AACC Theatre Audiences Devour Delicious Cult Classic


The 1932 story “Green Thoughts” by John Collier has inspired several short stories, movies and musical adaptations. A human-eating plant from outer space sounds completely plausible, right?

Though the story was not originally well-received, various productions since have earned positive reviews, not to mention a voracious cult classic following. “Little Shop of Horrors,” the musical offshoot, took root in Arnold last month, delighting Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) Theatre guests with its biting humor and overgrown set.

“I thought (‘Little Shop of Horrors’) was just tremendous,” said Kristen Oberright, a Rockville resident and AACC alumnus. “So many talented students and alumni, but also actors from the local theater scene, made for an exceptional, very professional show. I thought the acting, singing, music, choreography and set were all excellent.”

Most entertainment venues were hit hard by the pandemic, and AACC was no exception. Students who had been involved in productions in theater continued to take classes, graduate, transfer and otherwise move on. This AACC production marked the return of musical theater to AACC since the pandemic.

“When the theater reopened with ‘Clue: On Stage’ in April 2022, our students were starved of performance opportunities and incredibly eager to be back in a venue. It took us a few semesters to get our production process back onto its feet properly,” said Madeline Austin, AACC Theatre department adjunct professor and “Little Shop of Horrors” director. “We felt not only had we gotten back into the rhythm process-wise, but our AACC students (both current and former) really wanted to do a musical. We also wanted to choose a title that would be appealing for audiences. And, for me as a director, I wanted the challenge of working on a musical.”

The “Little Shop of Horrors” show began 10 minutes before the curtain went up with a Skid Row wino (Adam Lee Conklin) discreetly crawling out and “falling asleep” to the far right of the stage. With his dingy clothing barely noticeable against the black backdrop, the movement was just enough to catch the audience’s eyes to signal the beginning of Act I, which opened on equally dreary Skid Row. The only colorful aspect of Skid Row was the surprisingly upbeat personality of the trio of presumably high school dropouts (Abby Burns, Elaina Kohrs and Susanne Whitney).

The choreography was playful or downcast as the scenes required, highlighting the physical acting and vocal talents of the entire cast. Throughout the musical, the storyline quietly took on social issues including domestic violence (flower shop employee Audrey, played by Ally Baca, and an abusive dentist boyfriend, played by Andrew Agner-Nichols) and homelessness, and questioned how far some people will go to achieve fame and fortune (fledgling flower shop owner Mr. Mushnik, played by Martin Egna, and Seymour Krelborn, the inventor of the menacing plant obsessed with “being seen,” played by Ethan Keller).

The action onstage was captivating in part because of the performances audiences didn’t see. The Audrey II (the man-eating plant puppet) required multiple puppeteers inside the structure under the direction of lead puppeteer Erik Binnix and voiced elsewhere by Sarah Johansen. The coordination of the puppet onstage, and the vocalist below the stage, Johansen, watching the entire performance on a monitor tucked away under the stage, had to be in perfect sync with Binnix’s puppeteer movements. Their coordination was so well done that the audience had no idea that the vocals weren’t coming from a puppeteer inside the plant.

Also adding to the performance were the musicians in the pit, led by Jack Benedict, who volunteered his time as a rehearsal pianist and first piano in the band. Linda Christensen (synth), Bailey Dicus (bass guitar, ensemble), Billy Georg (drums) and Joe Matthews (guitar) rounded out the band, also camouflaged under the stage with Johansen.

“It was also a joy working with Sean Urbantke (set), Maggie Cunningham (stage manager), Steph Condon (sound) and Michelle Hickman (costumes) again,” said Austin of other behind-the-scenes production team members. “After three previous productions together, we have really strengthened as a collaborative team. I was also given the opportunity to collaborate with the talented David Zajic (our pit director) and Adam Beres (our vocal coach), as well as having current AACC student Aidan Henderson design the lighting and Gabby Bly and Erik Binnix design Audrey pods 3 and 4.”

Another highlight was that Austin got to work with her eldest son, Benedict.

The “B-movie” musical adaptation received straight As from the audience. Lori Bader of Annapolis came to AACC’s “12 Angry Jurors” show last fall and “absolutely” loved it. “In our area we have many theater options, but I truly believe the AACC Theatre company is a hidden gem in our community,” she said.

AACC biology student and Audrey II puppeteer Kestrel Watson appreciated the diverse cast and felt that the collection of student and community actors made for an even better production.

“Individually, everyone is tremendously talented,” added Watson, who has also performed in the community college’s Black Box Series (short plays written, designed, acted and directed by students). “But when a production is put together, I am always amazed at how great we are collectively as a cast and crew.”

AACC has open auditions for all of its shows. If interested in auditioning, or to follow the show schedule and purchase tickets, visit www.aacc.edu/campus-life/attend-a-performance.


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