NYU NEWS: Tisch New Theatre Presents a New Approach

NYU NEWS: Tisch New Theatre Presents a New Approach

NYU NEWS
By Emma Hernando
November 7, 2017

Even with NYU’s progressive environment, it is rare to walk into a production meeting and be surrounded by women. While there have been pushes to increase inclusivity for women in theater, the Tisch New Theatre transformed that idea into a reality with its 10th anniversary production of “Little Shop of Horrors.” TNT’s return to the NYU community represents once again the opportunity to become involved in high-quality productions in real world environments, while also providing a space for students to make mistakes and learn from them.

Upon walking into SoHo Playhouse, where TNT’s production of “Little Shop of Horrors” is currently running, it is easy to forget that TNT is a student-run organization. From the extremely high production value of the show to its enviable location in an Off-Broadway theater, there is very little that differentiates TNT from a professional theatre company. Furthermore, TNT has succeeded where other theater companies have failed. By placing women who are experts in their fields at the helm of the production, TNT is breaking the glass ceiling that exists within production and artistic teams. 

I was thrilled at the opportunity to speak with some of these amazing women. As I sat down with director, choreographer and Gallatin junior Casey Whyland, musical director and Gallatin junior Alex Crosby, as well as the set design and stage management team, my main goal was to illuminate what differentiates this team from teams in which women are the minority or are absent altogether. Most of the cast agreed that the subject material of “Little Shop of Horrors” was a differentiating factor in itself. In a show where the main female character, Audrey, experiences domestic abuse — written off as an afterthought — the artistic team grappled with how to make her struggle apparent and define her as more than just a “blond bimbo.”

“We talked about it with scenic, costumes, props — it became a different approach,” Whyland said. “Just because she’s a woman in the ‘60s why does that automatically mean that she needs to be blonde and ditzy? There’s nothing wrong with that portrayal, but we wanted to do something different to create a new dynamic.” 

Team members agreed they attempted to depict the concept of domestic abuse in a more nuanced way than was done other productions. Crosby added she noticed a different reaction as a result of this.

“[In most productions] it’s not really an event that [Audrey is] thrown around by Orin,” Crosby said. “It’s a nonevent and people usually dismiss it because he’s just like the funny dentist who’s crazy. [Whyland] has made a deliberate point to show that this is a man who is absolutely taking advantage of a woman and she is rendered powerless because he just has no sense of respect for her as a person. And it’s sad.”

Whyland said her ability to develop the character of Audrey was only made possible because the team was so understanding of its importance. Without the support of actors willing to undertake this topic and the design team, portraying such a sensitive topic would have been impossible.

For the most part, however, the team believed that gender was irrelevant.

“I don’t think about my gender while doing my work,” Crosby said. “It’s much more about — this is what I care about and this is what my focus is going into. When I’m surrounded by women I do feel more comfortable to do my work, the fact that I am a woman doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

The company seems to foster a spirit of both self-motivation and collaboration. The 75 individuals working on “Little Shop of Horrors” had no other reason to be there besides their desire learn and put on a quality show. Stage manager and Tisch sophomore Kate Wellhofer praised these qualities. 

“I have never been a part of a show that is so communicative and so collaborative,” Wellhofer said. “Every single day I am literally in awe of how incredible communication is between every department. I mean just top to bottom you know everything going on in every department and that’s so helpful because it can inform your work.”

Despite the professional quality of its productions, what clarifies TNT’s status as a collegiate club is the learning environment fostered by the company that may not be accessible after college. Wellhofer said this might be the most rewarding part of participating in TNT. 

“TNT provides space for you to fail and have to figure out how to make it work after that,” Wellhofer said..

Production manager and Steinhardt senior Emily Tang agreed, saying, “The problem with TNT is that you can’t do something right. There’s no one to tell you you’re doing something right, you just gotta give it your all, which is terrifying but also the best motivation.”

The fact that this environment encourages people to speak up and learn from their mistakes, makes the team work in a unique way. In a world where women in leadership positions are often labeled as bossy or aggressive, TNT is a refreshing space that allowed women to overcome these stereotypes and get the job done. 

“I”m very against confrontation, so this has been a good experience because I have learned to communicate my needs,” scenic designer and Tisch senior Kassidy Curtis-Lugo said. “Navigating that with our peers and our friends is one thing [but now we are] able to apply that to once we move out into the real world.”

TNT is a unique place where this blend of discovery and professionalism can occur, which is essential not only to the NYU community, but to the professional theater world that these women are about to step into.

“I truly think that every woman sitting in here is a natural leader, we have these positions [and] are trusted with these jobs because we feel comfortable being in these positions where we delegate and make these decisions,” associate scenic director and Tisch junior Taylor Friel said. I think that’s really important. We are naturally strong, amazing women [who have] that natural power.”

NYU NEWS: Finding Humanity in the Horrors

NYU NEWS: Finding Humanity in the Horrors

NYU NEWS
By Emma Hernando
November 6, 2017

Lights up on a seemingly mundane florist in downtown New York. As the Tisch New Theatre’s interpretation of “Little Shop of Horrors” begins, there is very little to indicate the incredible and insane path that the play will take over the next two hours. A Greek chorus of street urchins sets the scene with an ironically vivid and jazzy song about how bad it is to live where they do. The rest of the show mirrors the irony of its opening number, and it is as zany as it is unpredictable. A Broadway classic, the musical depicts the unrequited love story between Seymour and Audrey who work together at a florist’s shop. Bizarre obstacles stand between them: Seymour’s lack of confidence, Audrey’s sadistic dentist boyfriend and an alien plant that feeds on blood. 

Carried by characters that are carefully curated to be both lovable and problematic, the show tells a comedic story that still manages to be truthful. Beyond asking you to suspend your disbelief, it requires you to suspend your judgement as you hear their stories and see their behavior justified before your eyes. The evil dentist, Orin (Ray Fanara), can be seen as the secondary antagonist in his blatant cruelty. However, in his hilariously extreme behavior, you can still sense the humanity and tragedy within him. While not an excuse for his behavior, these qualities make the character more dynamic than if he were just another stereotypical villain.

As he reluctantly begins to feed the plant his own blood, it’s easy to see that Seymour’s — played by Steinhardt senior Daniel Youngelman — only way to move up in the world is by sacrificing his humanity and morals to achieve love and success. The setting itself demands intense sacrifices from the characters, leading them all to do heinous things. TNT’s creative team, most notably Gallatin senior Casey Whyland, who directed and choreographed the show, brings out true social commentary from this quirky musical.

The character of Audrey, played by Tisch sophomore Julesy Flavelle, is the most brilliant example of sacrifice in this play. In a show that brings nonstop laughter, Flavelle’s intensely human interpretation of Audrey will bring you to tears. She taps into the character by discovering her primary driving force: we all will risk anything for what we love. Even if we cannot truly achieve real love, we will find a way to make it exist at least in our imaginations.

Due to the show’s intimate setting in the SoHo Playhouse, you truly feel as if you are part of the story. The dynamic set in a small space functions the same way a complex proscenium arch would, and upon walking into the theater, you are instantly brought into the world of the musical. While most of the technical aspects of the show flourished despite the small space — Audrey II, the alien plant, seemed much bigger and more imposing — in some cases it posed a struggle for the actors in terms of choreography.

Overall, the show’s execution went above and beyond the story that is so known and loved by many. The humanity lies in the absurdity, which makes it more than just a classic comedy. While a blend of both tragedy and comedy is essential in a show like “Little Shop of Horrors,” this is characteristic of a theater company with such a long history of producing student work that appears professional. This production breathes life into otherwise stereotypical comedic characters. Rather than looking at Seymour, Audrey and Mr. Mushnik and seeing them as a group of fools haphazardly trying to succeed in a doomed situation, you see them as people who have known nothing but poverty their entire lives and simply seek to find their own personal “somewhere that’s green.”

NYU NEWS: Tisch Reimagines ‘Little Shop’

NYU NEWS: Tisch Reimagines ‘Little Shop’

NYU NEWS
By Carter Glace
November 6, 2017

“Little Shop of Horrors” exists in that sweet spot where even if one has not watched either the off-Broadway show, the Broadway show or the iconic film, it has a distinct signature style and tone that everyone is familiar with. The campy horror science-fiction comedy inspired by two pulpy sci-fi novels has brought signature villains, songs and iconography into our musical canon. Even though I had yet to see the showbefore this Halloween, I knew almost everything about it due to cultural osmosis. 

But with the ubiquity comes a challenge: how does one adapt a work that is so ingrained in pop culture? When there is such a clear definition of what “Little Shop” is, how do you make it your own? How do you distill what is most important to the property while still creating something new? 

This is the key question the show’s director and choreographer, Casey Whyland, and Julesy Flavelle — who portrays the main character’s love interest, Audrey — faced when tackling an adaptation with such strange source material.

The keyword both artists used when discussing their work was “honest:” They believed that as silly and outlandish as the material was, it was important to ground and flesh out the more arch, campy world of the show. 

“I wanted to remain honest and true to what ‘Little Shop’ is known for, yet still be able to create characters and various journeys that were unique to the individuals involved in this production,” Whyland said. “We all agreed that while the show itself is a silly comedy and has more campy aspects to it, we wanted to find a point where we rooted it in the honesty of the circumstances these characters were in, in this time, and then build from there.” 

Whyland also said the production team wanted to figure out how to use their present-day experiences to inform a story that takes place in the 1960s.

One of the central areas where this thesis of honest was tested seems to be in the character Audrey. Played by Ellen Greene in both the original off-Broadway show and the film, she captures the spirit of the show with her raspy voice, troubled-girl-saved arc and tight leopard print clothes.

Discussing her version of the character, Flavelle said that she and Casey agreed that “Ms. Greene really did create the iconic character. Audrey has such an opportunity to be something more as a character,” and that in the current climate, the team “could really bring the audience in and make them consider the reality of the pain behind Audrey’s character, circumstance, and relationships … I hope that people are as moved as I have been by this really tragic story.”

When adapting a beloved work, an artist faces roughly one million questions. Everything from explicit text to subtext to imagery, minor characters and pacing all must be placed under a microscope as the creator asks, “What do I want to say with this work?” Based on my brief discussions with two of the most creative minds of the show, it seems like the team of “Little Shop of Horrors” has a clear, distinct vision of the classic, Using the arch, science fiction and horror to talk about our world today.

VERGE CAMPUS: Tisch New Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors”

VERGE CAMPUS: Tisch New Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors”

VERGE CAMPUS
By James Manso
November 3, 2017

It is difficult to take classic pieces of art and rework them in an enriching and satisfying way. How does one make it fresh, while maintaining the essence of the original? Which aspects of the character are worth keeping, and which are better left behind? Where is the line drawn between a brilliant reiteration, or a disrespectful knock-off? The key, as I found out after watching Tisch New Theatre‘s Little Shop of Horrors, lies in the thoroughness of a production.

This brilliant, complex take on an otherwise caricatured play spared no detail (I couldn’t stop noticing that the small wall clock, in the background of the set, was adjusted to show the appropriate times of day for each scene that took place).

Even more thorough than the inventive costumes and set design were the portrayals of these classic characters. While I would typically say the cast did an unbelievable job, they did not – it is an actor’s mission to be believable to the audience, to let their spectators assume the characters are not actually characters, but perhaps alter-egos, and that is what this cast had achieved.

The female lead, Julesy Flavelle – who sparkled from the moment she stepped onstage – delivered an incredibly nuanced portrayal of Audrey: soft-spoken when lashed out at, and affirmative when clinging to her convictions. This flavor of realism was balanced out by the ever-quivering browline of Daniel Youngelman, who played the male lead, Seymour.

The production had incredibly tense, serious moments – the various deaths, and the subsequent turmoil Seymour faces for his complicity in them, are heightening. The final deaths of the show, and the following number, take a turn for the kitschy; bringing the show to a full-circle, warm-hearted end, in spite of the traditional doom-and-gloom dénouement.

Each actor brought their personalities onstage with them, creating an eclectic, loud, heartbreaking and entertaining dynamic for just over two hours. The tiny theatre in which it was performed practically burst at the seams from the constant belting, yelling, crying, and laughing, only rendering the experience that much more intimate.

Tisch New Theatre‘s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ is playing at the Soho Playhouse until November 5th. Tickets are available here.

NYU LOCAL: TNT’s “Little Shop of Horrors” Is Scary Fun

NYU LOCAL: TNT’s “Little Shop of Horrors” Is Scary Fun

NYU LOCAL
By Zach Steinberg
November 3, 2017

New York University’s Tisch New Theatre produced a hilarious horror romp with Alan Menken’s “Little Shop of Horrors.”

Tisch New Theater’s production of the Alan Menken genre bending musical is an ambitious, good time at the theater and it runs through the weekend at the SoHo Playhouse.

For those who have never heard of Little Shop of Horrors, it’s about a pushover nice-guy named Seymor (Daniel Youngelman), who works in a flower shop with his greedy boss, Mr. Mushnik (Patrick Martini), while secretly crushing on his sweet blonde co-worker, Audrey (Julesy Flavelle). With that setup, floral musical comedy ensues. Oh, and I almost forgot: there’s a talking plant from outer space called Audrey II with equal tastes for R&B and human blood.

Sounds over the top? That’s the fun of it.

The most impressive part about TNT’s Little Shop of Horrors is that it is entirely NYU student produced. Little Shop is a true spectacle with a large cast, iconic Menken musical numbers, and a giant puppet. When this production works, it really works. The entire cast from across NYU schools is super talented with a few standouts.

Daniel Youngelman makes Seymore’s transition from “meek-nerd” to “murderous meek-nerd” equal parts believable, funny, and tragic, especially shining in the intense second act. I know this may come as a shock considering he’s a senior in Steinhardt Vocal Performance, but Youngelman can definitely sing. So can the whole cast! Julesy Flavelle plays Audrey with appropriate timid sweetness. Her big number “Somewhere That’s Green” and her shared ballad with Youngelman “Suddenly, Seymore” are the two best moments of production.

Patrick Martini and Ray Fanara are both hysterical as Mr. Mushnik and Orin Scrivello respectively. Fanara particularly chews his flashy role as the leather-clad, nitro-addicted dentist/sadist. He deservedly earns a few of the production’s biggest laughs, even if some of his character’s domestic abuse content plays a little off for comedy in 2017. The rest of the ensemble fills out nicely, with particular props thrown towards Chloe Troast, whose physicality and sharp comic timing stole every scene she made an appearance in.

Finally, we need to address the giant man eating plant in the room. Honestly, the evolution of Audrey II and it’s puppeteering took a moment for my brain to settle into, but by the end of the first act, I totally bought into the reality. This is in no small part thanks to RJ Christian who voices the plant with a deep soulful tenor that is deliciously smooth and terrifying all at once. By the time Audrey II is fully grown and dueting with Seymore about blood lust, you’ll be dancing in your seat.

Considering the ambition of the production, it’s understandable that it lacks technical polish in places. There were a some sound hiccups throughout, a few botched notes here and there, and given the small space, actors would occasionally bump into each other at moments of high clutter. But these nitpicks are easily forgivable and never distracting. At its core, Little Shop of Horrors is a riff on campy B-list science fiction, so even when the production got janky, it was always charming.

Overall, TNT’s Little Shop of Horror’s is a well-produced, silly, horror romp with a good heart and reliably catchy Menken tunes sung by some impressive voices. Go this weekend, check it out, and support the NYU community. Good luck getting “Little shop, little shop of horrors ” out of your head. Trust me, it’ll be in there until the day sentient plants take over the Earth.

STARR STREET MEDIA: Tisch New Theatre Presents "Little Shop of Horrors"

STARR STREET MEDIA: Tisch New Theatre Presents "Little Shop of Horrors"

STARR STREET MEDIA
By Derrick Gallegos
November 1, 2017

Tisch New Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors: a spooky, urban, modern reinvention of the original 2003 Broadway production with all the hilarity and rambunctiousness still intact. The show, set in SoHo Playhouse's 199-seat Off-Broadway theatre, is as charming as ever, its stellar cast working in a small space making every moment intimate and engaging under the direction of Casey Whyland. The actors take advantage of every crevice and corner, performing with the energy and talent one expects from a Broadway production. Despite spatial limitations, Casey's tight direction, along with her sharp and contained choreography, result in an exciting piece of theater that keeps the audience on their toes.

Little Shop of Horrors is a classic underdog story with a sinister twist. The show follows Seymour (Daniel Youngelman), an orphan under the care of Mr. Mushnik (Patrick Martini) as he uses a unique flytrap plant, Audrey II (RJ Christian), named after his unrequited-love-interest Audrey (Julesy Flavelle), to bolster his career as a flourishing botanist. But, there’s a catch: Audrey II needs flesh and blood to grow, specifically human flesh and blood.

Youngelman is a force to be reckoned with. With a voice like butter, every note he sings is clear, controlled, and perfectly punctuated. A quirky and delightfully awkward Seymour, one can't help but empathize with the orphaned boy, raised to work at Mushnik's Skid Row Florists, a wilting plant shop in the dark slums of a decaying city. But Youngelman’s Seymour would be nothing without his equally talented counterpart: Audrey.

Flavelle is emotionally devastating. As she sings of her dreams of a white-picket fence far from Skid Row in “Somewhere That's Green,” her soft, tender voice brings the room to a standstill. I found myself tearing up as she held back all the pain and regret, her eyes slowly watering, her voice breaking as deeply as her heart. This vulnerability meets a contrasted ferocity towards the end of "Suddenly Seymour", simultaneously showcasing Flevelle’s flexibility and empowering her character.

Audrey’s name child, Audrey II, enjoys perfect encapsulation through RJ Christian’s low, raspy vocal range, his intimidating performance as The Killer Fly-Trap conveying playfulness and ease, yet never wavering its threatening nature.

Ray Fanara plays a menacing and subtly sexual Orin Scrivello… DDS. His realistic, Nitrous Oxide induced cackling, coupled with sporadic, violent outbursts, make for an utterly unpredictable villain that leaves the audience ambivalent and cautious, his laughter just as hair-raising as it is contagious.

Martini's comedic timing is entirely on point. His lines flow out so naturally that his honest reactions to the show’s ridiculous premise result in side-splitting laughter. His show-stopping duet with Youngelman, “Mushnik and Son,” takes brilliant advantage of the space as both tango along the cluttered flower shop, the audience roaring at every line.

The rest of the cast was just as phenomenal: Alex Lugo, Tyaela Nieves, and Kaila Wooten (Doo-Wop Girls) provide pizzazz with their tight harmonies, sharp movement, and hilariously distinct personalities. Chloe Troast's (Ensemble) unbelievable character work as she switches from one persona to the next with ease earns her constant applause from the audience, and Andy Richardson's (Ensemble/Dance Captain) amazing cameos wrapping up the show’s tight staging.

The set and lighting sculpt the macabre comedic script into an immersive haunted house. The flower shop in the center revolves, creating several distinctive locations such as the transitory back alley, the dramatically varied dentist's office, and of course, Mushnik's iconic shop.

Tisch New Theatre's Little Shop of Horrors makes for a fantastic Halloween show, filled with incredible talent and gorgeous aesthetics, which left me both delighted and satiated. Get tickets before they sell out!

BroadwayBox: Get a First Look at NYU Tisch New Theatre Production of Little Shop of Horrors

BroadwayBox: Get a First Look at NYU Tisch New Theatre Production of Little Shop of Horrors

The beloved musical Little Shop of Horrors returns downtown thanks to the exciting new NYU Tisch New Theatre production running October 31-November 5 at off-Broadway's SoHo Playhouse. Any excuse for a night with Seymour, Audrey, Audrey II, and that incredible Menken/Ashman score is truly welcome. Scroll on to get a first look at the stars of Little Shop and their Richard Aaron costumes in these stunning Emilio Madrid-Kuser portraits shot from Audrey II's POV.

WNYU RADIO: Tisch Takes A Fresh Look At Little Shop of Horrors

WNYU RADIO: Tisch Takes A Fresh Look At Little Shop of Horrors

WNYU RADIO
By Nikki Cruz

The Tisch New Theatre’s production of Little Shop of Horror takes a fresh look at a classic show. Reporter Nikki Cruz interviewed the director, Casey Whyland, and cast members, Daniel Youngelman and Patrick Martini, to find out more.

Campus Influencer: TNT's Daniel Youngelman

Campus Influencer: TNT's Daniel Youngelman

VERGE CAMPUS
By James Manso

Meet Daniel Youngelman, the male lead in Tisch New Theatre’s latest production, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’

“It’s interesting that my trajectory has been, especially in college, these more aggressive male roles,” Steinhardt senior Daniel Youngelman said. “I definitely don’t see myself as that type of person. I’m quite shy, but I’ve been accessing these more complex, more dominant characters recently.”

Youngelman plays the male lead in Tisch New Theatre‘s ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ Seymour: the typically helpless love interest and martyr. Now, Youngelman is going back to his past. “I’ve played Seymour before, six years ago. I thought it would be very interesting to come back and look at the role in a new light.”

And that he is. Eschewing Seymour’s inflated incompetence, Youngelman is looking more at the facts of his circumstances. “This production is about really, really looking at these characters microscopically. I think it’s about taking a second glance at what it means to be a working man, specifically, a poor man. Seymour was an orphan. I think it’s sort of about exploring the up-and-coming, working class person.”

The final result has been a thoughtful, insightful, modern portrayal of an otherwise cliché role, more dedicated to the restrictions on the character than the larger-than-life plotline (which is filled with abusive bad guys and plants with human-sized appetites, and the like). “This time, when I’ve talked with Casey [Whyland] and Julesy [Flavelle], we’re rooting it much more in the humane aspects of the characters and of the show. It’s about a man-eating plant. We don’t need to go this full-forced, stereotypical version or these cartoon-ized characters,” he said.

For the Vocal Performance senior, revisiting an old role has served his comprehension of character development – and how that carries over into his craft – now. Bouncing from Little Shop, to Hairspray, more musicals, and back to Little Shop, has invited time for Youngelman to reflect on his trajectory post-graduation “[Seymour is] not the kitschy role. To me, that’s on the easier side. It’s about challenge, for me. Moving through it into Seymour, I’m getting to look at another side of what it means to be an actor, and the different facets and tools that we can access.”

Tisch New Theatre‘s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the Soho Playhouse from October 31st to November 5th. Tickets are available here.

Campus Influencer: TNT’s Julesy Flavelle

Campus Influencer: TNT’s Julesy Flavelle

VERGE CAMPUS
By James Manso

Meet Julesy Flavelle, the female lead in Tisch New Theatre’s latest production, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’

“I think the character is played one way, and has just been played that way,” Sophomore Julesy Flavelle mused over coffee at Le Pain Quotidien. “And to look at her and to say, ‘You don’t have to play her this way, you can do something different with it,’ you can really bring this really tragic woman to life.”

This tragic woman is, of course, Audrey: the star-crossed lover in ‘Little Shop.’ “She’s usually sort of blonde, ditzy, bimbo of a character who is there, and sings these songs, but her lines- everything is a little surface-level, but her character’s totally not,” Flavelle says. And, to her credit, she’s right. Audrey deals with love, death, escapism, and the tribulations of an abusive relationship onstage. “It’s so interesting that she’s got so much that she’s living through and it’s so often undermined in the productions,” Flavelle continued.

Audrey may not be the damsel in distress she appears to be, but Flavelle is a force inside and out. Beginning her sophomore year in Tisch’s Strasberg studio, the actress instantly set out to shake up ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ Tisch New Theatre‘s first production since Spring of 2016. Don’t let her perfectly-curled eyelashes or glassy eyes fool you.

Her last experiences acting were in High School. “That’s most of what I’ve done,” she said. “They’re mostly sub-par productions, but fun musicals.” After the insanely heavy costumes (and comparatively vapid roles) for her high school production of ‘Hello Dolly!,’ she’s ready to take a role and make it her own.

“I love singing, I love acting,” Flavelle began, “But it’s important to get something that has all the fun of a big musical theatre production and has the serious, poignant storyline of a real, deep character .Audrey’s a beautiful character, and the more we sit down and explore this character, I just really feel for her.”

Bringing the substance to a typically shallow role won’t be all that Flavelle does in the future, but enough for her right now, and certainly enough for Audrey. “She has control in the moment in her mind,” she notes about her character (and perhaps herself). “She also knows exactly where she is at the moment. And she knows exactly what she’s doing.”

Tisch New Theatre‘s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the Soho Playhouse from October 31st to November 5th.

Campus Influencer: TNT’s Casey Whyland

Campus Influencer: TNT’s Casey Whyland

VERGE CAMPUS
By James Manso

Meet Casey Whyland, the director and choreographer of Tisch New Theatre’s latest production, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’

A few facts about Casey Whyland: she’s a senior in Gallatin, she’s the type of woman to thank one profusely if they pay for her iced latte (in the case of our chat, it was me), and she lives and breathes theatre the way most of us inhale oxygen.

Anyone who’s ever met Casey, or paid for her latte, can tell you these things: the self-evident actress-cum-director can now also add choreographer to her résumé, and it’s her first director/choreographer role to this scale. “I got involved with Tisch New Theatre (TNT) two years ago, when we did Hairspray. I became completely obsessed with TNT, then I became vice-president of the club,” she recounts. “And, through a lot of conversations and different drafts of different things and different productions, ended up directing and choreographing Little Shop.”

While she’s been with Tisch New Theatre for a few years now (she lived across the hall her freshman year from the ‘Little Shop’ producer, Daniel Unitas), she’s doing anything but resting on her laurels: her broadway debut occurred in 2008, when she played the ballet dancer in Billy Elliott. She even has directorial experience in her hometown of Syracuse. In a leap forward, her vision for ‘Little Shop’ pushes the envelope even further.

“There’s gonna be a new element to it because we’re all students and because we’re all so active in not only the University, but what’s going on around us. So, it brings a lot of interesting conversations to the table,” she said. “You have to think about what will resonate right now. In October of 2017, what is going to attract people? What musicals do people love, and what are we passionate about?”

Whyland is undeniably passionate about theatre, about acting, about directing, and about choreographing. But, she’s not just interested in convincing portrayals: she cares just as much about the characters themselves. “These characters are written so well and there’s so much depth to all of them,” she said. “I want to root them in the honesty of it, and the honesty of the situation, and of their positions.”

“Each character has power over their own positions and where they are, which depends on how they react to other people, and all of their interactions. So it’s finding where you, as a human, can relate to your character, and how we can translate that from stage-to-audience so that the audience can relate to the character.”

Because of this, Whyland regularly meets with actors one-on-one to talk about their visions for the role, and how those visions can manifest in the production. How would she describe such an undertaking? She ponders. “The best kind of stress.”

Tisch New Theatre‘s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the Soho Playhouse from October 31st to November 5th.

Campus Influencer: TNT’s RJ Christian

Campus Influencer: TNT’s RJ Christian

VERGE CAMPUS
By James Manso

Meet RJ Christian, one of the male leads in Tisch New Theatre’s latest production, ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’

Audrey II, the carnivorous, lover-eating plant RJ Christian plays in Tisch New Theatre‘s Little Shop of Horrors, is discovered during an eclipse. Christian, however, discovered the role on NYU’s campus, in Skirball. The freshman in Steinhardt had no idea what kind of student-run theatre groups were available, and researched them himself.

“I basically wanted to know, ‘what kind of theatre is going on at NYU? What can I be a part of?’ I youtube’d NYU Musical Theatre, and I saw some of the footage from Hairspray [Tisch New Theatre’s last production], and I was like, ‘Wow, that looks really good! I want to be involved in this,'” he said. “And I went to their theatre presentation in Skirball, and I saw they were doing Little Shop.”

 

The rest was history. “I’d never done Little Shop,” Christian said. “I’d never done anything like Little Shop before.” Christian is a Vocal Performance major with a concentration in Musical Theatre, which makes sense with his repertoire. He’s done “a lot of big, campy stuff,” as he puts it: Donkey in Shrek: the Musical and Bert in Mary Poppins.

Despite describing his actual goals as very classical (more along the lines of Les Misérables), something about this role beckoned him. “[It’s] something about the power and the manipulativeness,” he said. “It’s something I’ve never felt in myself, but it was that evil twist, that nasty kind of sexy, that sort of flavor I’ve never brought to a character.”

“This is something very different for me. And at first I wasn’t sure what I’d sing in my audition, but I honestly wanted to explore a character that I’d never done and Audrey II attracted me.” Something about his potential, the freshman whose talent surpasses his age, made him the perfect addition to the cast.

 

“When RJ said he was a freshman, I was like, ‘no?'” Director and Choreographer of the show, Casey Whyland, said. The talent-heavy cast was kept small, and Christian was just as happy to be there as everyone else was to have him. “I get to know each person as a person, which is important for establishing that chemistry when we have the characters added on,” he said. “If we know that [an actor] is a real person, it takes off that level of difficulty. All acting needs to come from a real place.”

Tisch New Theatre‘s production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors is playing at the Soho Playhouse from October 31st to November 5th. Tickets are available here.

ODYSSEY ONLINE: NYU's Tisch New Theatre Opens "Hairspray"

ODYSSEY ONLINE: NYU's Tisch New Theatre Opens "Hairspray"

ODYSSEY ONLINE
By Sean Anthony Chia
April 11, 2016

On Friday, April 1, 2016, NYU's elite student performance group known as Tisch New Theatre (TNT) opened its production of Hairspray at the Skirball Center for Performing Arts. It was no joke. 

Hairspray follows the story of Baltimore native Tracy Turnblad (Casey Whyland, pictured above) who dreams of being on the Corny Collins Show. Corny Collins (Matt McLean) and his Nicest Kids in Town light up the stage with their detailed, quick movement and their commitment to big hair and bright smiles. Tracy doesn't get the warmest welcome by Velma von Tussel (Taylor Johnson) and her daughter Amber (Haley Callahan Fish), who become increasingly jealous over the plump girl's success. 

After getting on the show, Tracy is invited to Mr. Pinky's Hefty Hideaway as a new fashion effigy. Tracy brings her mother Edna (Jacob Voigt) to Mr. Pinky's store in the memorable number "Welcome to the 60s". Mr. Pinky (Drew Carr) gives the two a makeover. Carr slays the stage with a new rendition of the Pinky role and makes Tracy and Edna feel beautiful again. Edna and Tracy's father Wilbur (Emilio Madrid) support their daughter as she and her best friend Penny Pingleton (Sarah Musicant, pictured below) fight to integrate the show. Whyland and Musicant re-imagine the iconic roles with their humorous interjections and booming voices. Tracy falls in love with Link Larkin (Colten Blair), who, however, is intensely recalcitrant to join the fight. 

Penny falls in love with Seaweed (Austin Crute, pictured below), who invites her and Tracy to his house. Crute's high energy, incredible dancing ability, and lovable personality animates the stage and serves a beautiful balance to Musicant's execution of Penny. Motormouth Maybelle (Ada Obieshi) welcome Tracy and her friends with open arms. Obieshi's voice fills the theatre with great resonance and demands the audience to listen to the important message. 

Together Tracy, Link, Seaweed, and Penny lead a protest to integrate the Corny Collins Show. They, however, are unsuccessful. After being arrested and then, as happy stories go, getting out of jail, their efforts to integrate the show become successful.

Set designer Ryan Wilbat and lighting designer Kelley Shih transport the 2016 New York stage to 1962 Baltimore by contouring the stage multi-leveled, movable platforms and deep colors. Music director Benjamin Weiss leads a major orchestra and featured pit singers who help further electrify the quality sound of the musical. The stage and sound is especially invigorating in the closing number "You Can't Stop the Beat", which urged the audience to applaud in a standing ovation.

With the clever, bold direction and choreography by Marc Anthony Ferre, TNT's Hairspray sets precedent for student work. Ferre modernizes the timeless musical with variety in dance and precision in staging choices. Ferre grasps the relevance of Hairspray noting, "Today's world needs more Tracy Turnblads in our effort to breakdown prejudice of all kinds--whether it be race, sexual orientation, religion, or body image...I hope Tracy's journey in battling prejudice inspires you to do the same in your everyday lives--because together we can do so much more to overcome what has divided us in the past." Ferre's devotion to the cast and story is illuminated in "Without Love", which reminded the audience of the all-encompassing nature of love, as we saw a variety of pairings at the end of the number; and, it sparkled in the show-stopping number "I Know Where I've Been", where Motormouth and her ensemble stand hand-in-hand with Tracy and her family, singing directly to the audience, calling the audience to action.  TNT reaches new levels and serves as an incubator for great talent both on and off the stage. We can't wait to see what comes next.

Cast: Casey Whyland, Jacob Voigt, Sarah Musicant, Link Larkin, Haley Callahan Fish, Austin Crute, Ada Obieshi, Matt Mclean, Emilio Madrid, Taylor Johnson, Kayla Coleman, Chloe Troast, Maksim Tokarev, Drew Carr, Damarcus Bell, Ariel Blackwood, Sojourner Brown, Megan Callahan, Tony Carrubba, Jordan-Amanda Hall, Naree Ketudat, Malichi Morris, Whitney Mulhern, Martavius Parrish, Andy Richardson, Marcus "Zebrakid" Smith, Portland Thomas, Sarah Treanor, and Daniel Youngelman. Pit singers: Jake Friedman, Rose Generoso, Matt Guro, Tara Muoio, Dale Roeck II, Ursula Seymour, and Laura Spineti.

"Hairspray" was produced by Jason Arnold in association with Tisch New Theatre and NYU Skirball Center.

NYU LOCAL: Tisch New Theatre Stages Fresh Rendition of ‘Hairspray’

NYU LOCAL: Tisch New Theatre Stages Fresh Rendition of ‘Hairspray’

NYU LOCAL
By Gaby Del Valle
April 4, 2016

This past weekend, Skirball was full of excited theatre-goers ready to see “Hairspray,” student club Tisch New Theatre‘s fifth production. I was one of them, but I didn’t quite know what to expect or how to feel. 

Full disclosure: I’m a person who generally likes theatre, and I obviously like music (I’m not a monster), but I rarely like the two when combined. It’s not that I dislike musical theatre—I find that most people have extreme feelings about the genre, ranging from adoration to abhorrence—I’m just not typically interested in it. TNT’s “Hairspray”proved to be an exception to my usual indifference towards the genre.

The show was fun and campy without veering into cheesiness. The cast was incredibly talented and the costumes, set, lighting, and sound were expertly managed—a feat for any theatre production, but it is even more remarkable when you realize that the TNT is a completely student-run, student-organized, and student-funded club created to make performance accessible to all NYU students, not just those who are in the Tisch Drama program.

By far the most remarkable aspect of TNT’s production of “Hairspray” is how relevant it felt. For the uninitiated, “Hairspray” (an adaptation of the 1988 John Waters film of the same name) is the story of Tracy Turnblad (played by Casey Whyland, Liberal Studies ’18), a plucky teenager growing up in Baltimore in the early ‘60s, who dreams of being a famous performer. Tracy seems like she has everything going against her—she’s overweight, perpetually awkward, and generally uncool—but after picking up some dance moves from Seaweed (Austin Crute, Tisch Clive Davis ’18) a black classmate she meets in detention, she lands a role on the popular Corny Collins Show. Instead of letting fame get to her head, Tracy uses her newfound success to try and integrate the show, which only showcases black dancers and performers once a month on “Negro Day.” 

“Hairspray” is a fairly straightforward. feel-good tale about doing the right thing, but the TNT cast and crew made the musical theater classic feel fresh and relevant to recent conversations about race and diversity in education and pop culture. During “Big, Blonde, and Beautiful” and the passionate “I Know Where I’ve Been,” both led by powerhouse Ada Obieshi (Tisch Recorded Music ’18) playing Motormouth Maybelle, the cast truly shines, giving the audience a moment to realize that that the problems of “Hairspray” aren’t limited to the ‘60s. 

Racial representation and body-positivity are still contested issues today—think #OscarsSoWhite—and the cast of TNT’s “Hairspray” reminds us these battles are far from over.