The campy horror parody “Little Shop of Horrors” may be best known for its man-eating plant and doo-wop score, but the director of the San Diego Musical Theater’s new production opening tonight hopes to bring something new to the story.
Local actress and director Kandace Crystal, who is making her SDMT directorial debut with “Little Shop,” said she had several goals in mind when she took on the project. She wanted the show’s cast to better reflect the ethnic diversity of San Diego’s population, and she wanted to pay more attention to some of the 1982 musical’s darker subject matter.
“Little Shop” was written by Alan Menken and the late Howard Ashman, the team of songwriters behind Disney’s “Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Inspired by the sci-fi creatures of the 1950s and 1960s, it’s about a man-eating plant from outer space who enlists the help of Seymour, an unwitting flower shop employee, in his deadly plans.
Crystal said it was important to her and San Diego Musical Theater officials to launch “Little Shop” with an eye on diversity, especially reflecting San Diego’s large Hispanic population. So the actors who play Seymour and his beloved flower shop colleague Audrey — Ramiro Garcia Jr. and Lena Ceja — are both Latinx and, Crystal said, perfect for their roles. Crystal said she also lined up a cast of various ages.
“There’s such a level of talent within the cast, and I also love the diversity of ages. Our youngest is 22 and our eldest is in his 60s. Some of them are brand new and that’s their first big opportunity at a trade show. It shows there’s a lot of talent in this city, but you have to be prepared to invest in it,” she said.
And although “Little Shop” is a comedy, there are serious problems with the story. Audrey is abused by her sadistic dentist boyfriend, and an impoverished Seymour loses his moral compass when the plant, which he names Audrey II, brings him love and fame – but at a bloody price.
“There’s a deep conversation going on about class disparities and domestic violence, and I wanted to highlight that for both the actors and the characters they play,” Crystal said. “It’s absolutely something written from time, especially when it was written in the 80s and based on the 60s. We have to acknowledge the crimes of our past as a society. When the actors were really ready and willing to take this on, I’ve got them all sitting in. It’s a very real problem…and any young person watching this show will be able to identify these red flags.
Crystal is working on the musical with SDMT musical director Richard Dueñez Morrison and choreographer Luke H. Jacobs, who she says have been wonderful collaborators.
“The lack of ego in the room is really big,” she said. “We’re here to serve the job in the end and it’s been to our benefit.”
One of Morrison’s very first professional shows was serving as a “plane spotter” for the now-defunct Starlight Theater’s 1997 production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” the final approach flight path for San Diego International Airport, Morrison said he would turn on the yellow and red lights to temporarily “freeze” actors in place whenever planes were about to roar overhead. their head.
And Jacobs said “Little Shop” was one of the first musicals he fell in love with as a kid.
“This story is rare in that you see a moral, sympathetic, sympathetic character doing the unthinkable to preserve the first true happiness he had in his life,” Jacobs said in a statement. “It’s important for an audience to identify the possibility of the unthinkable within themselves.”
“Little Shop of Horrors”
When: Opens tonight and ends October 30. 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. on Fridays; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; 2 p.m. on Sunday.
Where: San Diego Musical Theater on SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury St., San Diego
Call: (858) 560-5740
On line: sdmt.org