The plot of "Little Shop of Horrors," the musical that kicks off the 18th season of Stumptown Stages, is simple: Boy meets girl, they fall in love and then have an encounter with an alien plant named Audrey that has a taste for human flesh.
It's easy to cast a talented boy and girl, but, as Kirk Mouser said, "How do you solve a problem like Audrey?"
Mouser, Stumptown's producing director and a Lake Oswego resident, looked far and wide before finding his Audrey at a theatrical fabrication house in the San Francisco area.
She then hitched a ride in a Hertz rental van to make the 634-mile trip to Portland; Audrey and cast members are currently rehearsing at a secret location in Milwaukie, so Mouser advised residents to keep an eye on their pets.
Mouser said he chose the show because he wanted a production that would entertain audiences and make them laugh.
"What better way is there to escape the noise of life than a rock and roll, doo-wop, Motown musical comedy about an alien plant that craves human blood smoothies?" he asked.
He noted that many people may recall the 1986 film based on the musical, featuring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene and Steve Martin.
"If laughing hysterically is not your thing, perhaps the amazing score is," Mouser said, adding that memorable songs include "Suddenly Seymour, and "Feed Me."
Four people associated with the production have ties to Clackamas County, including Steve Coker, director, Adam Young, musical director, Oregon City High School graduate Olivia Spohn and Rex Putnam High School graduate Dustin Fuentes.
Hot and heavy
In "Little Shop of Horrors," so much depends on the plant.
"Audrey has four unique personalities: Seedling to psychopath," Mouser said, noting that all the plants require handlers that include Jason Hays as lead character Seymour Krelborn, Tim Giugni, head puppeteer and Liz Ghiz, supporting puppeteer.
"Our biggest challenge in handling the plant is weight and size," Mouser said, noting that most of that weight falls on the shoulders of Giugni, who worked for six years as a puppeteer with Tears of Joy.
"In operating Audrey II, he runs the unique challenge of animating a puppet, voiced by singer/actor Kimo Camat, without expiring in a pool of sweat," he added.
"Puppetry is cumulative; each character you do adds to the understanding of the next," Giugni said.
First, he looks at each puppet to consider how it should, could and does move.
"Then comes dedicated play with the voice actor, where we craft a whole character with emotions and synchronization," he said.
What is the biggest challenge?
"It is hot. Take two fleece sleeping bags. Put them over your head. The isolation, warmth and sound dampening makes it a perfect napping zone," Giugni said.
For him, the dance and music rehearsals have been the most fun.
"The cast is a joy to be around. As for the puppets, the fun will come when there is an audience," he said.
Giugni added, "I enjoy the commitment to making this production well-rounded and filled with emotional highs and lows."
Meet 'the dentist'
Fuentes plays Orin Scrivello, D.D.S., a sadistic dentist and the terrible boyfriend of the lead female character in "Little Shop of Horrors."
He also plays several small, comedic character roles which have been fun to explore he said.
Fuentes graduated from Rex Putnam High School in 2010, from Southern Oregon University in 2018 and from The Actors Conservatory, formerly Portland Actors Conservatory, in 2021.
He has performed with Milwaukie-based New Century Players, including in "Not About Heroes" and "Beau Jest."
But in all his stage work, he has never been cast as the villain.
"I'm excited to bring his maniacal, sadistic deranged energy to life on stage," Fuentes said.
As Orin Scrivello, he has one featured song, "Dentist."
"There's such an amazing absurdity to the song. Orin singing with a crazed joy about becoming a dentist because he loves causing others pain is both hilarious and a little frightening at times," Fuentes said.
"The foundation of the joke within the song being that many people hate or are afraid to go to the dentist," he said, adding, "Ironically, I love going to the dentist and getting my teeth cleaned."
Beware the flesh-eating plant!
What: Stumptown Stages presents "Little Shop of Horrors"
When: Oct. 7-30
Where: Portland'5 Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, in Portland
Details: For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit stumptownstages.org.
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