When bringing a beloved stage production like Little Shop Or Horrors (based on a B-movie from Roger Corman) to life, you have to have a good balance of humor, thrills and chills. You also need more than a little creative pizzazz to make it work without coming across as cheap or amateurish. As the underdog theater in the shadow of Flat Rock Playhouse, Hendersonville Little Theatre could be given a pass on these fronts. The company could produce predictable community theater fair. But this plucky group of passionate theatre enthusiasts clearly isn’t interested in going down that path: They give it their all to bring this show to life.
The biggest feat is the massive amount of puppetry required to bring the show’s largest character to life. That role is, of course, the wildly out-of-control horticultural mutation known as Audrey Two, or Twoy. Voiced and sung by Sam Teague and controlled by Brandon Gash, Twoy is every bit as believable as any character on stage. The puppet design is both familiar and original all at once — it includes a large eye (not typical in the show), adding some additional menace as well as personality to Twoy.
A big challenge for the human actors is to make the audience believe that Twoy is as real as they are, and all involved do so ably. Special credit to Andy Thompson as the nebbish Seymour, who is responsible for the plant coming to life and growing, after he discovers it during solar eclipse. He names it for his co-worker, the lovely Audrey, for whom he pines. But Seymour gets more than he bargained for when the ever-growing Twoy brings fame, adoration and a trail of human meals. Seymour must somehow navigate Twoy’s path of destruction while holding onto his humanity and integrity. Thompson is perfectly cast in the role, and Candice Owen is wonderfully charming as Audrey. She is the bright star at the center of the production.
Tate Albert has some great moments in a showy role as Orin, the sadistic dentist (is there another kind?) boyfriend who likes to beat up on Audrey. Albert seems to relish that vile character and also turns up later in some quick-change roles. A doo-wop chorus of lovely ladies provides musical commentary while establishing the 1950s vibe where all great science fiction B-movie plots live best.
Hendersonville Little Theatre is charming and very intimate. A show like Little Shop might seem to be too large to fit into such a venue, but the folks at HLT have crafted a fun version of the larger-than-life musical, and should be applauded for their efforts. The at-capacity crowds are doing just that.
Little Shop of Horrors runs through Sunday, Aug. 31, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. on Sundays. $12-$24.