DISCLAIMER: I'm a bit of a nerd; specifically, a musical theater nerd, and an even bigger nerd when it comes to the musical comedy "Little Shop of Horrors." A friend and I used to listen obsessively to the 1982 Broadway soundtrack, I've seen the movie numerous times and I even lived for 17 years with two felines named Seymour and Audrey -- that's how bad I had it. Something about a nerdy little guy who finds a strange little plant with a rather ravenous appetite has always appealed to me.
So I was understandably excited last Saturday when I went with a friend to see Wasatch Theatre Company's production of the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical at the Wagner Center in Salt Lake City. What happened that night was one of those wonderful moments that reminded me why I love live theater -- anything can happen.
On Friday, I'd seen a friend's post on Facebook that the show had been canceled because Jim Martin, the Salt Lake City actor playing Seymour Krelborn, was ill and had lost his voice. I contacted Trevor Jerome, the show's musical conductor, who assured me that the show would go on Saturday. So we headed to Salt Lake to see a plant take over the world.
However, before the curtain went up, an announcement was made that Martin was still sick and would not sing the part. Instead, he would be on stage performing the dialogue and staging, but another actor seated in front of the band would be singing the part of the orphaned florist.
Huh? I shot my friend a skeptical look and the show began. The name of the actor singing the part sounded familiar, but the show had begun and the gray matter in my skull had switched into full-on Musical Theater (MT) mode. One of my favorite numbers in this show is the opening number "Skid Row" -- a rousing, pulsating anthem in which Seymour's vocal skills are key. Any doubts I had about the actor singing the part were put to rest as I heard a voice emanate through the theater that was clear and pitch-on perfect, with just the right amount of sweet naivete and earnest nerdiness.
I've never been a great fan of lip-syncing, but I'm changing my tune when it comes to this particular production. With a few minor exceptions, I don't think I would have known Martin was lip-syncing; that's how good it was. As he delivered his lines, Martin's speaking voice sounded hoarse -- sorta like if Harvey Fierstein were doing the part -- but the transitions back and forth between the speaking and the singing were nearly indiscernible.
The rest of the cast also delivered great performances. South Jordan actress Ally Sweeney was delightful and had just the right amount of sweetness as the ditsy Audrey. She was particularly effective on "Somewhere That's Green," a touching little song that goes for the comic jugular when reprised in the show's climax.
Another key element of the show are the three actresses playing the Supremes-esque trio of street urchins. If they can't sing, the show suffers. I'm happy to say that Brooke Wilson, Marissa Pool and Ashley Haslam kept the show bouncing along nicely with a fun '60s vibe. Murray native resident Ryan Poole was also perfectly loathsome as the sadistic Orin Scrivello, DDS. After the dentist's happy demise, Poole adds some unexpected laughs to the show by taking on some minor roles -- including some quick, gender-bending costumes changes.
South Jordan resident John Sweeney also earned some hearty laughs from the audience for his smarmy portrayal of flower shop owner Mr. Mushnick.
The production includes a great little twist, with Marcie Jacobsen of Provo singing the role of Audrey II. The role is normally sung by a male performer, but I really liked the switch-up. Jacobsen voice's was smooth, sexy and sassy -- perfect for the misbehaving plant. Audrey II is a two-person operation, and WSU student Trevor Dean also did a wonderful job giving the plant all the right moves. Dean looked understandably sweaty as he emerged from the giant pod puppet to take his well-deserved bows.
The set, on loan from Utah State University, was colorful, kitschy and fit nicely into the cozy black-box space. The band, under the direction of the multitalented Jerome, who grew up in Layton, was spot on and I didn't hear any sour notes.
Later -- after my gray matter had switched out of MT mode and back into regular dazed-and-confused mode -- I finally recognized the name of the actor who had stepped in to save the show. It was none other than Weber State University alum Kyle Olsen, whom I've met and interviewed for previous shows.
Utah audiences will recognize Olsen from a number of roles this talented young man has taken on. I've been a fan of Olsen's ever since I saw him play the lovable nerd Barfee in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" at WSU. I last saw him in "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" at Hale Centre Theatre, where he nailed the role played by Steve Martin in the movie.
I contacted Olsen on Facebook and asked him about his experiences. He is not only a wonderful actor and singer, but also a great writer. Olsen sent me an account of his experience, which accompanies this piece. It's an amazing story about the thrill of live theater and the camaraderie shared between actors.
"Little Shop of Horrors" will be performed four more times -- once each on April 19 and 20, and twice on April 21. This Wasatch Theatre Company production benefits the Salt Lake Education Foundation, with proceeds going toward disadvantaged youth in need of dental services. Olsen has informed me that director Sallie Cooper has contacted him and he is on standby for Thursday's performances, as Martin is still recovering. I truly hope Martin -- who is also artistic director of the Wasatch Theatre Company -- gets his voice back so he can fully perform in a show he has been so diligently rehearsing. But audiences can rest assured that they are going to see a rare and wonderful treat if Kyle Olsen gets his nerd on again, helps a fellow actor out and, suddenly, he is Seymour again.