East’s spring musical not exactly salve for serious times

‘Little Shop of Horrors’ presents epic struggle between man and vegetable.

Senior Alexa Gershon (foreground), who plays love interest Audrey in Cherry Hill HIgh School East’s upcoming production of “Little Shop of Horrors” does her best to emote while masked up and social distancing as Anthony Torrissi (background) looks on, during in-school rehearsals for the musical, which is set to debut on April 30. (Photo credit: Hema Boggi/Special to the Sun)

If you thought the last year was bad in your neck of the woods because of the ongoing pandemic, you’ll be scared witless by what went down in 1960 something at a little corner store in a big town.

Beginning on April 30, Cherry Hill High School East’s theatre mavens will present “Little Shop of Horrors,” a tale of innocence and terror from one city to beyond the moon.

With a book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music from Alan Menken, the musical is based on the 1982 off-Broadway production of the same name, about hapless store employee Seymour Krelborn; his intended paramour Audrey; and  “mean, green mother from outer space,” the blood thirsty plant Audrey II.

Aside from the technical challenges of starting rehearsals strictly through Zoom, then figuring out how to act, interact and sing while masked and socially distant, an extra wrinkle to the process is the fact that there will be just two thespians responsible for giving life to the villain. More than a dozen souls were called on to do the same in the famous 1986 film version of “Little Shop.”.

East senior Daniel Pipersburgh will provide the voice of Audrey II, and he gets to indulge his sinister side largely unknown to the audience. His friend, Charlie Bove, had his work cut out for him in translating the antagonist’s costume and movement.

“I’ve known Charlie for a couple years, so that helps,” Pipersburgh explained. “In one scene, we worked on the small nuances of conveying through speech when he, in the costume, needed to roll the head or how it moves when laughing.”

“He has to learn how to adapt to that, and it’s a thing we could only do in person, not on Zoom, and that started at the end of January.”

Since the actual plant costume didn’t arrive until the end of February, the collaboration required a lot of upper-body strength from Bove to act out. Pipersburgh, a football player, had to tap into his training instinct and give his buddy a nudge in the right direction. 

“I had to tell him to get in the gym and do some workouts to improve that,” he said. 

Also speaking to the challenges of practice in the online and real world was senior Justin Walker, who’s tasked with inhabiting the nebbish-y lead. Walker’s approach was to take liberally from Rick Moranis’ film portrayal, then add a piece of himself in the character, as he admitted similar awkwardness. 

“The singing and acting wouldn’t work too well because the timing was off due to delays online, having to mute,” Walker noted. “Then, rehearsing in person, we finally sang well, but it’s a pain having to do things through a mask. If you try and sing well, the mask might fall off.”

Also requiring special attention was how to keep Walker’s gaze fixed on the character  and not the voice of Audrey II, something he admitted became easier once the costume arrived. 

Alexa Gershon, a senior closing out her career at East, welcomed the role of Audrey, the love interest. Borrowing some acting chops from film lead Ellen Greene, as well as singing and acting from Broadway’s Carrie Butler, Gershon wanted to strike a balance in her performance.  

“The hardest part was learning to act with masks on, how we had to figure out how to act more with our eyes and act with our bodies,” she said about the transition to running scenes, lines and music once allowed back to school.

“It was a real unique experience during the last week, when they brought in the cameras, and it was right in our faces,” Gershon added. “I felt like we were less in a show and more like an actual movie.” 

Do the hero and heroine, and for that matter the world, make it out alive? Tune in to find out.

Additional shows are scheduled for May 1, 2, 7 and 9. For more information on how to watch the musical, contact Pete Gambino at: pgambino@chclc.org.