INSIDE LITTLE SHOP Part 4: Opening the Shop

INSIDE LITTLE SHOP Part 4: Opening the Shop

The cast performs “Skid Row.” Photo by Johnny Knight

In this 4-part series, Assistant Director Elyse Dolan takes us behind the scenes of American Blues Theater’s production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, directed by Jonathan Berry.

Part 4: Opening the Shop

Going into our first preview, I think we were all a little nervous about putting the show in front of an audience for the first time, especially with so many tech elements involved. And the first preview being completely sold out—mostly to a huge group of high school students, no less—added even more pressure. However, the audience was enthralled and delighted, and the responsive crowd brought the show to life in a whole new way. After curtain call, as the house lights came up, I overheard the teenagers in front of me chattering about how it was one of the weirdest and funniest things they had ever seen. And that audience was just the beginning of a hugely successful preview week. One patron on Goldstar said “This was a great show! The singers were exceptional and the music was rousing.”

The cast receiving a standing ovation at a preview. Photo by Johnny Knight.

The cast receiving a standing ovation at a preview. Photo by Johnny Knight.

As the designers continued to finesse and perfect their work, Jonathan Berry spent the mid-preview rehearsal days fine-tuning specific acting moments and polishing the transitions between the biggest numbers. The most exciting part of the whole preview week for me, though, has been watching audiences fall in love with this production and this cast. At our Wednesday preview, the audience was cheering for Camille Robinson (Crystal), Jasondra Johnson (Ronnette), and Eunice Woods (Chiffon) mid-song during the opening number, and Mark David Kaplan (Mushnik) got the same reaction mid-“Musnik and Son” on Thursday night. And looking around every night, I see audience members dancing in their seats to Austin Cook’s killer 1970s funkadelic arrangements (complete with a wah-wah pedal!). All of the tireless work this team has put in over the past four weeks has paid off in every way. It’s wonderful to see audiences so enthusiastic and engaged.

For my final interview, I chatted with American Blues Ensemble Michael Mahler who plays our protagonist, Seymour Krelborn. Michael has been seen onstage at Blues in It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!, Side Man, and Hank Williams: Lost Highway.

What excites you most about working on Little Shop of Horrors?

“It’s one of my favorite musical theater scores of all time. It’s so funny and full of heart and dark and light in equal measures; so full of melody and wit; so delightfully pastiche-y and still completely original. I think almost every musical that came after owes a debt to Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. On top of that, the chance to work with the brilliant Jonathan Berry again is a privilege I cherish as an actor. And to collaborate with my friend, the genius Austin Cook is a blessing. Plus to get to work opposite my wife Dara Cameron – well, that’s a real gift.”

What is your favorite thing about working with your wife onstage? 

“I feel so lucky to get to play opposite one of my favorite actors. I just hope I do a good job, and she still wants to be married to me.”

We’re celebrating 30 years of American Blues this season! What does being an Ensemble member at Blues mean to you?

“I am extremely proud to be a part of a true ensemble of actors who are dedicated to telling American stories with guts, passion, grit, and integrity. It’s the kind of work that defines Chicago theater: in your face and uncompromisingly honest.”

What will you be working on next?

“I’m heading to the Old Globe in San Francisco where they’re producing my musical October Sky this fall.”

Make sure to also check out parts one, two, and three of Inside Little Shop, and read Rachel Weinberg’s review of the production.

About author

Elyse Dolan

Elyse is American Blues Theater’s Assistant Producer, and a proud Artistic Affiliate. At Blues she has directed several short plays in past Ripped festivals; assisted Kimberly Senior on the reading of Other Than Honorable; and assisted Ed Blatchford on The Rainmaker. Most recently, she directed the world premiere of Here After by Evan Sesek at The New Colony. Other Chicago credits include directing stage readings for Pride Films & Plays, Three Cat Productions, and the Greenhouse Theater Center, and serving as Assistant Director on productions at Raven Theatre, Oracle Theatre, 16th Street Theater, and Redtwist Theatre. Elyse holds a B.A. in Theater and English Literature from Denison University.

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