“Don’t feed the plants” — a cautionary phrase that might not strike much fear into a person, green-thumb inclined or not. But if that particular breed of plant happens to have teeth, a taste for blood and an enthusiastic zeal for taking over the world, they are wise words indeed. The Melodramatics Theatre Company has taken on a classic musical comedy tackling just those issues with its production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” opening this week at Cornell University.
The company, formerly known as simply Melodramatics, is in its fourth year and has been picking up serious speed. In 2004, Cornell students Justin Leader and Carlos Dominguez began the student-run drama company that performs biannually in Cornell’s Risley Hall. The group successfully became a non-profit organization last summer.
Unlike some other student-developed groups on either college campus, membership in Melodramatics isn’t based on what hill actors live on. Melodramatics is an artistic alliance between Ithaca College and Cornell students. Alex Gruber, a freshman hospitality major at Cornell and the assistant director and associate producer of the show, said school doesn’t play a factor in the process of casting.
“It’s a matter of talent, it’s a matter of ability to commit and interest in the production,” Gruber said.
Since its first production of Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” in Fall 2004, the Melodramatics has produced five full-scale musicals including last semester’s “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” When it comes to selecting musicals, this is no timid organization. Don’t expect any sickly sweet Disney tunes from this company.
This semester’s production is a delightfully dark sci-fi comedy with music and lyrics by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken. In it, nerdy botanical enthusiast Seymour Krelborn becomes owner of a blood-thirsty plant who promises Seymour everything he’s ever wanted, most of all, success and Audrey, his one love. Throw into the mix a sadistic dentist and a trio of sassy doo-wop narrators and you’ve got some idea of how marvelously kitsch it is. That kitschy nature makes up a good part of the show’s deliciousness, but the story has an innate adaptability to the times, director and company president Josh Burlingham, a Cornell senior, said in an e-mail interview.
“I believe the themes of the story — behind the necessary glitz of the production — are very relevant to our daily lives and the times in which we are living,” Burlingham said. “The story is a fable, a tale of moral instruction.”
Since the storyline was created in the 1960 film, directed by Roger Corman, it has found its way to stages across the world and has enjoyed theater revivals in both New York City and London in the past 10 years. More well-known is the 1986 film remake, which featured a slightly altered plot and ending to appease the masses not happy with the storyline’s darker tones. Classicists fear not, though. Melodramatics keeps the original quirks intact, Burlingham said.
“Artistically, it was my goal that every aspect of our production, including the costumes and set, harkens back to the feel of the original film that first ignited the popularity of this musical title,” he said.
Emily Hauser, a freshman speech pathology major at the college, plays Chiffon, one of the do-wop girls. Hauser said the unity of working on a production bridges cross-hill differences.
“We’re all working together, so we all have to be cool together,” she said. “We’re working together on a project, so we have to get along.”
Because the group rehearses and performs at Cornell, the bulk of the production staff is composed of Cornell students, but the cast itself is mostly Ithaca College students.
“It’s a very small group. It’s very selective,” Hauser said. “Everything’s very organized and it is very professional and it’s mostly because there’s a camaraderie between everyone. It’s a little bit of everyone doing what they love.”
“Little Shop of Horrors” will be performed at 8 p.m. today through Saturday and at 8 p.m. April 17 to 19. Tickets are $20 for non-students and $10 for students and children under 18.