Sure, the cast of “Little Shop of Horrors” is great. But perhaps the real star of this Kauai Community Players production that opens tonight at the Puhi Theatrical Warehouse is Audrey II.
And Audrey II is temperamental. Mean. Nasty. A killer.
There are even four versions of this people-eating plant that devours most of the cast by the end of the show.
It starts with baby Audrey II. Then a toddler version of Audrey II. Next, a teenage version. And finally, a full-grown, demanding and hungry Audrey II, who stands about 8-feet tall and commands much of the stage and consumes what comes near.
“We have a very tiny space with a very large musical,” said director Rebecca Hanson. “The biggest challenge was the puppet that starts as a hand puppet and it really just grows and grows and grows.”
In the sci-fi musical comedy, Seymour played by Billy Quebido and Audrey played by Jessika Montoya find love while Seymour tries to keep Audrey II, a man-eater in the flower shop where he works, satisfied.
So when deciding to produce “Little Shop of Horrors,” Hanson and crew had to figure out a couple of things: How are we going to make Audrey II comes to life? How are we going to make this happen?”
In early November, the process got started and as of Thursday afternoon, stage manager Nellie Foster was still making the finishing touches on the adult Audrey II.
Michael Hyland did the engineering and created the aluminum framework for versions three and four of Audrey II.
“He provided the base for everything we needed to do,” Foster said.
Lori Kizer made the second Audrey II and helped Foster wrap the large puppets with muslin dipped in starch at her home.
Foster rented a truck to move the rest to the theater, where it’s since been under construction.
“Lisa and I used expandable form insulation, spray paint and glitter, Spandex, pipe insulation and lots of felt to put her together,” Foster said.
It is a thing of deadly beauty.
Baby Audrey II was created by Foster with a Nerf football and an electric carving knife and plastic liner.
The second Audrey II, now growing, is “great fun,” because the actor can hold it and operate the planter without any troubles thanks to a bit of Hollywood stage magic and a fake arm. His hand is actually inside the puppet snapping its jaws open and closed.
“It wants to be feed again, so it’s looking for things to munch on,” said Chris “Angus” Sweitzer, lighting and technical director.
The plant finds new life when Seymour pricks his finger and a drop of blood falls on it. From there, Audrey II changes from a little thing in a flower pot to eating body parts and then swallowing whole people.
The voracious plant has an appetite that can’t be satisfied. It is key to the success of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“It is its own character,” Hansen said. “We have a voice for the plant, the plant operator, so it’s its own entity.”
Chase Pitt operates the third and fourth versions of Audrey II.
Foster, Mike Horning, set builder and sound man, and Lisa Pollack, set decorator, took a moment to admire their creation before Wednesday’s rehearsal.
“We are proud,” Foster said. “It’s such a great show. People are going to love it.”
“I can’t wait to see the reaction of the audience,” Horning said.
There is only one problem now that the show is ready to open: Foster will have to be backstage to be sure things are running smoothly. She’s had a front row seat bringing Audrey II to life for the past two and a half months.
“I’m so disappointed I can’t watch from up front anymore,” she said.