Alan Menken’s sleeper hit Little Shop of Horrors will get some time in the sun as Luckiest Productions kicks off a national tour from February 18 at The Hayes Theatre in Sydney.
Known worldwide for his association with Disney, and for writing the music to hits like The Little Mermaid and Aladdin, Menken’s Little Shop is darker, quirkier and much bloodier than those Disney hits.
AussieTheatre’s Chris Fung had a chance to sit down for a chat with Angelique Cassimatis, Josie Lane and Dash Kruck: three very seasoned performers who have been cast in the show’s ensemble.
Chris: The three of you have become very well known in the cabaret scene, having written, produced and performed in your own shows all around Australia. And the Hayes is quite well known as one of the most popular cabaret venues in Sydney. Is that how your relationship with the Hayes began? What got you into cabaret to begin with?
Dash Kruck: Coming to Sydney it was like I didn’t know anybody and it was really hard to get into the scene. And then I entered the ‘Your Theatrics Cabaret Competition’, got in, and suddenly all these people were like “who are you, where did you come from?” Well I’ve been here for years! I think you always have to be working on creating your own work, because if you’re not being seen it doesn’t matter how good you are.
Angelique: But it’s also to remind people “Hey guys, I’m still here, I’m around!”
Josie: It’s not even just that. I think it’s more that we’re creative artists, we’re not defined by each musical we get cast in or what happens, so working on your own stuff is a way to express that creativity and, if you have the option, of putting your own show together. We’re storytellers naturally. We need to tell different stories.
Chris: Alan Menken is one of the most celebrated writers of our time. Have there been any particular challenges you’ve had to overcome as a cast through rehearsal?
Angelique: It’s beautiful music but the challenge with the three girls is there’s literally just the three of us, and if you don’t get one little bit right in the singing, it’s immediately apparent “Ah that’s Ange! And she is OFF” But when it’s together, it’s so … it just the kind of music that gets you excited. When it’s right, it makes you feel happy inside.
Dash Kruck: The beautiful thing in this show is that the central character is really Audrey II, the plant. And so working on the puppetry for this show has been MASSIVE. And that plant is the show’s biggest diva.
Angelique: Well this guy, this guy right here is the MAN.
Dash: It’s been really challenging, and she’s (Audrey II) grown through the production. She’s a cumbersome beast, so the challenge to kind of work with her in a way that is believable, and works for the show has taken up a lot of time.
Chris: How did you get cast?
Angelique: Well, I did my cabaret here (at the Hayes), and then I auditioned for something for Lisa (Campbell) and I wasn’t quite right for that but then she offered me this instead.
Josie: And that’s so true, when you do write your own show to play to your own strengths, it gives casting directors a reason to see you in a different light than the 5 seconds that you get in front of them at auditions. To go, “Here’s a bunch of strengths I have: I’m a funny lady, I can sing really high, and I can swear a whole bunch.”
Chris: Let’s talk a little more about this production, what makes it special?
Angelique: There hasn’t been a professional version of this show for a very long, I think the early- to mid- 90s, because Mitchell Butel was in it.
Josie: It’s a great camaraderie, there’s something special about working here. Because it’s so small and intimate. They’re in the space, the audience in the front row are right there.
Dash: The Hayes wasn’t established to rake in hundreds of billions, because there’s no possible way to do that in a 100 seat theatre. It was established because they really care about music theatre and cabaret and artists, and showcasing artists, and giving designers exciting challenges. It comes from a place of real care and concern. And from that, it all trickles down, from the producers to the cast, everybody wants to work here. The people want to work here, they’ve all come from working on big professional shows, and they work here because they love the show, they love the craft, and they love the space.
Chris: If you want a career in Music Theatre or Cabaret, or Australian Performing Arts, do you think it is more important to have a strong technical base or to have a well–defined storytelling aesthetic as a performer?
Josie: Well they’re both the same thing. You need to be just as technical with your storytelling. You could be the most amazing technical singer but your face will not be able how to tell a story. You could be the most amazing dancer, but have no passion.
Angelique: Nobody wants to pay someone dance that looks like a robot. I would rather watch someone dance or sing that they sound a little bit dangerous, or when they dance, they look a little wobbly as long as there is something that comes from inside the performer. Otherwise it’s not watchable. It’s all communication, so dancing is as much an acting thing as it is with singing.
Josie: I think the focus should be on all of it, it’s all-encompassing. That technicality, that stuff you put into your voice. It all goes into storytelling.
Chris: What excites you the most about working on Little Shop?
Angelique: I’m not sure if I’ve told you this (gesturing to Josie) but I grew up listening to the soundtrack and watching the movie and it was kind of on my bucket list, and I never ever thought it would ever happen. One of the others on that list was Rocky Horror, and I got to perform in that last year. I just love the story and the music of Little Shop so much.
Dash: The thing about Little Shop that is so great is that it’s so entertaining but so dark as well. And it says so much about the human condition and greed, and so it’s got this really great message but it’s so entertaining and ridiculous. There’s a plant! The villain is a plant!
Josie: Little Shop is getting the Sweet Charity treatment. We’ve found parts of us which have made the show interesting. To reimagine using US, and what WE bring, what every single person can bring. It’s such an individualised show. How do WE sing, what can Esther and Dash do? What can the three girls do? We are not simply going, here’s Little Shop, this is what it’s about, let’s do that. It’s a celebration, but it’s also a little bit different.
Tour dates and further information can be found below:
Her Majesty’s Theatre from April 20th 2016
Comedy Theatre from May 4th 2016
Playhouse Theatre QPAC from June 1st 2016
His Majesty’s Theatre from August 4th 2016