DANVILLE — While most actors love being on a stage, others are happier behind the scenes — or inside a man-eating plant.
Take Jerry Strain, for example. The 13-year-old has a key role in “Little Shop of Horrors,” presented this weekend by DLO Musical Theatre, but you won’t actually see him.
Instead, Jerry will be seated inside two versions of Audrey II, the plant that’s constantly demanding “feed me!”
“I love doing this. This has been my dream,” said Jerry, a student at North Ridge Middle School.
The dark comedy will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and April 30, and at 2 p.m. Sundays, April 24 and May 1, at Danville Area Community College Bremer Theater.
The story revolves around meek floral assistant Seymour Krelborn, who stumbles across a new breed of plant he names “Audrey II” — after his coworker crush. 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 some “unusual” plant food.
The story is based on the book by Howard Ashman, and was released as a movie in 1986 (a remake of the 1960 film). It also was a 1982 Broadway musical.
The DLO production stars: Patrick Linn as Seymour, Sonnia Schroeder as Audrey, Carolyn Smith as voice of Audrey II, Jason Asaad as Orin Scrivello (the dentist), Andrew Peters as Mr. Mushnik (the shop owner), and Ashley Bourn-Hightower, Natalya Bourn and Roy Butler-Staple as the street urchins.
Director and choreographer is Angie Mansfield and music director is Belinda Smith.
“It’s been a lot of fun working on it,” Suzzen Borcz, producer, said. “It’s funny, but dark. It’s not something you’d want to take little kids to see.”
Despite the humor, the play touches on some serious themes, including domestic violence. It’s rated PG for its language and comic violence.
One of the best parts of the show is the music, Borcz said, adding, “The singers in this cast are just amazing.” Many of the numbers are fast and upbeat.
She also praised the musical director, saying, “We were lucky to get Belinda. She’s very good.”
Overall, she said, “The talent (in the show) will blow people away.”
Audrey II steals show
Of course, the most intriguing character is the plant, Audrey II. Father-son team, Paul and Jerry Strain, have been modifying the four puppets for the local show. Four puppets are needed to show each stage of the plant’s growth from a cute little cutting to a blood-thirsty monster.
DLO bought the spray-foam puppets from Steve Beebe, choral director at New Palestine School District in Indiana, who made the costumes for a “Little Shop” production. Beebe is the son of Jim and Joy Beebe of Danville.
The Strains have been modifying the costumes. The largest Audrey II is 4 feet tall and more than 5 feet long; it grows to 8 feet when it opens its mouth. Another is 3 feet tall. Jerry will be inside those puppets.
There also are two hand puppets. One will be operated by the character Seymour, and another will be manipulated by Ellis Mansfield, who will be under the store’s counter.
Jerry said he never saw “Sesame Street” while growing up, but he did see “The Muppets,” and enjoys “homemade movies” on YouTube. He taught himself how to handle puppets by watching videos, and hopes to work at the Jim Henson Studio someday.
Jerry has been with DLO for five years, and his father is on the board, and also acts.
Paul said of “Little Shop,” “It’s a classic. It’s the first dark-themed musical we’ve done.” He’s seen it onstage several times.
Also popular in the show are the singing urchins, made up of Roy Butler-Staple, a junior at Danville High School, and sisters Ashley Bourn-Hightower and Natalya Bourn, who come from a family of singers.
“I’m so glad to be part of it,” Ashley said. “I’m so excited about this show.” She was born in 1986, when the movie came out, so that makes it special to her.
The sisters had help studying for their roles from their sister, Fania Bourn, who was a singer in the Bloomington production of “Little Shop” before being chosen for a part in “Rent” in Chicago.
Roy said he looks forward to coming to rehearsals. He’s also busy with Show Choir, and does other productions, including DACC’s “Ragtime.”
Ashley agreed that the rehearsals are fun, saying, “It’s a release for us. We get to have a good time and smile and dance and run around.”
The trio also complimented Carolyn Smith, who does the voice of Audrey II (a female plant in this show) and sings — all backstage. There are several other behind-the-scene parts, including people inside the plant’s roots, and workers involved in building the sets.
Premium tickets are $19 for adults and $10 for students; standard are $15 for adults and $7 for students.
The box office at Center Stage Rehearsal Hall, near Burlington's in the Village Mall, is open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Call ahead at 431-1660 to confirm that the box office is open.
Season memberships are available, as well.
Learn more at www.dlomusicaltheatre.com and its Facebook page.