INSIDE LITTLE SHOP Part 1: Welcome to the Little Shop

INSIDE LITTLE SHOP Part 1: Welcome to the Little Shop

(Photo: Set model by Scenic Designer Grant Sabin)

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 1: Welcome to the Little Shop

After the exchanging of quick hugs and hellos, the excited cast started working on music right away. First rehearsal for LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS was straight to business as the company gathered around the piano to learn some of the most difficult numbers before the designers and staff arrived, and I felt lucky just to be in the room. As Dara Cameron’s voice soared up to the high notes of “Suddenly Seymour,” I couldn’t help but in complete awe of the ten massively talented cast members assembled.

The cast works on music with Music Director Austin Cook

The cast works on music with Music Director Austin Cook

Once the designers arrived for the “Meet & Greet” portion of the evening, we got a chance to really see and discuss the bigger ideas of the play. Director Jonathan Berry referenced Howard Ashman’s author’s note at the front of the script which instructs: “The script keeps its tongue firmly in cheek, so the actors should not. Instead, they should play with simplicity, honesty, and sweetness—even when events are at their most outlandish…I can vouch for the fact that when Little Shop is at its most honest, it is also at its funniest and most enjoyable.” Jonathan then went on to discuss the poverty of these characters, the way that this script unfolds like a horror movie, and the way that it keeps us rooting for our heroes, even when we know the ending.


Puppet Designer Sarah Ross shares the Audrey Two puppet designs with the company

After Grant Sabin explained his dynamic scenic design, Izumi Inaba passed around beautiful drawings of her charming costume designs, and Sarah Ross got us all excited about the four Audrey Two puppets that she’s created from scratch, we did a first read and sing-through of the script. It was an absolute delight to see all of the raw energy and talent that everyone brought to the script.

I also had the opportunity to discuss Little Shop with Music Director and American Blues Theater Ensemble member Austin Cook. For those who don’t know Austin, you should: he’s so very talented, and we’re thrilled to have him return to Blues for this production. He previously appeared as “Hoss” in HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY and composed the score for IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: LIVE IN CHICAGO! that we’ve used for the past seven seasons.

Elyse Dolan: What excites you most about working on this production of LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS?

Austin Cook: LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is one of the best musicals ever written. It is as close to the “perfect” musical that you can find. The satire of the piece appeals to me – the satire of science fiction, the satire of B-movies, even the satire of the musical theater genre. The music itself is a fun merger of musical theater and pop music of the 50’s & 60’s. It is always fun to music direct those decades of music when form was still simple, but the grooves were growing in complexity and rhythms.
Additionally, I am excited to bring this music to life in an intimate venue. You will be able to feel the punch of the kick drum, the warmth of the funky bass lines, & the groove of the electric guitar. In a smaller space, you will be able to see the musicians and actors. You will see and respond to the subtleties of their performances. That excites me.

E.D.: What are the duties of a music director?

A.C.: My job is to aid in the storytelling of the show musically. I must make sure that every choice – orchestrations, harmonies, cutoffs, dynamics, even sound design – supports the arc and story of the show. Yes, I must make sure that notes, harmonies & rhythms are correct and consistent, but good music direction is much more than that. I aid the director in consistent and honest story-telling. Music is a powerful medium that is capable of eliciting strong emotional response. When it is used correctly, the audience has a stronger emotional connection to the show, and thus, comes back for more & tells their friends!

Austin Cook (Music Director) and Michael Mahler (Seymour) at first rehearsal

Austin Cook (Music Director) and Michael Mahler (Seymour) at first rehearsal


E.D.: You’ll also be playing piano/keyboard during the production, is there anything that’s especially tricky about this music? Do you have a favorite song to play?

A.C.: The music is not tricky, it’s fun! Executing it cleanly and consistently is the only challenge. My favorite song is probably “Feed Me.” We move into a more funky part of the score – I love funk!

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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.