By Katherine Stewart
University of Mississippi
“Feed me, Seymour” – three little words that to fans of musical theater are simultaneously hilarious and chilling. But if the phrase doesn’t ring a bell, all you need to know is that it’s sung by a plant. An alien plant. An alien plant with an … unusual diet.
“Little Shop of Horrors,” the University of Mississippi Department of Theatre and Film‘s final production of the 2022-23 academic year, opens April 18 for a four-day run in Fulton Chapel with performances each evening at 7:30 p.m.
The closing performance, on April 21, will include ASL interpreting and open captions, and will be followed by a reception in Bryant Hall. Tickets are available in person at the Ole Miss Box Office, by calling 662-915-7411 or by visiting the box office website. Parking in the Meek Hall lot, behind Fulton Chapel, will be reserved for theater patrons throughout the run of the show.
Director John Carden, assistant professor of musical theatre, likens the story to the classic German tale of Faust, a man who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and power.
“It’s about a hero making a deal with the devil,” Carden said. “And in this case, the devil happens to be a plant from outer space.”
The musical, which was written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman, premiered in 1982 and is loosely based on the schlocky 1960 Roger Corman film “The Little Shop of Horrors” – if you can find it, watch out for an early Jack Nicholson appearance! – and in 1986 was made into the popular film version starring Rick Moranis.
Spoiler alert: If you’re familiar with that film, it’s worth noting that the stage version has a different ending.
The story is set in the 1960s on a fictional Skid Row in New York, which most of the characters dream of getting away from. But those who eventually do escape might reconsider if they knew how it would happen.
Nervous and nerdy Seymour, played by junior theatre arts student Max Glasser, from Nashville, Tennessee, muddles along at Mushnick’s flower shop, where he can’t seem to do anything right – primarily because he’s too busy pining away for his coworker Audrey, played by sophomore Kayla Fifer, of Memphis. Narration is provided by a Greek chorus in the form of a doo-wop group.
Seymour stumbles upon a “strange and interesting” plant, which he names Audrey II, and takes it to struggling Mushnick’s, believing that its novelty will bring notoriety to the shop – and does it ever.
When Seymour accidentally discovers that his mystery plant thrives only on human blood, he begins feeding it from his own fingers in an effort to keep the shop open, maintain the approval of the owner, and impress his paramour and the plant’s namesake, Audrey.
As Seymour’s desire for success grows, so does Audrey II’s size – and bloodlust. Things rapidly spin out of control.
“No matter how much he feeds the plant, it’s never enough, and the plant just wants more and more in exchange,” Carden said.
Sophomore Zion Sims portrays the profligate plant, a role she said she sings with a voice that has landed her similarly villainous roles in the past.
“I’ve got this big, boisterous, low kind of voice,” said Sims, a Tupelo native who acted in school and community theater growing up and has previously lent her voice to roles such as Ursula in “The Little Mermaid.”
“There’s a bit of a thread running through my history,” Sims said. “I have a history of playing villainous characters.”
Her dream roles include the genie in “Aladdin” and the titular character in “Beetlejuice.”
Sims said that in preparing for her role as a non-human character, she tried to think the way she imagines an alien would.
“In my mind, it’s definitely a nonhuman mimicking what a human would be,” she said.
“It’s an alien tactic that I think a lot of us expect: If aliens show up here, they’re going to try to be us, to get close to us.”
Sims said one of her favorite things about the show is the music, which goes a long way to evoking the 1960s atmosphere of the show.
Another major element is the costumes, which were designed by alumna Mckenzi Massey, who graduated in 2022 with a double major in theatre arts and English.
“Anything mid-century is just ‘chef’s kiss,'” said Massey, adding that her favorite thing to design for the show was the costumes for what’s referred to as “The Septet,” or the doo-wop group that provides singing narration.
Massey, who specializes in pattern drafting and sewing and since graduation has established a custom garment business, especially appreciated the opportunity to not only design costumes for the show, but to physically create some elements herself.
“Shows happen so fast, we’re working so quickly and, especially as a designer, there are a million things you have to do,” Massey said. “But I had the opportunity this time around to make a skirt, which is so cool. It’s something I can point to when my parents come to the show and say, ‘I did that.'”
Despite the somewhat serious overtones implied by the show’s comparison to the story of Faust, director John Carden expects that audiences will have a good time with this classic musical.
“I hope people will come and have a joyful evening. We have amazing talent in this show; it’s just an incredible cast, and they have worked incredibly hard,” Carden said.
“I just can’t wait for people to come and share in this extraordinary, joyful event.”
To learn more about this production, listen to the interview with director John Carden on the department’s podcast, “Stage & Screen.”