Henry High School Drama Club is performing “Little Shop of Horrors” on March 23-25 at the Henry auditorium.
A distinct aspect of the film-turned-high school production is a giant plant puppet made by the local artist Christopher Lutter-Gardella. One of Lutter-Gardella’s best known pieces is the Holidazzle yeti.
The drama club received a grant to work with In the Heart of the Beast, which inspired director Christopher Michael’s puppet theme for both plays the club performed this year. The organization’s work is most well-known through the southside’s May Day Parade. The club performed “She Kills Monsters,” a play about the game Dungeons & Dragons and sisterhood, in November.
Michael picked “Little Shop” for the second play of the year because a puppet plays a major role and because it holds a sentimental place in his heart. The first play he performed in was a high school production of “Little Shop,” in which he played the grumpy plant shopkeeper Mr. Mushnik.
“Little Shop” features a giant, sassy people-eating plant named Audrey II, which is played by a puppet.
“Almost every scene where I see that puppet, Audrey II, is like the coolest thing that you can see on stage,” Michael said. “The spectacle of it is just mind-blowing. And when you put your head around how simplistic it actually is, and then see this living, breathing creature on stage, existing, it just gets me every time
The drama club actually bought an Audrey II puppet for the show, and it is operated by one puppeteer inside and another off-stage, watching the puppet’s movements and voicing its lines.
“The question of what we are going to do with [the puppet] after is a huge question because we also have five giant dragon heads that we built for She Kills Monsters,” Michael said with a laugh. “We don’t have the space for any of it.”
Some of the students had seen the 1986 “Little Shop of Horrors” movie with Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin prior to performing the musical, but others hadn’t heard of it.
“I had one student interestingly enough, he’s like ‘this reminds me of this movie where there was this plant eating people,’ and I’m like ‘that’s what this is,’” Michael said.
Michael cast the show to be representative of Henry’s diverse student population instead of basing it off the movie cast. The lead roles in the movie version of “Little Shop” are all played by white people. At Henry, the lead role of Seymour is played by Kel Draine, a Black trans student, and the co-lead role of Audrey (not to be confused with the plant, Audrey II) is played by Jada Edwards, who is Black. Two other big roles that are typically played by men, Mr. Mushnik and the dentist, are played by girls.
“Our school is largely people of color. I think that the characters in most stories often can transcend race,” Michael said. “It’s also challenging to find shows that do represent our population on big scale numbers.”
Michael said that he can’t change the characters’ genders due to licensing laws, but students can play roles of different genders.
“I cast kids that are right for the part,” Michael said. “I don’t focus on gender or gender identity or anything like that, and I don’t necessarily focus on race, except for where it’s completely appropriate.”
The students have been rehearsing “Little Shop” since January, though they lost valuable rehearsal time due to the snowstorm and hacking incident in February. The show is at 7 p.m. on March 23 and March 24 and 2 p.m. on March 25. Tickets cost $5.
“I hope that the audience love it and I’m sure they will. And I hope most importantly that the kids just have fun and get all the accolades they deserve for all the hard work,” Michael said.