FEED ME! 'Audrey II' Puppet Is Center Stage In Monomoy Theatre Production Of 'Little Shop Of Horrors'

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Local Theater

Katherine Wolff as Audrey, Lawson Lewallen as Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Monomoy Theatre. JESUS LOPEZ VARGAS PHOTO

The day a professional puppeteer brought Audrey II, the alien plant that is the villain in “Little Shop of Horrors,” to life during the Monomoy Theatre's rehearsals for the musical was “like having the final cast member show up,” said director Marsha Korb Predovic.

The giant plant, created by Monomoy veteran Dennis Predovic – who will also voice the character – not only has to talk and sing like the rest of the cast, but also spit out props and eat actors, noted puppeteer Teddy Yudain.

“We not only have this very big puppet but all the things growing out of it all over the set,” he said. “You're constantly discovering your limitations and making new discoveries. It's a real team effort.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” will be making its Monomoy premier when it opens Thursday, July 26. The musical comedy, based on Roger Corman's low budget 1960 film, is a different direction for the Main Street Theater, said Artistic Director Alan Rust.

“We've never done anything 'rock' before,” said Rust, who will also play Mr. Mushnik in the show. With music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman, the show features '50s-inspired rock and roll songs such as “Skid Row,” “Somewhere That's Green” and “Suddenly Seymour.” A girl group serves both as backing vocalists and a sort of Greek chorus as snobbish Seymour discovers an unknown variety of plant which makes him famous – but with a big price.

The Predovics began performing at Monomoy in the 1970s, when they attended Ohio University along with Rust. “It's sort of our artistic home,” said Dennis. The couple, who live most of the year in Nyack, N.Y., fell in love with Chatham and purchased a home here in the early 1990s, and are guest artists at Monomoy most summers.

Marsha was tapped to direct “Little Shop of Horrors” after directing the show at the Rockland Country Day School in Congers, N.Y., where she recent retired from teaching after 15 years. She said she was excited by the opportunity to bring the show to Monomoy and its enthusiastic company of student actors and technicians.

“Everyone working on this production is so good,” she said. “They're energy is just unbelievable.”

While there are companies that rent out pre-made Audrey IIs, Monomoy decided to make its own. Dennis, who has been involved in puppetry “pretty much all my life,” created three different puppets for the production: a mechanical, radio-controlled version; a hand-held puppet that will be used by Lawson Lewallen, who plays Seymour; and the final life-sized Audrey II. He collaborated with the theater' prop master and designer to build the creature out of hard-plastic window wells, chicken wire, yoga mats and spray foam, which could be shaped – into things like sharp teeth – once dry. Members of the cast and crew, as well as anybody who happened to be available, pitched in to paint the puppet.

“It's been a communal effort,” said Marsha. Yudain, who arrived at Monomoy last week, helped fine tune the puppet, which he will operate with the help of Monomoy actors Reid Williams and Matthew Werner.

Dennis has long done the announcements at the beginning of every Monomoy show. “Why not make him the voice of Audrey?” Rust said, noting that Predovic is well known for his voiceover work. He's the announcer on the “PBS News Hour” and has done many commercials, cartoons and video games, including “Grand Theft Auto.” He's also a veteran actor, appearing on and off Broadway, in films and in such television shows as “The Sopranos,” “Law and Order” and “American Dad.”

For “Little Shop of Horrors,” he'll be sitting with the orchestra; it will be his first time on stage in a while and he said he's having fun “really rocking out” on the plant's songs.

“He's practically chewing on the microphone!” added Yudain.

Integrating the Audrey II puppet into the live action on stage takes a lot of coordination, said Yudain. Since he's not doing the voice, he has to listen closely to Predovic for cues. In some productions of the show, the Audrey II operator is under the stage or inside the plant; at Monomoy, Yudain will work the puppet “old school,” manipulating its various elements from behind. Fortunately, he's familiar with the show. He played Seymour in a middle school production when he was in sixth grade; on the first day of rehearsal at Monomoy, “I knew it all. It stuck with me,” he said.

Yudain's parents were actors, and he trained at the University of Connecticut. Although he wasn't in the university's puppetry program, considered one of the best in the country, he did learn about puppetry there, and after moving to Manhattan the experience landed him a job as a puppeteer in the Metropolitan Opera's “Madam Butterfly.”

The Predovics have known Yudain for years and he and Dennis often talk puppets. “We've wanted to do a project together for years,” Dennis said. “This is perfect.” Yudain is also engaged to Allison Layman, the daughter of Terry Layman and Ellen Fiske, who regularly appear as guest artists at Monomoy. She'll be appearing in “As You Like It,” opening Aug. 7, directed by her father.

It's actually been a very family-oriented summer at Monomoy; the Predovics' son Casey appeared as Nathan Detroit in “Guys and Dolls” earlier this summer.

“It's such a nice convergence of friends and family,” Dennis Predovic said of the summer, and “Little Shop of Horrors.”

“Little Shop of Horrors”
At Monomoy Theatre, Main Street, Chatham
July 26 to Aug. 4
Information and tickets: 508-945-1589, monomoytheatre.org