In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II grows on you

Try a double deluxe helping of carnivorous foliage, rich
comedy and ‘60s doo-wop music being served up right now in the local staging of
The Little Shop of Horrors.

The Cayman Drama Society production aims to serve up
musical theatre at its energetic best with believable if slightly over-the-top
characters and catchy songs and lyrics.

In true Little Shop of Horrors tradition, the current
production at the Prospect Playhouse has the man-eating plant Audrey II as the
evergreen star of the show.

In this case, Audrey II is a set of four puppets and not
a costume.

Director Sheree Ebanks said, “From the smallest, which is
technically a hand puppet to the largest, a body puppet they’re each
surprisingly simple. There is no electronic gadgetry incorporated into them.
There’s no headset for the puppeteer, so the puppeteer is going mostly by
memory and practice.”

With the challenging role needing both a strong vocal
actor and a puppeteer, the director needed two actors to play the part. Neil
Rooney is the voice of the plant and 17-year-old Cody Moore is its puppet
master.

 “Cody is fit and
was really enthusiastic about being the puppeteer. We instinctively thought of
him for the role and when we asked him, he jumped at the chance,” the director
said,

Regarding the young actor’s approach to the role, Mrs.
Ebanks said, “He has to move to the words and also had to learn the script and
then feel the way that Neil spoke in order to react. I really cannot take
credit for directing them… They worked together for long hours. Together they
became one Audrey II and have done a fantastic job.”

Mr. Rooney, who has been acting with CDS for 15 years,
provides the larger-than-life vocals behind the rich baritone of Audrey II by
singing three songs. The production is his 10th show.

The musical calls for the meat-eating plant to be a
fast-talking hustler. Actor Peter Kosa, who plays Mr. Mushnick, described Mr.
Rooney’s interpretation of the part as “Foghorn Leghorn with a mean streak.”

From a singer’s perspective, Mr. Rooney described the
role as “vocally very challenging”. He added that switching from Audrey II’s
speaking voice to the singing part required “a lot of range and a whole lot of
colour.

“You just have to really let yourself go and become this
much larger than life character – sort of what I expect performing a voice-over
for a cartoon character might be like – something I have always wanted to do,”
he said.

One of CDS’s natural leads and long used to being front
and centre, the actor is enjoying the role, which has him backstage for the
entire performance. He has a sight line to the plant, but it is Cody who has to
supply the physical side of the character, including the physical comedy, which
is important to the believability of the character.

“The most rewarding part of taking on the role is really
letting loose,” Mr. Rooney said following Monday’s full dress rehearsal.

“I am hidden in the back and can just let it rip.”

In terms of the logistics of two actors playing one part,
the actor said, “It has taken us a long time to get our timing just right –
[Cody] cannot see me and has to know through experience just when I am ready to
speak – he is very intuitive, but it is my job to try to be as consistent as I
can for him.”

Since getting the production approved, the director knew
that its biggest challenge wasn’t finding actors to play the carnivorous plant
but to source puppets for the role.

“I ended up surfing the web to see if it was possible to
rent and was sorely disappointed when we found places who rented, but either did
not ship overseas or wanted $500 per show,” she recalled.

Eventually, she found JaDuke Scene Shop in Turners Falls,
Massachusetts.

“After speaking with the owner, he shipped some used
puppets he had recently purchased and which needed some work.”

Mr. Waynelovich’s team visited Cayman and worked on them
here, fixing what needed to be fixed and repainting them. 

“CDS member Tracy Moore spent many long hot hours
alongside them, and he has become our on-site Audrey II expert,” Mrs. Ebanks
added.

After the show, Audrey II will be on vacation until
January when its owners will return to pack him up and send him back to
Massachusetts.

The Cayman Drama society, with Every Bloomin’ Thing, is
sponsored in part by the Caymanian Compass, Dart Cayman, Hurley’s Entertainment
and dms Broadcasting.

For dates of evening and matinee performances and tickets for The Little Shop of Horrors, which runs until 12 December, call
the CDS box office at 959-5450 or visit the CDS website www.cds.ky

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