their interpretation of the horror-comedy musical — popularized by the 1986 Frank Oz film starring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Bill Murray — at the Magenta Theater in downtown Vancouver, Oct. 7-22.
The dark comedy, which features a nerdy florist shop worker named Seymour who is raising a mean, green, human-blood-loving plant named Audrey II, is the first musical presented at the Magenta’s new theater space, located at 1108 Main St., in the heart of Vancouver’s downtown arts district.
“We could not have done this at the old space,” says Magenta Theater founder and “Little Shop” director Jaynie Roberts. “We just didn’t have the room.”
The community theater group took over their “new space” on Main Street in January of this year, and Roberts says they’re all thrilled to have a bigger stage, 60 percent more seating room, a spacious area in the basement for the actors and crew, and a reception area, where theater patrons can enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of hot coffee before the show. The space even has a small office for Roberts, who has been working without a true office space since 2002.
Although she has written plays with musical numbers before, Roberts says “Little Shop” is a first for her, too — the first “real musical” that she’s directed.
“I wanted the challenge,” Roberts says of her musical directing debut. “With a play, I have complete control of the rehearsal times … but with a musical, I had to share rehearsal time. I felt like I was scrambling.”
With its complex blend of dance and song and “violence choreography” and, of course, the fact that one of the main characters is a giant plant pod, directing “Little Shop” was definitely a challenge, Roberts says: “It was a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. In the dark.”
The Magenta Theater musical stars Caleb Bourgeois as the nerdy and in-love Seymour, Jaycelane Fortin as the sweet but anxious Audrey, Tom Zalutko as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello and Paul Cosca as the voice of the plant, Audrey II, the “mean green mother from outer space.”
Zalutko, a television and film actor who has appeared on shows like NBC’s “Grimm,” in several movies and in regional and national commercials, says acting on the stage gives him a chance to really hone his acting skills.
“When I studied the actors I loved, I realized that so many of them had roots in theater,” Zalutko says. “And you know, if you want to become an actor, you can take workshops and classes and become an actor … but if you want to become a good actor, you have to step on that stage.”
Zalutko made his stage debut at the Magenta Theater last spring, playing a southern-accented Bobby Dwayne in the theater’s presentation of “The Hallelujah Girls.”
Having only known him as his odd-walking, southern-drawling Bobby Dwayne, Roberts says she was a little surprised when Zalutko showed interest in the role of Orin — a character many people usually associate with Steve Martin’s over the top take on the violent, abusive, nitrous oxide-addicted character.
“I didn’t even know if he could do something other than the southern accent,” Roberts says, laughing.
“I’m originally from New Jersey!” Zalutko interjects.
But, of course, he nailed the audition and has created a character that is not just a repeat of Steve Martin’s movie-version Orin. Instead, says Roberts, Zalutko has infused the character with an almost loveable quality — tough to do, considering that this is a sadistic, abusive guy.
“He has these amazing physical abilities,” Roberts says of Zalutko. “And his Orin … well, it can best be described as ‘unlike anything you’ve seen before!’”
“I’ve embraced Orin with open arms,” Zalutko says. “He’s such a wonderful character. I mean, he’s got this very nasty streak, but I love him. I don’t judge. This character gives me a chance to be big and bold … there’s so much exploration with this person. It feels very freeing to dig so deep.”
Other cast members agree that the Magenta’s presentation of “Little Shop” has challenged them in a good way.
Jaycelane “Jayce” Fortin, who plays Seymour’s love interest and Orin’s abused girlfriend, Audrey, says getting into character took some work.
“She’s had an abusive boyfriend, which I’ve never had to deal with,” Fortin says of her Audrey character. “And she’s so positive and sweet, but she deals with a lot of problems at home. She has a lot of insecurities and is just trying to figure out who she is.”
All of the main characters, including Caleb Bourgeois, who plays Seymour, say they tried to not watch other versions of the musical, including, of course the cult classic movie version.
“One of the things I learned in school was that you don’t want to base your performance on other people’s versions of the character,” Bourgeois says. “I looked at what the bookwriter and composer had in mind, in terms of what was actually in the script, and I tried to understand the character.”
Having never been a tall guy, Bourgeois says he understands what his character, Seymour, may have been feeling when it came to his crush on Audrey: “I understand what it’s like to have this girl that you really want to be with, but, as a shorter guy, to be surrounded by all of these other guys who are a foot taller than you! So I guess I try to feel the characters in me, but in whatever scenario they’re in.”
Having come from an arts-minded family — his dad, a New York actor, ran an opera company, his mother was involved with theater as well as the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra in Alaska and his grandfather used to play steel guitar with Johnny Cash — Bourgeois says being involved in theater is a natural fit for him. So, when his sister, Jacqueline “Beth” James-Bourgeois, decided to try out for a part in the Magenta’s “Little Shop of Horrors,” Bourgeois says he decided it might be fun to coach her and help her prepare for her audition.
“I was helping her out and decided, ‘Why don’t I audition, too?’” Bourgeois says. “I decided on the fly and threw together my audition and when I met all the people at the Magenta, they were so sweet and passionate, I instantly felt at home.”
All of the actors say that working with the dedicated, volunteer-run Magenta Theater staff — especially with Roberts, their director — has been a unique and rewarding experience.
“I come from a long background in professional opera and have been acting since I was really young, and I studied theater in school, so I have a certain thought in my mind about how rehearsals should go,” Bourgeois says. “But the Magenta has a really unique approach to rehearsals and how they tackle the whole production. It’s really a labor of love and it shows that the people who are there are there because they love it.”
Fortin agrees. “It’s been a blast,” she says of working with the Magenta Theater crew. “They’re so welcoming and inviting and friendly there. I’ve really enjoyed it.”
The musical kicks off at tonight, Fri., Oct. 7, and runs through Sat., Oct. 22. Several of the shows have already sold out, so Roberts recommends getting tickets soon if you’re interested in seeing the Magenta Theater’s “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Oh, and one final piece of advice from the director and cast? If you’ve only seen the movie version of “Little Shop” be prepared for a not-so-happy ending. The musical version uses the original ending, which is a little dark.
“I really like the darkness of the end,” Bourgeois says. “I remember watching the original version a few years ago and thinking, ‘this is the way this should end.’”
Roberts speaks to the darkness in her director’s note in the playbill and says she considers the theme of the musical to be perfect for the October run-up to the presidential election: “This show has had countless productions worldwide,” Roberts writes. “We didn’t want to make ours cutesy — we wanted to stick closely to the metaphor ‘Consuming Manipulation.’ We hope you are intrigued and just a little uncomfortable with the prospect that pods could take over the world. I guess that all depends on who is elected President …”
To find out more about the volunteer Magenta Theater, which is currently looking for more patrons and donations to help pay down their building loan in order to bring more top-notch productions like “Little Shop of Horrors” to the Vancouver area community, visit their website. To purchase tickets, click here. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $22 at the door. The theater is located at 1108 Main St., Vancouver.