I grew up with the 1986 version of "Little Shop of Horrors," directed by Frank Oz. I'm pretty sure I'm in this career because of the love I had for that tired and worn-out VHS. I believe it was the first time I was introduced to a musical. I remember loving the music but especially being enthralled with that moving plant.
I've seen countless productions of "Little Shop" on stage, but I was never able to be a part of one until October of last year in Jackson, Wyo. I played the part of Audrey Two, which basically meant I got to sit backstage wearing a hoodie and jeans while speaking and singing into a microphone like a goof. It was a great gig!
I have so many friends in the Rose Wagner production that there was no way I could have missed it. I showed up to the theater on Friday night, bought my ticket and wondered why the house wasn't opening as I stood in line. The show was supposed to start in five minutes.
Soon, John and Ally Sweeney came out in full costume and apologized to everyone, saying the show that night was going to be canceled due to their Seymour not being able to speak, let alone sing. They also announced that refunds and exchanges were being honored at the box office. I made sure to say "hi" to John and Ally before I left.
The revelation that I did the show a few months prior was all it took for John to grab my forearm, literally pulling me into the auditorium to find a cast in full costume taking off their microphones, and a band packing it in for the night. This entire crew was curious whether they'd even be showing up for the two performances the following day.
This is where I first met Jim Martin, who was playing Seymour. He didn't look ill. He seemed to have the same energy as the rest of the cast. I shook his hand and introduced myself. He then muttered something as a reply, but I could barely make out what he said, even while standing two feet away. He was definitely supporting himself, but all I could hear was air. His voice wasn't just tired, it was an octave higher and almost completely gone.
It only took a whole six seconds to immediately feel empathy for this man. You know this isn't the consequence of some choice you made. No actor ever asks for this. It's that terrible period where you realize 14 hours of sleep didn't cure the scratch and whisper. Those gallons of water you just drank didn't soften anything. Your voice took a detour and it will be delayed. There's nothing you can do but wait for it to return.
Next thing I knew, I was holding a microphone and singing "Suddenly Seymour" while Jim mapped out the blocking with Ally onstage. The song ended and the room remained quiet while we all looked at each other and wondered if we could really pull this off. Needless to say, I was given a script to study that night, and I'd return back in the morning for the matinee.
The weirdest part is that I wasn't feeling nervous. Sure, I was in disbelief that it was happening, but not once did I feel anxiety. I knew this show backward and forward and felt confident that I could sit down with the script and sing what was in front of me. And that's exactly what I did -- on the front row of the auditorium, positioned directly in front of the head nods of the pianist, Trevor Witcher. I sat there with my music stand and light, realizing I was singing from the libretto and not the score. Over 20 years later, these melodies and harmonies are stuck with me. Muscle memory.
During the first performance of the day, I noticed the audience was laughing and reacting to the characters and the story. There was no hubbub or whispers about Seymour's singing voice. No one was trying to fool anyone. It was a conscious decision to have me be seen by the audience. It was simply a part of the show. It seemed to work out just fine.
The hesitant first act of the matinee slowly turned to confidence for the night performance. All worries within the cast were now gone. The attentive audience just seemed to enjoy the ride.
And like that, it was over. It was so fast. I woke up Sunday morning recalling the last day in disbelief. It was such a unique experience. I'm glad I got to share it with so many close friends, but I'm especially thankful that audience members weren't turned away. There was a small bump, but the fundraiser was back on and I'm especially grateful that the weeks of planning and rehearsal this cast and crew had donated was kept intact.
Kyle Olsen was born and raised in Northern Utah and has been performing on stage since the age of 7. He studied musical theater at Weber State University in Ogden, and has appeared as Sydney Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities," Freddy Benson in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," Bobby Strong in "Urinetown," Frank Butler in "Annie Get Your Gun," Barfee in "The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee" and Tony in "West Side Story." Olsen will be involved with the upcoming Utah Shakespeare Festival in its productions of "Les Miserables," "To Kill A Mockingbird" and "Hamlet."