There’s a lot of fun and a lot of firsts at Joe Jefferson Playhouse (11 S. Carlen St.) in April. No fooling.
The inimitable institution’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” will not only run April 1-17, but it will premiere proven talent in new roles, new talent in proven roles and others in outright odd parts — not difficult when the musical’s storyline is based on Roger Corman’s campy 1960 sci-fi flick.
Awash in the stylings of early-era rock and soul, the tale centers on a Skid Row florist’s unrequited love and some macabre botany the nebbish uses to catch her eye. The dark comedy premiered in 1982 and it wasn’t long before it surfaced on Broadway, overseas and on the silver screen.
It’s no stranger to Mobile, either. It’s been produced by high schools, such as St. Paul’s 2011 version, but not so recently otherwise.
“The last time this show was in Mobile community theater was about 15 years ago and I believe Mobile Theatre Guild did it. I actually went and saw that because two of my friends were the leads,” Jamie Yerby said.
Yerby plays Audrey, florist Seymour’s lady love. She is also the namesake for an unusually animated plant he finds after a solar eclipse.
“I was Columbia in ‘Rocky Horror Show’ a few times. However she doesn’t have any songs by herself so I guess this is a first,” Yerby said of her first true leading role. “I love theater and I’ve done a lot of musicals. Usually I do chorus.”
With a degree in theater and creative writing, the University of South Alabama grad is no stranger to local productions. She’s appeared in several works since 1999, her most recent in MTG’s “Daddy’s Dyin’ Whose Got the Will?”
Yerby admits lack of formal vocal training has been a challenge, and that she’s employed pals to coach her in breathing technique and other aspects. She said singing in harmony took some getting used to, and not just for her.
“There was one song in particular where it’s me and Seymour and Mr. Mushnik and we’re all supposed to be singing different parts. We were literally all on stage trying to walk away from each other with our ears plugged trying to sing our parts,” Yerby said.
She had to learn to hear musical lines in her head rather than gravitating to what was going on around her. Recording her parts and listening to them while commuting to her job as a grant writer and developer at Mulherin Home has helped her work past it.
Another cast member overcame a different barrier. Beth Bydalek didn’t want to be there at all.
“My karaoke buddy Ed had been trying to get me to audition with him and I blew off the first night. He called the next night, I answered and he told me I had to come out, they would have music for me and to come up there right then,” Bydalek said.
Bydalek landed the role of Crystal, one of a female trio operating as a Motown version of a Greek chorus. While it is her first time on stage in Mobile, she’s not bereft of experience.
“My early teen years, I did Birmingham community theater in summer season called Summer Fest, with a huge workshop, and they would put on three big plays. My claim to fame is that I was in a production of ‘Damn Yankees’ as a dancing housewife and the actor who played Marcy’s first husband, Steve, in ‘Married With Children,’ played the Devil in that production. That was back in ’94 or ’95,” Bydalek laughed.
Working as an analytical lab specialist at Outokumpu Stainless Steel, she has unleashed another side to herself through seven weeks of rehearsals now. She’s regained confidence in her voice and credits trio mates Sharrell Edmond and Abry Stopper as “a huge help.”
“ I’m OK at dancing but not great, so learning to do a spin has thrown me off. I’ve been practicing but my greatest fear is spinning into the orchestra pit. I’m just hoping I don’t hit a cymbal stand,” Bydalek cracked.
One performer has become an entirely new life form for the show. Day Peake is an attorney at Phelps Dunbar by day, but at night he’s taken on a leafy persona as the cast member manipulating the starring plant, Audrey Two.
“The first one is in a coffee can and I’m under that. The next is big enough to place on top of me and my legs hang off the side as roots. The next is massive, probably like 80 pounds so somebody else helps hold it up,” Peake said.
Local stage veteran and radio personality Gene Murrell supplies the voice for the plant, an ideal casting choice. Peake said director Jeffrey Williamson and Murrell have made a difficult job easier.
“Syncing the movements with the voice is tricky. There’s no visual cues so I’m going on sound effects or drum beats. It’s hard making the puppet real, giving it expressions and characteristics to come to life, otherwise it just looks like you’re flopping the mouth. It’s tricky,” Peake said.
Friday and Saturday shows start at 8 p.m. Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $10 to $20.
More information is at 251-471-1534 or joejeffersonplayers.com.
Another first for this play might be backstage revenge. Bydalek said she vacillates in feelings toward her pushy pal Ed.
“It’s day to day. Most of the time I’m very grateful he made me do it but if I mess up, it’s his fault,” she quipped.
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