Having earned a graduate degree in musical theater and worked as a professional performer, Christopher Spalding was looking for ways to keep his skills sharp and his theater bug satisfied. He continued his voice training with coach Mindy Cox, and it was with her one day that the seed of a new Fort Wayne theater company was hatched.
“Chris had come to me as an adult student, and we’d talk,” Cox said. “One day he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if we started our own theater company?’ He’s one of those guys who comes up with ideas, and he finds a way to make it happen. We knew we wanted to do family-friendly shows.”
Spalding, who owns and teaches dance at Fort Wayne Ballroom Company, had a few ideas for how to make their company, Summit City Music Theatre, a bit different from other community theater groups in Fort Wayne.
“I felt like there needed to be another outlet for all the talent in Fort Wayne,” he said. “I think our population is growing and we’re culturally growing in a really neat direction. There was room for more theater with professionally produced, family-friendly musicals and plays, one that pays the artists.”
Paying performers makes Summit City Music Theatre an outlier in a community where the actors and crew largely contribute through their passion for the work rather than the opportunity for compensation.
“Volunteerism is valuable,” Spalding said. “It’s necessary for many community theaters and educational programs, and we want to be a resource for the other theaters and help to grow this community. I did my post-graduate work in musical theater, and I’ve worked professionally before. I think it’s important that the people are compensated for their talents.”
Summit City Music Theatre has previously produced Forever Plaid and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Now they move on to the hit musical and cult favorite, Little Shop of Horrors.
Treasured on stage and in the Rick Moranis film which featured an iconic performance by Steve Martin, Spalding admits this show is a little less kid-friendly than most of what they look to stage.
“I’ve been telling people that the show is a little more PG-13 than we’re planning to go, tending toward more solidly kid-friendly shows,” he said. “Little Shop’s themes might be confusing to little kids. But the show is so popular and is often done by high schools and colleges and community theaters so a lot of people know it and really love it. Plus it was my wife’s favorite movie as a kid so I guess I was trying to score some brownie points there.”
As Spalding points out, the show tends to be a favorite for students, but Spalding said the presence of veteran actors makes a huge difference.
“It’s really great to have mature, experienced actors in these roles,” he said. “All of our cast have been around a long time, and it’s great to have actors playing roles of people who are the same age and be able to see their approach as adults to playing these adult roles.”
The cast includes some familiar names for fans of local theater and music: James Stover as Seymour, Kat Hickey as Audrey, Maggie Kole-Hunter as Mrs. Mushnik, Tony Didier as Orin Scrivello D.D.S, Prentis Moore as Audrey II, Fatima Washington as Crystal, Debbie Moore as Chiffon, and Melanin Soulest as Ronnette. Leading the cast in its production is director Reuben Albaugh and Cox, who serves as musical director.
Greenhouse as a showcase
Their rehearsal venue (and earlier performance venue) has been Spalding’s Ballroom Company, but for the performances of Little Shop of Horrors, an innovative choice was made.
“For us, one of the several challenges was our space limitations in the ballroom,” Cox said. “We started kicking around ideas for a more site-specific place, and we thought it would be interesting and different to use a greenhouse. So we started looking around and found Connelly’s Do It Best’s greenhouse. I mean, where else would you find a man-eating plant but in a greenhouse?”
At the time of these interviews, rehearsals were still taking place at Fort Wayne Ballroom Company, and Albaugh admitted that there were some issues still being discussed as the production prepared to move to the greenhouse.
“We’re still figuring out how to create a theatrical experience successfully in a non-traditional space,” he said. “But it’s a fun environment for the show to be in. There are some physical, logistical issues for the puppeteer to manipulate the plant that allows for the actors to be ‘eaten’ by the plant. The plants themselves look really good, and I’m excited to bring it all to life.”
When asked why he loves Little Shop of Horrors, Albaugh talks about the love story at the center of the show’s plot.
“There’s such a great relationship between Audrey and Seymour,” Albaugh said. “There’s an innocence there, and the two have such a special love story. Kat Hickey as Audrey and James Stover as Seymour bring so much charm and innocence to their relationship. But then again, I’m a hopeless romantic.”
For audiences who may or may not have seen a production or even the film of Little Shop of Horrors, Spalding, Cox, and Albaugh all promised that the show will win them over.
“I think this show and this cast are going to blow people’s socks off,” Albaugh said.
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