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“Little Shop Of Horrors” opens March 23

ON STAGE: Emily Weise, Ian Lah, Peter Kess, Grace Klein and Jennifer Merhar.

Less than one week until the March 23 opening night of Northern Lakes Arts Association’s production of Little Shop of Horrors.

The musical based on the 1986 film of the same name. It is a darkly comic morality tale about Seymour Krelborn, a nerdy orphan with a sweet crush on his Mushnik’s Flower Shop co-worker, Audrey.

During a total eclipse of the sun, Seymour discovers and nurtures a mysterious plant with a craving for blood, and Seymour gains fame and fortune at a deadly cost.  A Greek chorus of Doo Wop girls guide us through the tale of Seymour, Audrey, the carnivorous plant and the residents of urban Skid Row.

There are scenes portraying the desperation of living with no hope of a better life, murder-by-plant and relationship abuse and trauma. For these reasons, this show is not recommended for children under eight, and there is a bit of unsavory language from the villainous characters.

None of these things are presented in a positive way, but rather as things that cause pain and anguish for others. Despite this, there are many poignant and hilarious scenes, and lively songs with a R & B flavor.

Marcia Homer, musical director, and her pit of musicians are rocking the tunes, and the cast is letting it all out, expertly singing and dancing and telling the story.

Three of the musicians in the pit for Little Shop of Horrors bring years of rock ‘n’ roll experience to the music for the play going up in the Vermilion Fine Arts Theater on March 23 for two weeks of performances.

Alan Phillips, electric guitar, Rich “Dunny” Dunstan, drums, and Irene Hartfield, piano, together bring over 150 years of playing all genres of music, but especially rock and “pop” music.

Phillips specializes in guitar, having played professionally since his teens, but is also an accomplished drummer and singer. He also plays bass, piano, mandolin, ukulele, and harmonica.  He cites the Beatles as being one of his biggest influences and favorite bands.

Phillips has been a guitar teacher and a solo entertainer, is self-taught and has what Hartfield calls “big ears” in that he is able to listen to recorded music and figure out his own part, much of what he did for the music of this play. He says he learned this skill from his grandmother, who was an accordion virtuoso, but who also played well by ear.

Dunstan comes from a musical family and has been playing drums starting in high school band.  He went on to play in three Ely rock bands: the Bop Cats, the James Street Band and Desperado. Dunstan has played for countless musicals in Ely, as well as community concerts. He is also a co-founder of the always entertaining Ely Klown Band.

Although trained in classical piano, Hartfield has always loved playing popular music.

Growing up in Ely gave her the opportunity to play for musicals, talent shows, churches services, choirs, and soloists. She eventually ended up in New York City, covering popular songs with her own trio in night clubs throughout the tri-state area, Las Vegas, Florida, Venezuela, Sweden and on cruise ships. Her favorite rock experience was playing with the Roadhouse Jam Band with the late Earl Bulinski.

“It’s so fun to play the Little Shop of Horrors which contains many familiar rock feels,” said Hartfield.

Joining these rockers in the pit are Emily Roose on bass, Sam Coleman on acoustic guitar, and Karin Schmidt on Keyboard 2 (as well as voicing The Plant). Leading the band is veteran musical director Homer.

Two band members, Roose and Hartfield, also play with the Mesabi Symphony Orchestra.

A couple of interesting historical connections: Dunstan’s mother, Ina Dunstan, was Hartfield’s piano teacher growing up, and, as a brand-new graduate, Homer was Hartfield’s music teacher in elementary school.

Hartfield and Phillips can be heard this summer in the live band accompanying the Reflections Dance Company in their August performances, and as they play individually around the Ely area.

Here is the line-up of the cast: Seymour Krelborn: Ian Lah; Audrey: Wendy Lindsay; Mr. Mushnik: Peter Kess; Orin Scrivello, D.D.S: Jim Lah; Doo Wop trio: Emily Weise, Jennifer Merhar, Grace Klein; Audrey II Puppeteer: Olin Weise; Voice of Audrey II: Karin Schmidt; Ensemble: Grey Kurnava, Bailey McLinn-Belehar, Matthew Janeksela, Sandra Tuominen.

Don’t miss Little Shop of Horrors being performed at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 23 and 30, Friday, March 24 and 31, Saturday, March 25 and April 1, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, March 26 at the Fine Arts Theater at Vermilion. Tickets are available online at or at the door.

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