Feature: Gabe Mayfield, local actor

By Christa Lawler
Duluth News Tribune

Gabe Mayfield knows what it takes to get into the head of a blood-thirsty alien plant bent on world domination. It takes studying cartoons and listening to Motown. It requires Southern slang and a touch of James Brown.
The local actor plays the voice of the vicious plant Audrey II for the fourth time in his 11-year acting career in a production of “Little Shop of Horrors” that opens at 7:30 p.m. today at the Play Ground.
The musical by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman is the story of a nerdy orphan named Seymour who works in a forgotten plant shop in a rundown neighborhood. He’s got a crush on a woman named Audrey and he’s got a plant named Audrey II that thrives on human blood, which helps it grow larger and attracts attention to the shop.
Then Audrey II’s thirst gets too huge to handle.
Mayfield’s first theater role was Audrey II in a 2000 production at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He was tapped by longtime drama professor and director John Munsell for the part.
The young actor drew comparisons to Levi Stubbs, a baritone from the Four Tops, who was the voice of the plant in the 1980s film adaptation.
And some audience members thought Munsell was pulling a scam.
“Someone actually accused me of using the soundtrack to the Broadway musical just for Gabe’s songs because it was so obviously just a great voice,” Munsell said.
Mayfield landed the role again in 2005 in a production at the Duluth Playhouse directed by Linda Bruning. A News Tribune reviewer said the actor deserved kudos for “his soulful interpretation.”
When Munsell was asked to
direct “Little Shop of Horrors”
for the Black Hills Playhouse in South Dakota last summer, he told theater staff to cancel the search for Audrey II.
“I said, Don’t bother to cast anybody,'” Munsell said. He brought in Mayfield to reprise the role.
The show at the Play Ground was initiated by a group of friends, stage regulars who hand-picked fellow actors and then brought in Michelle Juntunen to direct her first musical. Mayfield has added plenty of ideas on execution, knowing the musical completely.
“He came into the first read-through and didn’t even have a script,” she said.
Mayfield has pushed the show in a darker horror direction, less campy. He said he tries to keep his character classic and true to the film version, adding a little Ray Charles to the mix, including a Southern slang accent. He has listened to the Temptations, James Brown and the exaggerated cartoon-style of Mother Brain from “Captain Nintendo.”
“I’m working on making the lines fit and sound more real than before,” he said. “I try to add levels to the dialogue.”
After this show, Mayfield plans to sit out a few rounds of local theater. Last season included parts in the Playhouse’s “Chicago,” Lyric Opera of the North’s production of “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and Renegade Theater Company’s “Parade.”
But he’s not necessarily done with “Little Shop of Horrors.”
Mayfield said he would like to direct it professionally and he would like to play Audrey II in a remake of the film. He would also like to play the part of the dentist. This is, after all, his favorite show.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s like all musicals wrapped up into one. You’ve got everything. The best part is that it takes music from the Motown era, they use some rock ‘n’ and roll and things like that. It’s mainly the music I love the most.”
Meanwhile, Munsell might be the maker of the plant, but he said he doesn’t know if he wants to see this version of Audrey II.
“I don’t know that I want anything but the memory of the last time I saw him,” he said. “It was absolutely perfect.”

This story ran in the August 11, 2011 edition of the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune.


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