If you like musical romantic comedies about flesh-eating plants from outer space, you’ll want to go to the Manatee Performing Arts Center in the next few weeks.
The Manatee Players production of “Little Shop of Horrors” opens Thursday and runs through Jan. 22.
It’s a show with a distinctive history. Its roots go back to a shoestring-budget horror-comedy film from 1960, directed by Roger Corman, featuring a very young Jack Nicholson and initially seen by almost no one. It started getting some fans through late-night showings on late-’60s TV.
More than 20 years later, a couple of obscure writers, Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman, turned the movie into an Off-Off-Broadway musical with a retro score, which became the hit of the season, moved to an Off-Broadway house and soon became popular in regional theaters across the country.
A 1986 film with loads of stars, mostly from the “Saturday Night Live”/“SCTV” universe, flopped in theaters but became popular on TV.
“Little Shop” finally made it to Broadway in 2003, but was not big hit there.
Mencken, of course, went on to superstardom as the composer for most of the Disney musicals. Ashman had great success with “Aladdin,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast” before his death at age 40.
For a lot musical theater performers and directors, it’s the kind of show they dream of doing.
“This is a show I’ve always wanted to do, a role I’ve always wanted to do,” said Christina Capehart. She plays Audrey, not to be confused with Audrey II, in the Manatee Players production.
“She’s tacky and she’s fabulous,” Capehart said of Audrey. “I did this show once before. I was an urchin. But I always wanted to be Audrey.”
The urchins are a trio of singers, named Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette, who function as a Greek chorus and comment on the proceedings with ’60s girl-group-styles songs.
Audrey, Capehart’s character, is the unrequited love of Seymour, a socially inept flower shop employee. Seymour cultivates a talking carnivorous plant that develops and insatiable appetite for human flesh. Before the plant reveals its insidious nature, Seymour names it Audrey II. (Manatee Players borrowed Audrey II, a puppet operated by an actor inside and voiced by another actor offstage, from American Stage in St. Petersburg, which produced the show for its popular American Stage in the Park festival a few years back.)
De Wayne Barrett, who has directed some of Manatee’s Players’ most spectacular musicals, is the director and choreographer of this production.
Craig Weiskerger is Seymour, a role he performed at the Players Theatre (now Players Centre for Performing Arts) in Sarasota 14 years ago. He’s been wanting to do it again ever since. He said he’s drawn to Seymour and the show because of the combination of silliness and heart.
“I really like Seymour,” he said. “What I like about him is that duality. That’s what’s great about all these characters. They’re caricatures, but they’re sincere.”
Details: Jan. 5-22, Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., Bradenton. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. $27-$37. 941-748-5875, manateeperformingartscenter.com.