"I can talk, I can move. Who's to say I can't do anything? Like see you get everything your secret, greasy heart desires," Kennedy Pugh tells me in a milky, deep voice.
No, I'm not getting hit on in an opium den. Kennedy Pugh plays Audrey II, the flesh-eating, jive-talking, R&B-singing plant in the REP's production of Little Shop of Horrors.
Despite the plant's constant onstage presence, Pugh spends his performance backstage, reciting lines. On stage, the audience will see four different puppets representing different phases of the plant as it grows and grows and eventually becomes larger than Rick Moranis' career.
Creating the puppets has proven to be a real feat for FAC set designer Chris Sheley. Early on, Sheley made the decision to create the plants in-house instead of renting from a theatrical supply house on the East or West coast.
"Renting puppets is risky," Sheley explains, "because the theater is committed to using whatever type of puppet arrives, regardless of color or quality. We wanted to ensure the quality and the action of the plant, so it could meet our level of professionalism and assure a very high-quality product."
When the audience first meets Audrey II, he's a sparkly, Muppet-like, pink-orange, 20-inch plant. By the time onlookers see the third version of the plant, dancer Chris Verano is twisting and turning inside an 8-foot stalk while holding a 5-foot, beak-like head upright, with a stagehand's assistance.
Finally, the fourth Audrey II requires three handlers; Verano, an offstage actor and a stagehand maneuver the plant from behind.
"By the end," explains Sheley, "it's this hot pink shiny head with warts and eyes." This Audrey II takes over the stage with a head 6 feet in diameter and 5 feet tall, in dozens of shades of pink and with three 8-foot-long arms sweeping characters into his mouth.
Onstage, the whole production should work like a well-choreographed technical dance. Through closed-circuit monitoring, Pugh, the actors and stagehands backstage will be able to see how the plant looks onstage. Tight choreography is necessary for scenes where the beauty of Audrey II attracts customers, only to have the plant stalk them like jungle prey as soon as they turn their backs.
The final scene pits the plant against its namesake, Seymour's true love Audrey. Light shoots out of the plant's mouth, creating a silhouetted display. One of the arms wraps around Audrey as the plant holds her and tries to stick her in his mouth.
"There's this constant edge of the plant being really beautiful, something you want to be near and have," Sheley says, "and then you say, "Oh gosh, it's really here to take over the world.'"
Little Shop of Horrors
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Main, SaGJi Theatre, 30 W. Dale St.
Fridays and Saturdays, Feb. 16 through March 11, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m.
Tickets: $26 to $30; call 634-5583 for more information or visit csfineartscenter.org.
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