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'Little Shop of Horrors' hits the MN West stage this weekend

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Jake Van Grouw sings to the carnivorous plant "Audrey" during rehearsal for Minnesota West's production of "Little Shop of Horrors" in the Fine Arts Theater.

WORTHINGTON -- If this preternatural spring hasn't produced quite enough green for you yet, never fear: Eric Parrish and his 10-person cast of self-described "zany" college students can deliver a fast-growing, man-eating plant just in time for your weekend entertainment.

"Little Shop of Horrors," a musical Parrish terms "silly-scary," will hit the stage at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College's Fine Arts Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.

"It's a fun ride," said Parrish, the show's director and an instructor of theater arts and music at Minnesota West's Worthington campus. "Composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman created 'Little Shop' before they did 'Beauty and the Beast,' 'Little Mermaid' and 'Aladdin,' so it has a good pedigree and it really fit for the students who were here and interested in participating this year."

First produced off-Broadway in 1982, "Little Shop of Horrors" became a critically acclaimed success and ultimately ran on Broadway for more than five years. Made into a 1986 movie starring Rick Moranis as the poor, orphaned Seymour Krelborn and Steve Martin as the sadistic dentist Orin, "Little Shop" garnered even more fans before becoming a darling of community and college theater programs.

"It's a really light musical, and a good show to come to for entertainment," said Kendra Kleinwolterink, a Minnesota West sophomore who hails from Sibley, Iowa, and is featured as the ditzy but sympathetic Audrey.

"Audrey is a real airhead, and I really love the part--it's fun to talk with a high-pitched voice, which helped the role come more naturally," she added.

Kleinwolterink, who is joined on-stage by her identical twin sister, Kelsey (as one of the trio's street urchins), had been in several dramatic productions during her years at Sibley-Ocheyedan High School and was in the Parrish-directed "Defying Gravity" last year, but a musical was new ground for her.

"I've enjoyed learning all the music and discovering all the different angles of a musical," Kleinwolterink said. "It's a totally different ballgame from being in a play."

And fortunately for Kleinwolterink, the role of Audrey is quite different from her own life, as well.

In "Little Shop of Horrors," Audrey works at Mr. Mushnik's Skid Row Florist Shop along with the shy and unfortunate Seymour, who worships her from afar. Audrey, however, has found an abusive boyfriend in Orin the dentist, and both Seymour and Audrey secretly wish to escape their downtrodden lives. When Seymour finds that a strange plant he is nurturing thrives on human blood, the unique specimen draws crowds to the once nearly defunct flower shop and makes a hero of Seymour. Seymour, however, soon learns that fame and fortune exact a steep price, and the man-eating plant is looking out only for its own interests.

"Seymour is a goofy guy -- kind of like me -- and that makes it a little easier to portray," said Jake Van Grouw, who is making his musical theater debut as Seymour. The 2010 Worthington High School (WHS) grad, better known for his hockey playing, has nevertheless been a lifelong singer and choir member.

Van Grouw has waited until now to reveal he has a natural knack for acting and vocal chops that match or even surpass his sports prowess.

"We've all been transforming through the whole process from day one to where we are now," Van Grouw said of his fellow cast members, several of whom are also athletes-turned-actors and/or first time thespians. "That's what college is all about -- finding out who you really are and what you can do."

Two 2011 WHS graduates, Isaac Wass (playing Mr. Mushnik) and Dena Leach (seen as a flower shop customer and an agent for Life magazine), are opposites on the musical theater experience spectrum, with Wass being a veteran of WHS musicals (and a two-time All-State musician to boot) and Leach taking the stage for the very first time.

"I decided to step out of my box, and I've learned it's not as easy as it looks," Leach said. "It's harder to get into it and be someone you're not on stage, but it's very fun and I'm so glad I did it.

"Our cast is such a random group of kids, but we've all pulled together, and I've liked getting to know different people," Leach continued.

Parrish has pulled together a cast of other student-athletes -- including the football-playing Florida native Anson Mareus, the voice of the man-eating plant -- some with previously untapped performing arts skills and others looking for a new challenge.

"Nate Hotzler (portraying Orin the dentist) was a big football and wrestling star in high school," Van Grouw said. "And Junior Nguyen was in wrestling and track, although he also danced in high school -- but I didn't know he could sing, too."

Parrish put Nguyen's dance experience to further use with Nguyen (a chorus member) serving as student choreographer.

"Collaboration is my theme," Parrish said, adding faculty artist Bobbie Alsgaard-Lien assisted with the colorful, whimsical set pieces, student Dayton Williamson is the stage manager and cosmetology students from Minnesota West's Jackson campus will be doing hair and makeup for the cast.

"I designed the set, we and rented the man-eating plant -- which takes five people to operate -- from a friend of mine who is the set designer for Chaska Valley Family Theater," Parrish said. "I want the stage to look like a movie set, with a cartoonish, 60s feel to it."

Van Grouw is enthusiastic about the production.

"The audience will like the upbeat music, the rockin' piano, the slow-rolling 50s and 60s-type songs that are easy to listen to," Van Grouw said. "It will be fun to hear the audience members laughing and see them bobbing along to the music."

"Everyone should come to laugh at a bunch of goofy college kids putting on a great, escapist show." Kleinwolterink added.

Tickets for "Little Shop of Horrors," which takes place Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Fine Arts Theater on the Worthington campus of Minnesota West Community and Technical College, are available 30 minutes before each performance. Audience members are invited to a reception, hosted by the Minnesota West Foundation, following the Friday show.