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'Little Shop' Turns Into A Delight For Doo-wop Trio

Scene Stealers: Last in a Series on Scene Stealers

January 03, 1987|CLARKE TAYLOR

NEW YORK — As the movie's chorus, a trio of Skid Row Supremes, the teen-aged girls, making their movie debut, lift your spirits sky high every time they come on.

--Michael Wilmington, Los Angeles Times The trio sashays through the film, performing as one of the only known Greek choruses to perform doo-wop material.

--Janet Maslin, New York Times Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell and Michelle Weeks do not exactly doo-wop their way through an interview, as they do to scene-stealing perfection throughout Frank Oz's "Little Shop of Horrors," but the make-believe trio is certainly on the same beat in discussing what the teen-agers hope will be their ticket to individual careers.

In "Little Shop," Arnold, Campbell and Weeks play Crystal, Chiffon and Ronette, a kind of hip Greek chorus that provides sassy, snappy musical bridges between both the musical and dramatic segments of the film. They do it with such ease, you would think they had been working together for years.

"It was really just a coincidence that we already knew each other," said Weeks, at 19, the eldest and by her own admission "the most laid-back" of the three.

"I think (Oz) saw a chemistry between us," said Arnold, 17.

"Our voices blended well--and we looked terrific ," said Campbell, 18.

The three young women won out over about 1,000 others who auditioned for the roles. After being picked, they said Oz took them out to dinner together to match their personalities to the three individual parts.

"We knew this was going to be our first big break because it's so big, bigger than life," said Arnold, the most gregarious, quick-witted and straightforward of the threesome. "In a film, when you are up on the big screen, and your music is surrounding the audience in the dark, you get much more effect than you do if you were in the chorus on stage, even on Broadway, where everybody's looking at the stars."

The three singers, each of whom began by singing in gospel choirs, have already achieved some success on stage in New York, and had logged a lot of miles on the audition circuit before "Little Shop."

Weeks made her professional debut at 13 in the gospel musical "Mahalia." Campbell got her start at 7, with a role on a television show. And Arnold debuted in her early teens in a production of "The Me Nobody Knows."

"I didn't even realize what I was getting into," said Arnold, the only one of the three still enrolled here in high school. "You just get caught up in it all, you get hooked, and now that I've done a film, I never even want to go back to the stage."

Weeks has worked primarily on stage, including the Broadway show "The Tap Dance Kid." Arnold and Campbell have both worked in television and film. Campbell, in fact, had been about to move from New York to Los Angeles "for (the TV) pilot season" before "Little Shop" came her way.

The three said they were disappointed that their trio didn't get as much screen time as their various predecessors did in the stage productions, where the chorus was almost always on view. But they were almost always in the background too. For the movie, Oz moved them to the foreground and made them a central character.

"Actually, I kind of liked the idea of us popping in and out of the film, and not giving the audience too much," Arnold said, after her two partners expressed their disappointment with the trimmed-down size of their role.

As it was, they said, Oz had to hold them back, to keep them from being "too energetic, too overwhelming."

"We were like a big flash of color on-screen that could detract from the others," said Campbell, adding that one dance segment was cut from the film during production "because Frank said we'd steal the scene from Steve (Martin)."

"I wasn't that conscious of standing out," Arnold said.

"I was," said Campbell, who broke away from the front the three were putting up as a trio, by adding, "Tichina actually was afraid we weren't being seen enough, and that nothing would come of (us). I would say, 'All you want to do is sign autographs. . . . ' "

"Yes, it's true. . . . I want attention," Arnold said.

"Actually, the two of them opened me up a lot," Campbell said, getting a laugh from the others. "I was very shy."

"We got you wild, child," Arnold said.

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