Harlequin Productions’ “Little Shop of Horrors” — the rock musical about a killer plant — features some familiar faces.
There’s Amy Shephard, a mainstay of Olympia musicals, as one of the Doo-Wop Girls, the Greek chorus of the show.
There’s John Serembe, who joined the Olympia theater scene after a career as an Equity actor. He plays Mushnik, the greedy owner of the flower shop where the plant takes up residence.
There’s Gretchen Boyt, who appeared in Harlequin’s 2015 musical review “Sixties Chicks Too” and Tacoma Little Theatre’s 2013 production of “Little Shop,” playing, as she does here, Audrey, the hapless heroine after whom the plant is named.
And then there’s the plant — or plants — four puppets that allow Audrey II to grow as she feeds first on blood and later on full-grown humans.
The puppets, built by Bruce Haasl for the now-defunct Capital Playhouse, have appeared in other regional productions of the show. In fact, they shared the stage with Boyt and Doo-Wop Girl Deshanna Brown in the Tacoma Little Theatre production.
It actually has a little depth in its depiction of how easily we can get in trouble just by seeking wealth and success and assuming that success will buy us love and comfort.
Director Linda Whitney
But the show’s biggest role — at least in terms of the sheer size — is played by a pair of actors you won’t see till the curtain call.
Bringing Audrey II to life are Harlequin regulars Christian Doyle, who provides the voice, and Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, who manipulates the puppets onstage.
The two — who are partners in life as well as in the role — have to coordinate from a distance.
“He’s doing the voice from the band deck,” said director Linda Whitney. “She’s on stage inside the puppet.”
Bringing the big puppets to life is a big job, Whitney said.
“It requires a lot of strength and stamina to operate these big gizmos,” she said. “They have metal frames. It’s a pretty physical process. And it’s not only getting the mouth to open and close. It’s giving the thing a personality.
“The huge one that’s about 9 feet tall and actually does eat people is a real workout.”
Harlequin often stages musical revues in its summer slot, and in recent years has done several with the music of the 1960s.
If a traditional musical is a bit of departure, “Little Shop” fits right in musically, with Alan Menken’s ’60s style score and those Doo-Wop Girls, who look a lot like the stars of Harlequin’s original “Sixties Chicks” revues.
In fact, one of them is: Shephard was featured in last season’s “Sixties Chicks Too.”
The third of the Doo-Wop trio is Kristen Natalia, who played the unlikely oracle in Harlequin’s recent “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.”
New to Harlequin are Brad Walker (as Seymour, the mild-mannered fellow who falls under Audrey II’s power) and Rich Garrett (as Orin, the sadistic dentist).
If horror-comedy is a bit different than what she usually directs, Whitney said “Little Shop,” a perennial favorite at theaters all over, has won her over.
“It’s a great morality tale, and over the years it’s become a classic of the form,” she said. “Twenty years ago, it would not have interested me that much, but now I understand how it fits into the whole American canon.
“It actually has a little depth in its depiction of how easily we can get in trouble just by seeking wealth and success and assuming that success will buy us love and comfort.”
Or as New York Times critic Ben Brantley put it in a 2015 review of a concert production, “The show always had a pumping heart as well as a winking eye.”
Little Shop of Horrors
What: Harlequin Productions celebrates its 25th season with the 1982 horror rock comedy musical about a plant that thrives on a diet of human flesh.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (June 24) and Saturday, plus June 29-July 2 and July 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday, plus July 3, 10 and 17.
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $41, $37 for military and seniors, $25 for students and those younger than 25. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the June 29 performance, pay what you can.
Information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org.