During a year of challenges, a man-eating plant is discovered in Greenfield

By John Lyle Belden

With this year’s shutdown, what’s a student thespian from Greenfield-Central or other area schools to do? A few have found their way to Skid Row, now set up on the stage of Greenfield’s Ricks Centre in the Ricks-Weil Theatre Company production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Though it’s held outside the restrictions of Indianapolis/Marion County, the R-W crew are taking measures for the audience’s health and safety, including closing every other row of seating, and no concessions.

Directed by Indy actor Dan Scharbrough, with musical direction by Kathy Borgmann, choreography by Jennifer Darr, and costumes by producer Beth Ray-Scott, the familiar musical follows the story of an old Roger Corman film – via book and songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken – in which an ordinary guy finds an extraordinary plant with a macabre appetite.

Seymour (Steven Allen) can’t find the brightly-colored flytrap in any of his reference books, so he names it after his sweet co-worker Audrey (Ciara Huckeby) and presents it to his flower-shop boss Mushnik (Corey Yeaman). It’s a hit, but it’s wilting. Clumsy Seymour’s minor injury near the flower clues him in to what the plant really wants – blood! But he’s not the only one sporting bandages; Audrey is getting the worst of her “semi-sadist” boyfriend, local dentist Orin Scrivello (Cael Savage).

The cast also includes A.J. Springman as Patrick Martin of World Botanical Enterprises, Marie Hall as a Homeless Woman, and a full Greek chorus of “Ronettes:” Carolyn Bolton, Saige Chandler, Frances Hull, Ali Kern, Juliana McGuire, Leah Olin, and Vicki Kortz, who also voices Audrey II.

Befitting a comic musical, the “Horrors” are more fun than scary, even with characters getting eaten. Allen and Huckeby are well cast, with appealing looks and good voices. Our Audrey manages the skid-row accent without sounding too cartoony. Savage plays the grade-A jerk with just enough tongue in cheek. Having more than three Ronettes works in this production, with different ones at times coming on and off stage singularly or in twos or threes – like on a busy street. While there is plenty of youthful energy, the actors range from high school and college to… out of school a while.

As for the “star,” Kortz giving what is often cast as a deep-voiced monster a fierce feminine tone makes her Audrey II appropriately threatening (I’d say something here about the “mean green Mother,” but that song’s not in the stage version).

For anyone who has only seen the 1986 Frank Oz movie, note that aside from different songs (some familiar hits, like “Suddenly Seymour,” are still there) it has a different ending, closer to the original 1960 film.

Another note: In the second (and final) weekend, July 24-26, former G-C drama teacher Ted Jacobs will play the Dentist, while Savage plays Mr. Martin.

And yes, there will be a giant man-eating plant on the stage (in puppet form). Audrey II puppeteers include Allen (small) and Olin (big).

The H.J. Ricks Centre for the Arts is at 122 W. Main St. (US 40) in downtown Greenfield. Tickets are $13, $10 for students, at www.seatyourself.biz. See Ricks-Weil Theatre Company on Facebook for more information.

Phoenix blesses us with ‘Rosewater’

By John Lyle Belden

The Phoenix Theatre, at its new home at 705 N. Illinois St. in downtown Indy, is off to a great start with the musical of “God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater” – by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken (one of their first collaborations) from the novel by Indiana’s own Kurt Vonnegut – playing through June 3.

The title refers to Eliot Rosewater, son of a millionaire U.S. Senator, who manages the family foundation which gives money to practically everyone who asks. But being generous is not enough to soothe his conscience, bothered by his actions in World War II that resulted in the death of German volunteer firemen. So he disappears from his New York office and pops up at volunteer firehouses across America, seeking his purpose until he finds it – at the family home in Rosewater County, Indiana.

Aside from the significance of telling an Indiana story by a Hoosier author, performing a satire about greed in today’s political climate, and having a show with science-fiction elements (the Phoenix’s very first show years ago, “Warp,” was sci-fi themed), it is notable that this musical is playing during May, Mental Health Awareness Month.

Psychological well-being is at the heart of the Rosewater story, from Eliot’s serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder, to the Senator insisting that no son of his would be “nuts,” to the plot hanging on our hero being insane because he actually considers those “beneath” him to be worthy of dignity – even equals. This latter disorder is too much for his wife to bear, driving her mad to the other extreme: only able to function among the very rich. Even Eliot’s well-meaning signs, saying, “DON’T KILL YOURSELF; CALL THE ROSEWATER FOUNDATION,” point to the need to encourage people to seek necessary help.

Patrick Goss wins our heart as Eliot, surrounded by a top-notch cast that includes Emily Ristine as his wife, Sylvia, and Phoenix founding member Charles Goad as Sen. Rosewater. Isaac Wellhauen is nicely conniving as financial advisor Norman Mushari, who finds a way to divert the Rosewater millions to long-ignored members of the family (for a hefty fee, of course). Suzanne Fleenor, another Phoenix founder and “Warp” veteran, plays Eliot’s psychiatrist. Other parts are also taken by familiar faces: Jean Childers Arnold, Scot Greenwell, Rob Johansen, Devan Mathias, Josiah McCruiston, Deb Sargent, Peter Scharbrough, Diane Boehm Tsao, and Mark Goetzinger as McCallister, the family banker.

Little bits of sci-fi poke in from time to time in true Vonnegut fashion, as the show is also a tribute to the greatest SF writer who never lived, Kilgore Trout. Like the best of the misunderstood genre, the otherworldy perspective allows us to get a fresh perspective on our very human behavior (and gives the props and costumes folks something to have fun with).

The songs and script show the spark of the genius that gave us “Little Shop of Horrors” and those Disney classics. The look and performances are well worthy of the beautiful new space, another triumph for director Bryan Fonseca.

The new theatre has plenty of room, and plenty of free parking, so go check it out. Info and tickets at www.phoenixtheatre.org or call 317-635-7529.