Felixstowe Summer Youth Project’s Little Shop of Horrors previewed

So, suddenly Seymour not Troy Bolton will be out to win the girl in this year’s Summer Youth Project at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion. Entertainment writer WAYNE SAVAGE talks to the team about how the show had to go on.

All good heroes have a good villain. Little Shop of Horrors florist assistant Seymour had the man-eating plant Audrey II, High School Musical’s Troy had the man-eating Sharpay and SYP had a lack of male auditionees.

When repeated attempts to fill the spots or find a way around the problem failed, the team had no choice but to change the show.

“In some ways it’s worked in our favour. There’s much more for the youngsters to get their teeth into with Little Shop of Horrors; it’s a much more gritty musical and they seem to be loving that,” says director Rebecca Darcy.

“The lack of boys was very unfortunate, I think we were probably more like eight male parts short [including the pivotal principal role of Troy Bolton] which is substantial.

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“It was a very hard decision [to change] but it was almost taken out of our hands really. It just makes it slightly more frantic, slightly more chaotic and very exciting,” she laughs.

Little Shop of Horrors is one of the longest-running off-Broadway musicals of all time. It tells the story of a down-and out Skid Row floral assistant who becomes an overnight hit when he finds an exotic plant with a craving for fresh blood. But soon Audrey II grows into an ill-tempered, foul-mouthed, R’n’B singing carnivore with a secret agenda. Picking the right show to replace Disney’s all singing, all dancing tale of high school life was vital.

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“I’m very confident this is the right show, even more so now the kids are in and having such a lovely time. I think it’s nice a lot of them hadn’t heard of it before,” she adds, making me suddenly feel quite old.

“A lot of it is new to them. With High School Musical they all know the characters, can quite easily copy them. For this show they’ve got to work harder and the timescale they’ve had to prepare with their own research has been cut short too.”

The project involves the cast of nine to 23-year-olds learning a full-scale musical in one week before putting it on for paying audiences; ambitious at the best of times.

The change has eaten into their preparation time; instead of months they had less than one. As we speak a team is making masks outside the stage door with another busily sewing skirts in the theatre’s foyer. With that pressure has come freedom.

“Little Shop of Horrors is a pliable musical so there has been lots of opportunity for us to put our own personal touch on it. Whereas, obviously, Disney, you can’t really mess with it can you? Little Shop gives us a lot more flexibility,” says Rebecca.

Those personal touches are most evident in Suzie Lowe’s choreography. She’s perhaps had the biggest challenge, having to find some way of fitting about 60 youngsters into a show that traditionally features a tiny cast – none of whom dance much.

“You know what, I like a challenge,” she laughs. “High School Musical for me probably wouldn’t have been so much of one even though it’s more dancing to do.”

A veteran of staging shows, Suzie has got round the problem using dancing dental assistants for one of the routines added to the production and background dancers dressed as the principal characters during Seymour and shop owner Mushnik’s duet.

“We’ve made it quite dreamlike as well; it’s the only way we could do it to get all the kids on,” she laughs.

The team decided not to recast after the auditions at the end of April, feeling they had such a strong cast in place it was the fairest thing to do.

None of them will see the set until Monday, with performances starting next Wednesday. Arriving with the set will be Audrey II.

“The first time I’ll meet her is Saturday,” says Rebecca. “There will be four in total because she grows. The original one will be your normal pot plant type size. The fourth will practically fill the stage. We’ve got some interesting surprises for the audience there.”

Little Shop of Horrors, by the Summer Youth Project, runs at Felixstowe’s Spa Pavilion from August 17-20.

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