Anything but horrible: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ in bloom

If CHS drama department director Michael Jacobs were asked by someone who had never heard of “Little Shop of Horrors” what the play is about, he says he’d have no trouble explaining.

“I would very simply say that it’s a musical comedy about a plant that eats people,” Jacobs jokes.

“Little Shop of Horrors” was originally a black-and-white 1960 film (as well as Jack Nicholson’s acting debut, Jacobs notes). But the absurdity of a film about man-eating plants captured some element of the human imagination, and the concept has since inspired a variety of macabre spin-offs. For this reason, the Carmel High theater department’s show, and the way it revels in sheer cheesiness, will be no surprise to fans of “B movie” cinema.

“A lot of horror movies are done so poorly that they only work if you make fun of them,” Jacobs says. “I had a friend who was in ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,’ but they knew with a title like that it was going to be campy. So they went for the humor, and that’s what they decided to do with this…. It’s a funny show.”

Let there be no doubt: there’s a lot to be said for schlock in the vein of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” (or, more recently, Tommy Wiseau’s magnum opus, “The Room”). Senior Claire Moorer, who choreographed the show and portrays lead love interest Aubrey, has a similar take on the play, which she describes as “melodramatic, but really fun.”

"Little Shop of Horrors," which opens Thursday at CHS, will continue until March 28.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” which opens Thursday at CHS, will continue until March 28.

But despite its low-budget inspiration, “Little Shop” boasts some serious production value—thanks in large part to a professional puppet-maker who constructed an absolutely massive puppet for the production—“the star of the show,” Jacobs jests.

Indeed, “Little Shop” is greater than the sum of its parts—a huge aspect of this musical is, of course, the music. Tunes with names like “Somewhere that’s Green,” “Suppertime” and “Don’t Feed the Plants” are performed by the pit orchestra, directed by music teacher Brian Handley and consisting of several Carmel High music students.

“I think people will really enjoy the music of the show because so many of the grooves are very familiar—it really pulls from 1950s and 1960s rock and Motown, with some doo-wop and even some klezmer,” Handley says. “The music lives in this time capsule.”

As in most musicals, the accompaniment for the singers onstage is performed live, yet the musicians remain out of sight for the entirety of the play. Nonetheless, keyboard player Jonathan O’Grady says he has a lot of fun playing with the pit orchestra—and when asked if he wishes it got more recognition, he says he doesn’t really care.

“I find it fun either way,” O’Grady says. “I just enjoy being in the pit, with the camaraderie between everyone there.”

This is a sentiment shared by Handley, who agrees that it’s “a herculean effort, but a really fun thing.”

Spirits are also running high up onstage, with Jacob’s enthusiasm carrying the show.

“This will probably be one of the best musicals ever performed at Carmel High School,” he says. “I would encourage everyone to come and see it because it’s the last chance they’ll get to see some of the amazing seniors who will be graduating.”

It will also be the penultimate musical Jacobs will be directing at Carmel High—for next year will be his last as a drama teacher.

In sum, anyone looking for kitschy scares should make sure to see “Little Shop of Horrors,” just so long as they have their tongue planted firmly in cheek. Or, as Moorer jokes, “If you saw the show and took it really seriously, you probably wouldn’t get everything out of it.”

The show will open Thursday at the CHS center for performing arts.
-Christopher Good