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“Little Shop” Is Full of Surprises

When Tim Diebolt tells people what this year’s spring musical is about, the reaction is predictable and rewarding.

“Their eyes light up with intrigue and excitement,” he says.

Tim, an MHS senior, is a proven, experienced member of the school’s theater program. He was in in three other musicals and he was in three fall shows. This, though, is his most unusual role -- as the voice of a plant that feeds on human blood and flesh in the rollicking rock-opera-iish “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Based on the low-budget black-comedy movie made more than 50 years ago, the show was reinvented as an off-Broadway musical in 1982 and has since earned a tremendous following; it’s now a staple in high school and community theatres.

The MHS production is Thursday, March 17 at 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday (March 18-19) at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the door ($10 or $8 for seniors).

Ed Tyler has directed “Little Shop” three times while at MHS, including once before as the spring musical.

Tyler said the production is fun but challenging, mostly because of Twoey, which is what the plant -- a sort of Venus flytrap -- is called as it grows inside the Skid Row florist shop.

Working with the plant presents “a series of engineering and artistic headaches,” Tyler said with a laugh. “But when you can take wood and chicken wire and cloth and turn it into a character that people can relate to -- then you’ve got it.”

This is essentially a love story. Seymour (Armando Osario), an orphan working in a run-down florist shop, has a crush on coworker Audrey (Charlotte Rhodes). The plant appears in the shop mysteriously and is not doing well -- until Seymour pricks his finger and the plant devours the blood.

As for the rest of the story -- well, suffice it to say the plant grows large and is central to the action. Tim is never onstage; instead he’s dressed in dark clothes, hidden down in the pit with the orchestra, singing his songs into a handheld microphone.

Meanwhile, classmate James Feeney, dressed in blacks and greens, is on stage, pushing Twoey around while using levers to open its mouth in sync with Tim’s singing.

“I have to know his lines inside and out,” said James, lest the production have the sort of unintentional comic dimension that tarnishes poorly edited Godzilla movies.

This is James’ first musical, and while he auditioned seeking a traditional role, he said he was handpicked by Tyler to work the puppet.

“If no one knows James is even there, then he’s done his job,” Tyler said.

Added Tim: “It’s like I’m half the character, and he’s the other half.”

Twoey gets its name because Seymour first calls it Audrey II. Early in the play the puppet appears as just a small potted plant that is held by Seymour. The plant then reappears as a larger puppet during the song “You Never Know.” And finally, it sits on the floor and is large enough to hide its operator.

Along the way the plant begins to sing, of course, and business picks up at the shop, and a dentist dies, making for a great meal for Twoey and, well …

As Amanda Lister, the show’s assistant director, says: “It’s not your typical Broadway musical.”.

Manchester Public Schools 45 North School St, Manchester, CT 06042

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