Scott Marks 4:26 p.m., May 21
At the end of Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II -- the carnivore plant that looks like a Great Green Shark -- vows to multiply, consume all humanity, and take over the world. Though its growth hasn't been colossal, Audrey II is in fact proliferating as we speak.
The musical, currently in a hot ticket production at Cygnet, is based on Roger Corman's 1960 movie. He originally called it The Passionate People Eater and shot it in two days (not counting night scenes on location at LA's Skid Row). "The one that survived the longest," Corman writes, "is the one I did the fastest and the cheapest."
Corman doesn't count several days of rehearsals, especially with the "primitive plant" worked by mono-filaments.
Marty Robinson, who worked for Jim Henson and Sesame Street, created the original stage Audreys in 1982. There were four: a cute little potted plant less than a foot tall; a hand-held, "walk-around" puppet; one that sits on the floor, large enough for a person to manipulate from within (and the favorite of those who have worked all four); and giganto-vegetatus with an eight-foot wide head, which requires extra stagehands to help it devour three people -- and threaten us all.
Theater companies wanting to stage Little Shop have several options regarding the Audreys. They can build their own, as the San Diego Rep did way back when, and then leased out the puppets to other productions.
When companies rent the script and score from MTI (Music Theatre International), they can also rent blueprints for building Robinson's original designs.
There's also a third option. At least three outfits -- Swazzle, CBC Creative, and Monkey Boys Productions -- rent the full package, based on Robinson's copyright.
Sean Murray, artistic director of Cygnet, went on line and researched the various possibilities. He needed Audreys large enough to fill the Old Town Theatre stage, "and nothing cartoony," since he wanted to return the musical back to its B&D, Skid Row roots.
He contacted Monkey Boys, which had the largest and creepiest Audreys, and which included videos on how to operate the puppets.
"We felt it would cost us the about the same to build as to rent," says Murray. They had no guarantee that a constructed puppet would work as well as one that had appeared in "many, many productions on the East Coast." So Monkey Boys' Audrey II shouts "feeeeeeeed me!" -- and turns humans into plant food -- at Cygnet.
Someone estimated that there are at least 500 sets of Audreys around the country. Most are in storage. Or so they say...