Effortlessly stylish in a grey jumper, sequinned black mini-skirt, tights and high-heeled black Doc Martens boots, singer-actor Colleen Davis cuts quite a figure as she wanders into a Mt Eden cafe to talk about the largest role in her career to date.
Davis, an accomplished blues and jazz singer who performs with the band Storehouse, plays Audrey in the comedy horror musical Little Shop of Horrors. She has appeared in Auckland Theatre Company musicals Oliver and Cabaret and earlier this year she recorded a soundtrack for the play Drowning in Veronica Lake. She figures this means she is on her way to becoming "a musical theatre lady".
Little Shop of Horrors director Simon Coleman describes Davis as an amazing singer, which makes her blush ever so slightly.
She wanted to be in Little Shop because she likes the music and enjoys the character-driven songs. She describes the role of Audrey as a gift for a performer because while she may appear to be an air-head, she is a complex person who needs to be played with empathy and feeling.
"Audrey is a really beautiful character, more heart rather than head, but she doesn't believe in herself and she makes very bad choices because of that.
She is like the princess character and a really iconic female role in musical theatre."
One of the longest running, most successful Broadway musicals, Little Shop of Horrors was written by lyricist Howard Ashman and composer Alan Menken who turned a 1960 cult horror film, which starred Jack Nicholson, into the award-winning musical. Its success prompted a new film directed by Frank Oz and starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Steve Martin and Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops.
Ashman and Menken have since gone on to work on big budget musicals and films such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin and Pocahontas, starring characters who have become Disney icons. Audrey could have been a grittier prototype destined for a less happy ending.
Ellen Greene's breathless Marilyn Monroe-esque performance seems to have set the template for how the character should be played, but Davis says she wants to put her own stamp on the character, channelling the likes of singer Judy Holliday.
If Davis was confident she could sing the part, her co-star Tim Carlson was setting himself up for a challenge. Best known for his one-person show One Day Moko, about the trials and tribulations of an ageing homeless man, Carlson hasn't sung on stage since he appeared in Les Miserables at high school.
He wanted to audition for the lead role of Seymour as a challenge, saying he likes to push himself as a performer and he felt affinity for the character who, like Audrey, lacks self-belief.
"I think there's a little bit of these characters in all of us because we all want to be loved and accepted for who we are. I like the idea of telling this story through music and song. Even though I haven't done much singing, I wanted to audition.
"I think a little naivety can sometimes be the best thing, so I went ahead and auditioned not really knowing what I was getting myself in for but I think this is a great musical to start off with because it doesn't take itself too seriously."
Paying offbeat homage to alien invasion films of the 1950s and 60s, Little Shop centres round geeky florist Seymour (Carlson) who spends his days slaving away in Mr Musnik's Florist Shop and dreaming about the gorgeous Audrey. Then Seymour stumbles across a strange new plant he christens Audrey II. Interest in the plant runs high and it looks as if Seymour's new discovery will bring him fame and fortune, but Audrey II answers back when you talk to her and is more than willing to bite the hand - the entire body - of whoever feeds her.
The story is propelled along by a Motown-styled shoop-shoop chorus (Bella Kalolo, former NZ Idol winner Rosita Vai and Go Girls' Bronwyn Turei) to move the story along apace.
Carlson says if you must have a model plant - this one created by designer Tracey Collins - as one of your closest co-stars, it helps to have someone funny, talented and experienced to voice it. Rima Te Wiata, who some years ago played Audrey in a Wellington production of Little Shop, voices Audrey II. Te Wiata admits to being flattered when Coleman decided to do things a little differently and have a woman voice the plant part.
"I'm really excited because it's a fantastic part and I think it was a very brave decision that Simon made to have a woman do Audrey II's voice. Even though each character is an archetype, there's a lot of room for personal interpretation as well. I can really have some fun with the part."
Davis says having performers in the cast such as Te Wiata, Andrew Grainger and Paul Barrett provides encouragement to work hard and not be afraid to experiment and try bolder new approaches to the musical.
While Little Shop of Horrors takes over Q Theatre's main stage, horror plays are also on downstairs at Loft to coincide with the Halloween season. Independent theatre companies Theatre of Love and Rebel & Robots present a double feature with Tom Sainsbury's latest play The Somnambulist and Meat by Benjamin Teh.
In The Somnambulist, a young couple (played by Roberto Nascimento and Leisha Ward Knox) must confront the possibility that she may be murdering people in her sleep while Meat is set in a sinister boarding house where people never say goodbye when they leave.
What: Little Shop of Horrors
Where & when: Q Theatre, November 1-25
What: Theatre Macabre
Where & when: Q Theatre Bunker, October 30-November 2Little Shop of Horrors cast members Bella Kalolo, Rosita Vai, Tim Carlsen (Seymour) , Colleen Davis (Audrey) and Bronwyn Turei.