Wits' End Theatre's production opens on Aug. 4 in Potter Auditorium. Cast members Mitch Gibson, Maggie Hendrickson, Blake Hogue and Randy Wilson rehearse a scene from "Little Shop of Horrors."
GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Wits' End Theatre's production opens on Aug. 4 in Potter Auditorium. Cast members Mitch Gibson, Maggie Hendrickson, Blake Hogue and Randy Wilson rehearse a scene from "Little Shop of Horrors." GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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“Feed me, Seymour…feed me!”

“I have wanted Wits’ End to do ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ for a while. It just seemed like the right time to pitch it,” said Sam Gibson, director of this year’s Western Days Wits’ End Theatre (WET) production.

“It’s a classic,” she added. “The musical, the movie…both cult classics that have loyal fans. The songs are catchy. The characters are fun. It’s like those old cheesy B-movie horror films that are filled with scary scenarios but are done in such a funny way.”

The play tells the tale of Seymour, the girl he loves and Audrey II, the plant that wants to eat them all.

Gibson acknowledged that there is a stark difference between the recent shows that WET has produced for Western Days and “Little Shop of Horrors,” both in the audiences the shows aim to entertain and in the number of thespians it takes to bring them to the stage.

“It’s not Disney, that’s for sure,” she said. “It’s a big change from past Wits’ End shows. I’m not sure if I can remember a Western Days show that ever had less than 20 people. It’s been fun because it’s a different dynamic.”

The cast of “Little Shop” has been rehearsing for quite some time, and Gibson is confident of their talents.

“We’ve got a really nice mix of newbies and veterans,” Gibson said.

Frequent Wits’ End audience members will recognize Mitch Gibson, who played Sebastian in last year’s “Little Mermaid,” in a new role for him – the villain.

Randy Wilson, who played Scuttle the Seagull, returns as Mr. Mushnick, the shop owner.

The leading couple consists of actors Blake Hogue and Maggie Hendrickson. Hendrickson most recently worked with Wits’ End on its annual Broadway Revue, while Hogue has been a well-known presence on the Rochester stage. Gibson pointed out that he has, however, been in a couple of Western Days shows in the past, including “State Fair” and “The Wizard of Oz.”

Gibson said, “We’ve got a great variety of people in this show when it comes to talent. The comedic timing is important with a show like this, and they all appreciate the humor and portray it well. They’re a great group of people. They make me laugh and they work hard. What more could you want?”

The costumer and stage crew have plenty to keep them busy as the company prepares to open the curtain on the first night of performance.

“Elizabeth Fuglestad is our costume designer this year, and she has done a great job of finding us some great pieces for our actors,” Gibson said. “I adore working with her – she’s always very eager to work and gets things done efficiently. Emma Strand is serving as my assistant director and house manager. She’s been my assistant director for the last three years, and she’s fantastic. Catharine McCook will be our stage manager. In addition to serving on the board, she has helped with several Wits’ End shows, onstage and off.”

“Little Shop” wouldn’t be complete without Seymour singing to his voracious plant, so there must be music…ensembles and solos to soothe the savage blood-sucking Audrey II.

Gibson shared, “Marilyn Yennie is serving as pit band director this year, and she’s putting together a great group of musicians for us. Marilyn played clarinet for us in the pit last year, and we’re very happy to have her return in this position.”

The big question in determining this was the year to produce “Little Shop of Horrors” was just exactly how to find something so very elusive that is the centerpiece of the show’s plot . . . where does one get a giant, man-eating Venus flytrap without sacrificing a member of the community for theatre and art’s sake?

Gibson’s got that.

“I was fortunate enough to get put in touch with contacts over at Zumbrota High School a number of years ago, and they have a set of puppets that we will be using,” she said. “They’re going to be quite a presence on that stage!”

Gibson calls directing a Western Days WET production an adventure. “Working on a Western Days show is always an adventure. My summers have been consumed with Western Days shows for the past decade, and it’s been fun to do something a little different this year. I think the biggest challenge, as always, is bringing it all together.”

A good production team is key in making things work, she added. “Thankfully, I’ve got a great team of designers and the all-around vision of this show is being realized,” Gibson continued. “Having all the designers on the same page when it comes to vision and concept is very important, and I have loved having a group that I work with so well. My favorite part of directing is seeing it all come together. We are reaching the stages of the rehearsal process when large chunks are coming together and things are slowly coming into place.”

Gibson is thankful for the community’s and her own family’s support in growing a show and a Venus flytrap that will give people the giggles.

“As always, I like having a family that supports me in my theatre endeavors. My mom is once again doing all the hairstyling, and my brother is acting in this production,” she said.

Gibson also noted the theater group is also lucky to have a family that has been key to making many of the shows a success – the Manahans.

“Hugh, Kelly and Nick Manahan have been great when it comes to our set construction,” she explained. “Hugh has been my head craftsman for a few of my past shows and I love working with him and his family.”

She also appreciates the Strand family. “Emma, as I said, is my assistant director and house manager, while Carrie runs the box office and will be acting in the show.”

She also thanked the community for the renovation done to Potter Auditorium, just in time for last year’s “Little Mermaid.” “I love the new remodel. I’ve done a few shows there now, and it’s been a great space to have,” Gibson added.

She anticipates the moment when the curtains open and the audience is entranced by how big that plant gets and how torn Seymour is between catching the eye of the girl and keeping the flytrap well-fed.

Gibson observed that “Little Shop of Horrors” is a show that’s been presented on stages nearly everywhere, but that with each company’s endeavor, it changes ever so slightly.

“The show is a classic for a reason! It’s fun to take it and make it your own while still holding true to the things that make it well-loved,” she said. “It’s around two hours long, and I’ve done this show at a high school as well, and we had many families attend. The show has some mild language and very fake violence, but the humor balances it out. People will like it…just the sheer humor and talent being shown onstage. We have a wonderful cast, and I hope everyone appreciates all the hard work they’ve put into everything.”

WET’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” is set to take the stage Friday, Aug. 4, and Saturday, Aug. 5, as well as Thursday, Aug. 10, and Friday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m. each night, with an earlier performance on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 5 p.m.

Tickets are available online at WitsEndTheatre.org or at the Chatfield Center for the Arts box office during regular box office hours or one hour before curtain time. All major credit cards are accepted for phone orders – call 507-867-8780. Cost is $18 for main floor reserved seats and $15 for balcony seats. For more information, log onto the WET website.