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It takes two to make this plant come alive in high school ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ production

Belleville West prepares for "Little Shop of Horrors" production

Watch excerpts from rehearsal of Belleville West High School's student production of "Little Shop of Horrors."
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Watch excerpts from rehearsal of Belleville West High School's student production of "Little Shop of Horrors."

The audience will see the actor behind Audrey II at Belleville West’s performance of “Little Shop of Horrors,” but not when he’s in his biggest role.

Sophomore Spencer Hansberry, built a bit like a football linebacker, will be the man moving and shaking the carnivorous plant. The audience can’t see him, but that’s only fair because he can’t see much of anything, either.

“There’s mesh in the top lip, but other than that it’s just dark” with limited vision, he said.

The series of props that represent Audrey II is one of the big innovations in this year’s musical, says director Nick Johnson. The other is the rotating set, which starts with the doo-wop girls singing outside a flower shop, and then seamlessly the inside of the shop is revealed. A rotating set was used once before on a Belleville West stage, for a contest about seven years ago.

I have like a soul voice.

Desmond Goodwin, Belleville West student voicing Audrey II

“It allows you to have a semi-realistic feel, rather than a suggestive feel,” Johnson says.

Spencer may be among the more unusual actors in the production. He does not speak as the plant, but he does narrate using “a voice not unlike God,” as the script calls for. He also plays a hobo and has a bass solo.

Somewhere behind the curtain on Stage Left will be Desmond Goodwin, a senior, voicing the plant that Spencer moves.

“It’s the perfect role; he gets to sit in a chair,” Johnson said. “He went through something ...”

Desmond explains that he had a tumor in his spinal cord earlier in the school year. He had surgery and was out of school for a month, now walking with a cane that he doesn’t much rely on anymore.

The musical appeals to his showmanship personality; he couldn’t participate in all the Harambee shows this year and voicing the plant gives him the chance to show his “jazzy” side.

“I have like a soul voice,” Desmond said.

Desmond can watch Spencer move as Audrey II, the plant, via a television in the back.

“He has to adjust” to the spoken lines, Desmond said of Spencer. “Then when he’s in the bigger plant, I have to slow down a little bit.”

It’s not noticeable, Desmond says, but necessary.

As Audrey II grows, Spencer moves up in plant sizes from a hand puppet to the full-body suit that devours high school actors whole.

Rachel Deschaine, a senior, plays Audrey who becomes one of the plant’s victims.

“I get pulled in by the branches” that are controlled by crew members, basically branches on sticks that help pull her into the plant’s mouth. Once there, Rachel has to crawl between Spencer’s feet in the dark.

“I have this nice big army crawl ... and in a really tight (dress) because my character isn’t very classy,” Rachel says.

Little Shop of Horrors

  • When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday
  • Where: Performing Arts Center at Belleville West, 4063 Frank Scott Parkway, Belleville
  • Tickets: At the door, $10 adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for children and students