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Plant Yourself at Exit 82 Theatre Company’s Little Shop of Horrors!

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

Little Shop of Horrors is a smash Broadway and Hollywood sci-fi musical that has devoured the hearts of theatergoers for over 30 years. Now, Toms River, NJ’s Exit 82 Theatre Company has developed a unique rendition of the show created by Howard Ashman and Alan Menkin, which is currently running at their new Exit 82 Studio Theatre located on Main Street in downtown Toms River.

Named for the Garden State Parkway exit number for Toms River — the town where the group was originally founded — Exit 82 Theatre Company is currently celebrating their 10th year of operations.

According to Little Shop of Horrors co-producer, Lexi Davenport, the company is a non-profit organization which, for the past decade, has produced shows at a number of venues around Ocean County. Their very first production of On the Town was performed in the Toms River Intermediate School East auditorium back in 2009 for 1300 audience members.

The company continued their string of successful performances with shows including Grease and Legally Blonde at Ocean County College, a rendition of Rock of Ages at Toms River High School North, and a production of Be More Chill at The Strand Theater in Lakewood, NJ which was seen by nearly 5000 lovers of musical theater from the US, Canada, the UK, and Brazil.

To celebrate the company’s 10th anniversary, Exit 82’s founders — Billy Cardone and Keely Davenport, Lexi’s sister — wanted to return to their home base of Toms River. As a result, they opened their new Exit 82 Studio Theatre on Main Street where, in July, they presented their first production, The Drowsy Chaperone. The show was performed in the venue’s three-dimensional space, which has 82 seats arranged in two rows around much of the perimeter of the room. With this immersive set-up, the closeness of the actors draws theatergoers into the plot in a way that a more traditional theater set-up cannot duplicate.

As a follow-up to The Drowsy Chaperone, the company has chosen to present Little Shop of Horrors. As many already know, Little Shop is a musical which takes place on Skid Row, the home of street urchins, Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon.

Here, Seymour Krelborn works for his boss, Mr. Mushnick, at his failing flower shop.

Seymour is secretly in love with his co-worker Audrey.

But she has the misfortune of dating a sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello.

Once Seymour discovers the powers of a mysterious plant which he names Audrey II, good things begin to happen. The only problem is, for Audrey II to survive, Seymour must feed it…. BLOOD!

Exit 82 founding member Billy Cardone makes his directorial debut with this presentation of Little Shop. When asked why he and Exit 82 selected this particular play, Cardone explains, “At first, we were a little reluctant to do Little Shop, but it is a cult classic which people love, and October is the perfect time of year to do a show like this.”

Not to mention the fact that Cardone also came up with a unique way to present the show.

Reveals Cardone, “I envisioned something out of a Twilight Zone TV episode, where audience members would step right through the big white front door of our theater space, and it would be like walking into a living black and white movie. Everything on Skid Row and inside Mushnik’s flower shop is monochromatic — even the characters — except for Audrey II, which is in color.

“Once Seymour and the others begin to receive benefits from the plant, however, the plant’s colors start to make their way into the gray scale colors of the characters and the environment. So as the play goes on, interesting colors start to appear as parts of the set, in the various costumes, and even in the individual characters’ make-up.”

Another creative idea Cardone employs in this production of Little Shop is the use of television. States Cardone, “In the 1950’s and ’60s, when TV first started to become mainstream, people flocked to their black and white television sets for news, entertainment, and more. As a result, in our production, we’re incorporating TV and media directly into the show through the use of close circuit television equipment.”

And, of course, a third unique aspect of this production of Little Shop is the use of the immersive performance space provided by Exit 82’s Studio Theatre, which the company used to great effect in The Drowsy Chaperone.

Explains Cardone, “One half of the audience is seated inside Mushnik’s flower shop and the other is seated right in the heart of Skid Row.”

When asked if any of the novel theatrical elements Cardone has introduced have had an effect on the original storyline or dialogue, Cardone exclaims, “No, we didn’t have to change the script at all!”

Starring in Cardone’s vision of Little Shop is actor Ryan Everett Wood who plays the role of Seymour.

Wood is a fan of the Hollywood film version of Little Shop, acknowledging, “This is a movie I grew up with, and at this time of year, it’s my go-to movie.”

Wood — who recently starred as Michael in Exit 82’s sold-out production of Be More Chill — talks about the challenges of playing Seymour when he says, “It’s a marathon of a role — Seymour really doesn’t leave the stage much.”

“Seymour is so giving and kind — it’s terrible to see what happens to him. There are nothing but problems around him, but he always tries to push through things, constantly trying to decipher what is good and what is right.”

When asked to comment on the challenge of performing his role in this immersive and monochromatic rendition of Little Shop, Wood replies, “Being a super fan of the show, I knew that any production of it would have to be intimate, and so the fact that we get to do it here in this immersive space is really special. Also, I’m excited because we’re the first and only theater company to do a black and white version,” adding, “because of the black and white factor, as an actor, I constantly have to determine when I physically benefit from the plant, forcing me to look even deeper into the script, and adding yet another level to the performance.”

Carly Cosentino plays Seymour’s love interest in Little Shop of Horrors — the role of Audrey, his co-worker.

Remarks Cosentino, “This role for me is a dream come true. Little Shop was the very first show I was ever in — I was a 12-year-old student at Toms River Intermediate School East — and I just fell in love with it! It’s so great to get to come full circle, since I’ve been with Exit 82 Theatre Company for 10 years now, and I get to be a part of Little Shop as an adult!”

“The other coincidence,” adds Cosentino, “is that Joseph Hausvater, who plays Mr. Mushnick in this production, was the choreographer of the show I did at Intermediate East when I was a student, so I’m thrilled to get a chance to perform the musical with him now!”

Hausvater, who portrays Mr. Mushnick, agrees declaring, “I am really enjoying working with Carly!”

“I was her choreographer when she was in middle school,” he continues, “and I also designed all of the wigs for the current production, so last night when Carly put on her wig for the first time, I got very emotional when I saw her! It’s been really lovely to see her grow over the years.”

“Also, working with Ryan Wood is wonderful,” continues Hausvater, “and this production is so unique and different — it’s fresh and new without losing any of the meaning of the show. In addition, it’s fun to play with the audience, since — with the immersive nature of this theater space — the audience ends up becoming another cast member too.”

Declares Hausvater, “People who love this show will be dazzled — visually, it will be stunning,” before suggesting, “It’s a whole new show without being a new show!”

Director Cardone agrees commenting, “Doing this production in such an unusual way was a risk which required a real leap of faith.” But when he, the cast, and the crew started to see “all of the puzzle pieces coming together,” it made the experience “extremely rewarding.”

Concludes Cardone, “With this new production of Little Shop of Horrors, we’re not only reimagining the show but, in the process, we’re actually reinventing theater!”

Little Shop of Horrors has performances on Thursday, October 25 at 7pm; on Friday, Oct. 19 and Oct. 27 at 8pm; on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 2pm; on Saturday, October 20 and Oct. 27 at 8pm; and on Sunday, Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 at 2pm at their new Exit 82 Studio Theater located at 73 Main Street in Toms River, NJ. For tickets, please go to exit82theatre.tix.com. For more information, please click on exit82theatre.com.

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