Curtain Calls XTRA

Preview: 'Little Shop of Horrors'
Horrors! Blood-thirsty plant grows on actress Tari Kelly

There's much that's striking about the musical "Little Shop of Horrors" that's coming to East Lansing's Wharton Center beginning March 29. For actress Tari Kelly, it all comes down to one thing.
The plant!
"It really is impressive," Kelly, who plays Audrey in the production, told Curtain Calls last week from the east coast. "We have a big, huge puppet the size of a Mini Cooper that eats people. You have to see how that works!"
Based on a film by Roger Corman, "Little Shop of Horrors" is a Faust-like tale of a Skid Row florist who makes a pact with a tiny, blood-eating plant in order to win Audrey's heart.
"He basically sells his soul to get her, but it ends up not working out well for him," Kelly said.
It's a very funny, very touching show, the actress stressed. "And the music is so much fun to sing."
It's also not very scary, especially for children above the ages of seven or eight.
"It doesn't frighten kidsÉit's a puppet! With TV the way it is these days, this is very mild."
Kelly, who grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, fell in love with acting at the age of 13. Originally a dancer, she discovered that she "kind of liked all the other stuff, too" and decided to pursue theater as a career.
After a one-year stay at DePaul University in Chicago – "I just didn't love it," she said of the experience" – she transferred to the University of Wisconsin.
Within a year she was hired by a regional theater to appear in two productions. So while that effectively ended her academic career, it opened other doors professionally. "Some people excel at the school level, but for me it was actually the doing of the jobs that brought me the experience I needed."
It didn't take long before Broadway beckoned.
Kelly's Broadway debut was in the 1995 revival of "Show Boat," followed by the 2003 Tony-nominated "The Boy From Oz." In-between she toured nationally, including a visit to Detroit in the mid-1990s with "Beauty and the Beast."
Living on the road again with "Little Shop" has it moments, Kelly acknowledged. Although she enjoys meeting people from all over the country and touring the cities she visits, she misses her husband of 11 years. "And sleeping in your own bed every night. But you get used to it."
What especially helps is the fact that the actress loves the ditzy character she's playing – a blonde bombshell with a high Brooklyn accent. It's a performance that's been getting rave reviews.
"She's fun to do."
Plus, there's that puppet. "It's technology and old-fashioned puppetry. It's a miracle it works!"
"Little Shop of Horrors" Presented Tuesday through Sunday at Wharton Center, East Lansing, March 29 – April 3. Tickets: $27.50 – $55. 517-432-2000.

Review: 'True West'
American values are in the eyes of the beholder at DET

Richard Goteri is one hell of a scary actor.
He's also one of the nicest, friendliest theater producers in town.
It's just that type of duality that playwright Sam Shepard examines in "True West," now in production at Goteri's Detroit Ensemble Theatre in Roseville.
A dark, absurdist comedy, "True West" is a psychological tale of two seemingly disparate brothers who might not be polar opposites after all. Austin, the younger of the two, is a screenwriter and Ivy League graduate with a wife and kids several hundred miles north of Los Angeles. Lee, on the other hand, is a drifter and petty thief who prefers living in the desert since he "can't make it anywhere else."
The two, who haven't seen each other in years, rekindle their tense relationship at the home of their mother who's away on a trip. Austin is house-sitting; Lee simply shows up unannounced.
In the play's opening scene we find Austin nervously at work at the kitchen table while his moody and unstable brother hovers about – staring and drinking beer. It's an unusual and somewhat uncomfortable moment – very Pinteresque, in fact – as no words are exchanged, yet much is conveyed.
Lee, although generally disdainful of his brother's career, is curiosity aroused when he learns Austin's producer is due to visit later that day. Afraid of what could happen, Austin offers Lee the keys to his car to get him out of the house – knowing full well it'll be used to commit a crime.
The meeting with Saul runs late, however, and Lee walks in – carrying a "hot" TV. He immediately ingratiates himself into the discussion, and before you know it, Lee has a golf date with the producer the next morning to discuss an idea for a "true life western."
It's a preposterous story, Austin discovers, yet Saul options it. And when the playwright turns down $300,000 to author the script, the producer drops Austin's project. "I always go on my hunches," Saul says.
If you suspect things go badly from this point forward, you're correct. Suddenly the brothers find their roles reversed. And when push comes to shove, maybe they are more alike than either ever suspected – or wanted to acknowledge!
Goteri, DET's chief cook and bottle washer, both directs and appears as Lee in this production. When he's not in a show, Goteri – a stocky, New York Italian with a wide smile and friendly laugh – greets his customers at the door dressed in a suit and tie, looking like the business professional he is. Now he sports a few day's stubble on his face, wears the "finest clothes" the Salvation Army has to offer and displays the intensity of an escapee from a hospital for the criminally insane. Add to that a threatening physical presence, and the result is one scary character that fits the role well.
What's missing from the production, interestingly enough, is the humor Shepard built into his script – at least in the first act where nary a chuckle is heard from the audience. Goteri and Brian Robinette (who plays Austin) don't seem to really connect until the second act when both talented actors let loose and have fun with their characters. Their closing moment that needs no words, however, is priceless!
"True West" Presented Friday and Saturday by the Detroit Ensemble Theatre, 25213A Gratiot, Roseville, March 11 – 26, plus Sunday, March 20. Tickets: $15. 888-220-8471.
The Bottom Line: A far-too serious first act gives way to much fun in the second – but sit in the front row at your own risk!


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