Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, April 2000
Hoosick Falls Central School did “Little Shop” as their spring musical, and, of course, my younger son Brandon had to go and see it. So far the longest trip we have taken to see a production of “Little Shop” (we have seen four) is three hours to the suburbs of Boston where Brandon was promised a chance to go backstage and see the Audrey II puppets up close and personal. So a trip to Hoosick Falls for a Sunday matinee seemed a piece of cake.
The HFCS production was everything you would expect a rural high school musical to be, and then some. The band smelled comfortably of manure, having hurried through their Sunday farm chores in between Palm Sunday services and the 3 p.m. show. The entire show had been inflated to nearly twice its normal size to accommodate all the extras a high school production must have; and there were moments of splendid glory interspersed with moments of true theatrical misery throughout the massive two and half hour run of the show.
But the thing that struck me most was the fun everyone was having. Here, a mere twenty minutes from “The Cultural Berkshires” was a place where theatre was a true community event – not something that “professionals from New York” imported for you. It took forever to get the curtain up because everyone was busy visiting – including the cast in full costume. Penny pockets ladies wandered through the audience selling 50/50 raffle tickets. In the lobby you could buy t-shirts and the opportunity to have your picture taken with the biggest Audrey II puppet after the show, and down the hall in the cafeteria there was still more visiting going on over coffee and donuts. This ritual was repeated at intermission.
The fellow who played Seymour had the same last name as the director, the choreographer and two members of the band. Hoosick Falls is one of those places where new people seldom move in, and many old-timers just stay, generation after generation. Those people might have been parents and children and siblings, or aunts and uncles and cousins, or grandparents and grandchildren, or a happy mixture of all of the above. And I am sure that plenty of people who didn’t have the same last name were related as well through matrilineal ties.
But the curtain did go up and an energetic, over produced glob of theatre took over the room. The sublime mixed with the ridiculous cheerfully. Three of the six back-up singers knew what they were doing. The other three appeared to have been wedged into their amazing and prolific costumes and shoved out on the stage at random (perhaps the lucky winners of yet another raffle?), but they smiled gamely. One of them could really SING! That was exciting.
The fellow playing Seymour, who may or may not have been cast through his family ties, could sing most of the time, and had this nerd routine down pat, but he couldn’t really act, except like a nerd. Audrey could sing some of the time, and wore her blonde beehive wig and “tasteful” costumes well, but had the terrified look of a deer caught in the headlights. The girl who played Mushnik was just plain terrible. But the boy who played Orin was a hoot. He had microphone troubles though.
I have never seen a high school stage so heavily miked. There were six standing mikes across the front of the stage, and the principle players all wore body mikes as well. Unfortunately the amplifier system had not been upgraded with the mikes, and so everyone’s voice crackled anonymously out of an old box on the wall stage right. Feed back was a problem. Body mikes falling off were a problem. Orin managed not to wear his at all for his first number and get it tucked into his collar for the second. That time Seymour saved him by reaching over and straightening his collar – which was one of the biggest laughs in the play.
And then there were the puppets. They had rented nice ones, but that final big Audrey II was the biggest and meanest I had ever seen! Unlike the doomed production at Williams last fall where they had blown the entire budget on renting the puppets and then failed to learn how to manipulate them, the kids at HFCS had a ball with their killer plants. These plants danced and sang and jumped and kicked and the big one even stood up and WALKED which was impressive considering the size of the puppet and that it was manipulated by just one person.
They also had a great guy doing the voice, and the puppeteers and he worked well together to really bring the plant to life. In a way, doing the voice of Audrey II is very freeing for a high school age performer because no one can see them as they jump and jive. During the plant’s first number I caught people straining to see into the wings because they wanted to be a part of this great performance, but he remained hidden until the curtain calls.
So it was wonderful and terrible and a whole lot of fun. We were going to get our pictures taken with Audrey II, but, being the final performance, we would have had to sit through the endless giving of gifts and thanking of people who had helped with the show in order to do that. We left just as they were thanking the Rescue Squad for the fake blood…now, what does a Rescue Squad in Hoosick Falls, NY, need with fake blood??? Some questions are better left unanswered.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 2000