There are kids who watch a movie or a play, enjoy it, and move on. And then there are kids who watch a production, go home and reenact it over and over again. Their living rooms become stages as they embody characters, acting, dancing and singing, bringing the tales to life. Then, they discover the next great story begging for reproduction. Those are theatre kids.
Matlock Zumsteg, now 33, was one of those kids. He developed an insatiable appetite for “Little Shop of Horrors” when he was just six-years-old and saw the 1986 film directed by Frank Oz. Ever since then, he has been obsessed with the story. It is the measuring stick for every film he’s ever watched, and he’s found nothing that has everything little shop does: comedy, horror, drama, romance, sci-fi, dark comedy, Mowtown, doo-wop, 1960’s rock and great performances by legendary actors. “Since it’s a musical,” Zumsteg said, “It can be bigger than life.”
Zumsteg carried the VHS recording and a cassette tape of the soundtrack around with him like a security blanket while growing up. He knows the answer to every technical question one can toss at him about any of the story’s iterations. He proudly displays an enormous tattoo of Audrey II, “Little Shop’s” exotic antagonist, on his right tricep. One might say that he was born to play the role of Seymore Krelborn, the meek, skid row flower shop assistant who is starving for love and looking for a way out of his pitiful existence.
“I have even been drawn to jobs,” Zumsteg said, “that made me out to be like Seymour; sweeping and being under appreciated, maybe, in the hopes of someday finding a strange and interesting plant. I totally take jobs where I can sweep and sing, ‘Sweep that floor, Kid. Oh, you started life as an orphan.’ It gives me an opportunity to really do it.”
Zumsteg is now a professionally trained actor with an impressive list of roles on his resume, including Judas in “Jesus Christ Superstar, “ Frederick Fellows in “Noises Off!” and Max Bialystock in “The Producers.” He and Adam Aragon are long-time partners in The Worlds Biggest Comedy Duo, an improvisational theatre troop, which performs on the first and third Friday of each month at Chrome Lotus in Santa Rosa.
When Narrow Way Stage Company director Chris Ginesi approached Zumsteg about playing Seymour in the upcoming production of “Little Shop of Horrors” at Andrew’s Hall, Zumsteg responded, “Thank God. Finally.” This is the first time he’s had the opportunity to perform or even audition for the role he’s always wanted to play.
Ginesi, 29, grew up a Sonoma theatre kid and is back to his theatrical roots. His first role as Artful Dodger in “Oliver” kicked off his career. He loves acting and serving as a conduit for storytelling in that way, but creating something that’s a lot bigger than himself is really what its about for him.
In his role running a company, he is able to champion and share the talents of the actors, technicians and designers, give them a place to share their gifts and be proud of themselves. He does it because of the impact he can have on people’s lives, whether it’s giving a break to a fledgling actor, who then goes on to graduate studies in theatre or an audience member telling him how moved they were because of what they experienced during a show.
“I’ve literally had that happen, where someone came up and told me their life changed. That’s why I do it,” said Ginesi.
The Sonoma Theatre Alliance launches its season with Narrow Way Theatre Company’s 31st production. While “Little Shop of Horrors” is only its second full-length musical, their first, “Reefer Madness,” was well received at Speckles Performing Arts Center in 2011. Ginesi enlisted another ‘Little Shop’ expert to serve as musical director. This is Justin Pyne’s third time directing the cult classic, because he loves the story.
“We geek bonded right away,” said Zumsteg.
Tony Ginesi is in charge of technical direction, including set design, puppet design and props. Ginesi refers to his brother as “tech genius” and is very excited about revealing his Audrey II (the blood-drinking plant) under the magic of Bill Ferguson’s lighting design.
“Every project should feel this fabulous. It’s the perfect storm,” said Ginesi.
Nora Summers plays Seymour’s love interest, Audrey, and Butch Engle provides the voice of the plant, Audrey II. Dallas Munger is the dentist, and theatre critic and actor Harry Duke is the shop owner, Mr. Mushnik. (For any of you who have survived one of Duke’s reviews, you may find a sense of retribution in his story line.)
“I have a dream cast,” Ginesi said.
Sebastopol’s California Carnivors, the largest retail carnivorous plant nursery in the United States, provided research opportunities for Zumsteg and gifted him a plant, which will be on display in the lobby of the theatre.
“People can come and see the plant raised by Seymour himself,” said Zumsteg. “I don’t recommend feeding them your own blood or anything. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t do much.”
‘Shop’ opens April 17
“Little Shop of Horrors” opens April 17 and runs through May 4, 2014, Thursdays through Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. The Rotary Stage at Andrews Hall, in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 East Napa Street, Sonoma, CA. Tickets cost $20 on Thursdays and $30 Fridays through Sundays. Call 707-938-4626 or order on line at SVBO.org.
Photot by Al Christenson