Westfield High School Director of Theatre Monet Salone, from left, discusses puppet construction details with sophomore Lily Terflinger on the set of “Little Shop of Horrors,” which runs Nov. 1-3 at Westfield.
HOUSTON – Oct. 25, 2018 – The Westfield High School Mustang Players will present the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” at 7 p.m. Nov. 1-3 on the Westfield Performing Arts Center mainstage. Though Halloween will have officially ended by the time the curtain rises, Director Monet Salone and her students are hoping a bit of that spooky chill still hangs in the air as they welcome theatergoers to join them for the dramatic tale of love, death and horticulture.
“I’ve always wanted to do ‘Little Shop,’” Salone said. “I think it’s a classic piece. It’s quintessential, and it’s a lot of fun. The kids enjoy it and they relate to the story and the characters.”
The show, a rock musical with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and a Motown-inspired score by composer Alan Menken, originally premiered in 1982 and was based in part on the non-musical 1960 film “The Little Shop of Horrors.” Set in an impoverished skid row neighborhood, the play follows the story of Seymour Krelborn, whose quiet, lonely life working in a struggling floral shop is turned on end when a plant he has been cultivating develops an unquenchable thirst for human blood.
Through its darkly comic script and toe-tapping musical numbers, the play explores themes that the young actors have found easy to relate to, explained senior Brea Porter, who plays one of the doo-wop girls who serve as a Greek chorus to the unfolding tale.
“One of the big themes we’ve found in working on the play is about allowing – or not allowing – people in your life to suck the life out of you,” Porter said. “Seymour is an example of that. He allows people to take advantage of him. And sometimes you don’t even realize it, but people in your life can become toxic to the point where eventually you lose yourself.”
For senior Joshua Hadnot, who plays Seymour, embodying that complexity onstage hasn’t always been easy, especially in some of the play’s lighter moments.
“Seymour has a lot of worry,” said Hadnot. “He’s stressed out a lot of the time, but he’s also capable of these moments of carefree fun. So it’s been about finding a balance – to show his ‘up’ moments as well as the ‘down’ ones.”
Hadnot is playing against freshman Sufi Springer, the youngest of the show’s principal actors, who plays Audrey, a girl with “a past” who longs for better times.
“I can connect to Audrey to a certain extent,” Springer said. “Things that have happened to her have happened to me, so I connect on a personal level. She wants something better, to complete the picture of the life she’s imagined for herself. She tries to leave her old life behind, but parts of that life follow her.”
One piece of Audrey’s past that proves especially difficult to shake is old boyfriend Orin Scrivello, a dentist with a mean streak, played by senior Dylan Vasquez.
“It’s been a long journey preparing the character, from where I began,” Vasquez said. “Being Orin is not just about being sadistic; it’s much more than that. It’s realizing where he came from, what went wrong in his life for him to get led down that path and become who is.”
The show’s other main antagonist comes in the form of the man-eating plant itself, dubbed “Audrey II” by Seymour out of his own unspoken love for Audrey. After coming to life and striking a Faustian bargain with Seymour, the plant – voiced in Westfield’s production by senior Dorion Criner – proves insatiable, pushing Seymour and the play’s other characters into murkier and murkier moral waters. Criner is relishing the task of giving voice to the plant, and he pointed out another theme the students have discussed during production.
“Part of it is about knowing your worth,” Criner said. “For instance, with Audrey, she feels like, because she’s done certain things or made certain choices, that she can’t receive the happiness that she’s always dreamed of. But sometimes in life, you just have to learn to let that guilt go and move on.”
The show has been a big undertaking technically, as well, with students working on the set and other construction elements since mid-July under the lead of Westfield Technical Director Shaun Heath. For sophomore Lily Terflinger, it’s a chance to learn the ropes and develop new skills and new friendships.
“This is my first year in theater at Westfield, and I’m loving it,” Terflinger said during a break in construction. “It’s a lot of dedication and time and energy, but in the end it’s all worth it.”
One of the biggest technical challenges of “Little Shop of Horrors” is the murderous plant itself. Onstage, the plant will be represented by a series of larger-and-larger puppets. Many theater groups rent the puppets for their production of the show, but for the students at Westfield, Terflinger insisted, building the plant is just one more piece of the fun.
“I’ve helped with all of the Audreys so far,” Terflinger said. “This one here is going to be so big by the time we’re done that there’s going to have to be two people inside of it – one manning each half – because it’s going to be so heavy and so large. It’s going to be magnificent!”
Although it can be hard saying goodbye to seniors she has taught for years, Salone said she’s always glad to see new students getting involved and excited about theater.
“It’s hard some days to keep track of the size of the full cast and crew,” she said. “It seems like somebody new shows up every day asking, ‘Can I stay? Can I work on the show?’ And there is no child left behind here! Whoever you are, we’ve got something for you to do.”
That community spirit helps make the long hours of rehearsal and set-building pass more quickly, as several of this year’s seniors mentioned when discussing their time in theater at Westfield. Reflecting on their work in the department, they also spoke of how theater was helping prepare them for success after graduation.
“Through the past four years, theater has really helped me find myself,” said senior Ty Price, who plays floral shop owner Mr. Mushnik in the show. “Working on different characters opens your eyes to different perspectives and different possibilities for your own life, and it helps you find connections with the people around you.”
For Salone, those connections – and the work that’s possible as a result of them – are what keep her motivated for each new year and new production.
“The arts are alive here at Westfield and in Spring ISD,” Salone said, “and I’m just happy to have kids that are eager and ready to learn and district administrators who really support our students. Great things are happening over here, and I always tell the parents what a positive thing this is for their children to be involved in. For a lot of these kids, this is their oasis. This is their place of peace and comfort, knowing that someone here cares about them and that they have peers that care about them.”
“Little Shop of Horrors” runs Nov. 1-3 at Westfield. General admission tickets are $13, and can be purchased at the box office or on the Westfield Theatre Company website.