Moline’s Spotlight Actors and Director Devouring the Delights of New “Little Shop of Horrors”
This week is special in more ways than one for the cast and crew of a new Spotlight Theatre production of the beloved musical, “Little Shop of Horrors.” The portentous prologue to the funky, campy, black comedy begins:
On the twenty-first day of the month of September
In an early year of a decade not too long before our own
The human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to its very existence
And this terrifying enemy surfaced as such enemies often do
In the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places…
Directed by Spotlight co-owner Brent Tubbs, and starring Jacob Johnson as Seymour and Becca Johnson (no relation) as Audrey, the Alan Menken/Howard Ashman musical is a dream come true for all three. It opens this Friday, Sept. 24 at 1800 7th Ave., Moline.
Based on a Roger Corman B-movie, non-musical cult classic (1960), in the 1982 off-Broadway hit, the meek floral assistant Seymour Krelborn stumbles across a new breed of plant he names “Audrey II” — after his coworker crush, Audrey. This foul-mouthed, R&B-singing carnivore promises unending fame and fortune to the down-and-out Krelborn as long as he keeps feeding it human blood. Over time, though, Seymour discovers Audrey II’s out-of-this-world origins and relentless march towards global domination.
Tubbs said this was his favorite show growing up, and he loved the 1986 movie version (directed by Frank Oz). “Rick Moranis was like my
spirit animal as a kid,” he said of the star who played Seymour. The film co-starred Steve Martin as the dentist Orin, Ellen Greene as Audrey and Levi Stubbs as the voice of Audrey II. “The movie was just so good, and I had all the music memorized like immediately.”
“This was the show I’ve always wanted to do it – be in it or see it live,” Tubbs said, noting he has never seen it live before. Music Guild in Moline performed it in spring 2017. “If I could sing, I would have loved to have done it.”
Spotlight auditioned the show in June and had a really good turnout, include virtually. The new Seymour is Jacob Johnson, 21, who’s not related to Becca Johnson, 27, who’s playing Audrey. Becca choreographed “Charlie Brown” at Spotlight this summer and “has helped out a ton behind the scenes” at Spotlight, Tubbs said. “This will be her first time back on stage since everything.”
Jacob has done musical theater since he was at Orion High School, where he starred as George in “Our Town,” and was Chip Tolentino in the musical “Putnam County Spelling Bee.” He graduated in 2018 and tried out for Spotlight’s “Wedding Singer,” performing in the ensemble in February 2020 (in which Becca played Holly). “It was a really great experience,” Jacob said. “When I heard they were doing ‘Little Shop,’
which is one of my favorite shows too, I just thought that would be such a cool show to be in. I did not expect to get Seymour at all.”
Jacob is now in his last semester at Black Hawk College, where he majors in graphic design. He loves the welcoming, friendly environment of local theater.
“They’re just so supportive,” he said. “It makes for a really fun environment to be in. And all the singing and dancing, it’s just a fun activity. It really fills me with energy.”
Tubbs said that Seymour is meek, shy and quiet, and Jacob “just kind of exuded that,” he said. “He also has the chops that we knew he could pull it off. It made for a very easy decision.”
Becca said Audrey has long been a bucket-list role for her, who also didn’t see Music Guild’s version. The idealistic bleach-blonde with the New York accent is described as the kind, shy, friendly, and
awkward coworker of Seymour (the object of his affections), who is dating the sadistic Orin Scrivello, D.D.S.
“Audrey gets to belt and I love belting,” Becca said. “Also, she’s just a very out-there character, and I gravitate toward those types of characters.” In August 2019, she memorably played the flamboyant over-dramatic mother in “Matilda” at the Spotlight.
“This is a show I’ve loved my whole life,” she said of “Little Shop.” “My mom introduced me to the movie when I was really young and I just loved it from the beginning. She always told me, ‘You’d be such a good Audrey some day,’ and I was kind of like, ‘yeah, yeah.’ I never thought I’d have the chance to actually play her, so it’s very exciting for me.”
Compared to pre-Covid shows, Spotlight wanted to bring back smaller shows, with smaller casts, Tubbs said. “It’s easier to manage, and so this is a smaller cast. It just felt right, I guess.”
And Kevin Moore, as the deep-voiced, imposing Audrey II, does his part from off-stage, not visible to the audience. He was in the Spotlight’s “Miracle on 34th Street” in 2019, and has sung Audrey II before.
“He just nailed it,” Tubbs said. “He’s got that big old, booming, deep, soulful voice.”
Becca is a married mom of two young kids – son Ryker, 5, and her daughter Bexley, who recently turned 1. “I was pregnant with her during ‘Wedding Singer,’” she said, noting she’s also restarting her Green Room Bakery business (at 1713 3rd Ave., Rock Island), which will sell special cake pops during “Little Shop.”
“It’s about the same as it was before Covid, but getting back into the groove of it has definitely been challenging,” Becca said. “Throwing another kid into mix has been challenging, too, but she’s in day care now, so that’s helped a lot, and my son is in school now. We’re finding our new routine and new normal. It’s busy, but I’m one of those people that, if I didn’t have all this stuff going on, I’d be going crazy.”
Creating the actual plants (in four versions, from small to huge, designed by Bailey Hager) also has been a challenge, Tubbs said. “It’s gonna look awesome,” he said. In the third pod, there is someone inside operating Audrey II, and the last one, they’re not inside, but there’s a team of people behind it operating it, Tubbs said.
He and Hager built them with Sara Wegener, Travis Hedman, Dottie Tubbs and Jeff Tubbs. “I would be OK never seeing another piece of PVC pipe for the rest of my life,” Brent said. “That’s been the most challenging. The show itself is pretty straightforward; the music is awesome. It’s been a team effort. I’ve been at the theater day in and day out for pretty much the last two and a
half to three weeks, just nonstop with it.”
Jacob interacts with the plants a lot, including in pod 2, he actually puppeteers it, moving it around. “I get a whole costume with it, which is really cool,” he said. “Working with pod 3 is really fun. She’s doing a phenomenal job,” he said of Violeta Jensen, who operates it inside. “It’s nice to have somebody there to interact with.”
“I’ve always dreamed of being eaten by a man-eating plant,” Becca said of Audrey’s fate at the show’s climax.
“Making dreams come true – that’s what we do at the Spotlight,” Tubbs replied. With the larger cast, when they’re all singing in the early “Skid Row,” “that sounds so awesome,” he said.
Becca’s father, Dave, is also in the ensemble. He did a lot in high school, and he also was in “Rock of Ages” with her at Moline’s Black Box in August 2017. In both shows, father and daughter never interact, Becca
said. “It’s still fun to have him there and watch him from the sidelines,” she said.
The “Little Shop” cast includes Chris Tracy as Mr. Mushnik, Adam Sanders as Orin, and as the sassy, doo-wop Greek chorus (which often comments on the action) are Lillian Maynard, Becca Casad and Kirsten Sindelar.
Like he did with the June musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” Brent Tubbs (who owns Spotlight with his wife Sara) has expanded the “Little Shop” cast – but unlike “Charlie Brown,” he didn’t add characters. An ensemble of Brianne Kokemuller, Annie Mitchell, Kaitlyn Baker, Dave Meumann, and Joe Wren simply are playing pre-existing characters that traditionally had the actor who plays Orin (the dentist) do them.
Katie Griswold is music directing her first Spotlight show with a live band – a 2021 Augustana grad, she’s a local music teacher.
Sanders is having a lot of fun as the mad, mean Orin, Tubbs said. “He’s just going for it and it’s hilarious,” he said.
With the Illinois indoor mask mandate, the cast has rehearsed about six weeks wearing masks, but they will perform without them. All Spotlight patrons will be required to wear masks. “We’re so ready for that to be done,” Tubbs said.
Performances will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 24, 25, and Oct. 1-2, plus 2 p.m. on Sundays, Sept. 26 and Oct. 3. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. For reservations and more information, visit thespotlighttheatreqc.com.