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In The Spotlight: Little Shop of Horrors

| In The Spotlight | September 23, 2021

September 23rd marks the beginning of the “breakneck speed” rehearsal period for “Little Shop of Horrors” – Sitka’s first full-scale musical theater production in nearly three years. The cast and crew is comprised of both Sitkans and musical theater professionals from the San Francisco Bay area.

Sitka Fine Arts Camp organizers are going to extraordinary lengths to bring this show to Sitka while “making sure that people attending the show, the cast and crew are all safe,” says SFAC Operations Director Rhiannon Guevin. Producing a show on this scale during a time-of-Covid “definitely adds layers of complication to the process.”

Rhiannon Guevin

This particular show has an intriguing history and is considered fun and thought-provoking. The horror comedy rock musical was written by the team of Alan Menken and Howard Ashman (also known for Disney’s “Little Mermaid,” for example). Based on a 1960 low-budget black-and-white (non-musical) film by Roger Corman, the stage musical combines Mencken’s music – a la rock & roll, doo-wop, and early Motown – with Ashman’s lyrics and book. Ashman also directed the earliest NYC production off-Broadway in 1982; the musical ran for five years and was made into yet another movie in 1986.

“There is a lot that is dark about Little Shop,” says San Francisco cast member Katrina McGraw, “but this is not new for Menken and Ashman, nor even for Disney.” McGraw appears in the show as one of three “urchins” – sometimes referred to as “girl singers” – who act as a kind of Greek chorus, by entertainingly conveying the play’s themes. During our conversation, McGraw punctuates her comments with little riffs of music and lyrics from the play.

McGraw explains, “I actually watched (the Corman film) before my last appearance in the musical, in 2016 at the Victoria Theater in San Francisco. The two women who played ‘the urchins’ with me are the same ones who will be singing with me in Sitka, so that’s neat. Also, the woman who voiced the plant in SF will be voicing the plant again in Sitka. This is a modern change from the antiquated Broadway tradition of casting African American (males) as the villains – a refreshing twist which creates a different, very exciting relationship with Seymour and The Plant.”

Katrina McGraw

McGraw plays Crystal, and her co-urchins – Chiffon and Ronette – provide even more homage to 1960s girl groups. “For the first time ever, the three of us were nominated as a group for ‘Best Supporting Actress’ by the Bay Theater Critics Circle – and we won!! I think ‘the urchins’ represent different things: narrators, storytellers. Also, historically, girl groups were a huge part of that era, so that was kind of a smart way to include women of color. Everyone dies at the end of the musical play. My take on the ending is that it has to do with greed and is kind of a warning (Adam and Eve come to mind).”

Guevin discussed the production. “This will be our third musical show we have done on this scale: “Last Five Years” and “Songs for a New World” and this is number three. This one has a pit orchestra and full costumes. We asked ourselves, ‘What is a show that would be do-able for us (at this time, under these conditions)’ – and this seemed like a good choice – pretty small cast, but still fun for Sitka.”

The lead character of Seymour (Rick Moranis in the 1986 movie) is played by San Francisco singer and actor Sam Faustine. Guevin has known Faustine since their college days at the University of Puget Sound. He later attended the SF Conservatory of Music and has played Seymour before. “Sam is the link to the other professionals and the musical side of things,” notes Guevin. “Sitkans may remember him as Freddie Mercury in our Queen Tribute a few years ago.”

Sitkans in the production include Christian Litten as the dentist and Andrew Hames as Mushnick. Jack Peterson is building the plant “Audrey II” and doing the puppeteering. Jack’s mom Soutera is doing costumes and working backstage. And Guevin herself is playing Audrey. The “road pit orchestra” includes Sean Kana (SF Bay Area) on keyboard and music director, Alicia Jeffrey (SF Bay Area) on synth, Trevor Wiest (Minneapolis) on guitar, Drew Sherman (Sitka) on bass and Ed Littlefield (Sitka) on percussion.

“I think the main thing,” says Guevin, “is that this is going to be a fantastic show; the production quality is going to be on a par with any show you would see down south.”

Adds McGraw, “For a lot of us, it’s going to be our first time back on stage in a year and a half (or more). It is very exciting and might be emotional.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” will be presented at the Performing Arts Center at 7pm on Oct. 1 and 2, and 2pm on Oct. 3. Tickets may be purchased online at fineartscamp.org.

Says Guevin, “For anyone who is nervous about attending an in-person show, our mitigation steps include requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination at the door and universal masking at all times while in the PAC. The performers will be fully vaccinated and will have received a couple rounds of Covid testing. We are taking measures seriously to try and ensure everyone’s safety.”

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