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How Conrad Ricamora suddenly became Seymour in 'Little Shop of Horrors'

Diep Tran
Diep Tran

One night, while doing Little Shop of Horrors, Conrad Ricamora almost started laughing on stage during a serious scene. It was during the song "The Meek Shall Inherit," when he has to keep a straight face while his co-star Christian Borle clowns around him. "It's like acting with a wild animal," Ricamora says of working with Borle. He chuckles. He means it in a good way, of course. "This is honestly one of my favorite working experiences that I've ever had."

Since January, Ricamora has played Seymour in the Off-Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors at the Westside Theatre, taking over for Jeremy Jordan. Through May 15, Ricamora plays opposite Tammy Blanchard as Audrey and Borle as ​​Orin Scrivello, who've held the roles since the revival opened in 2019.

Ricamora is used to originating roles in musicals such as Here Lies LoveSoft Power, and the 2015 Broadway revival of The King and I. But Ricamora only had two weeks to rehearse for Little Shop of Horrors.

So how did he find his way into the character of Seymour, a horticultural nerd who makes a Faustian bargain with a man-eating plant to gain fame, fortune, and Audrey's love? For one, Ricamora played the I.T. nerd Oliver on all six seasons of ABC's How to Get Away With Murder, so he knows how to rock a pair of glasses.

But more personally, Ricamora drew on his own story to find the heart of the character underneath the horror-comedy. Seymour is an orphan who never had a real home. Ricamora was a military kid who moved around a lot, and Ricamora's mother abandoned the family when he was a baby.

"I definitely identify with that deep longing to belong somewhere," he explains. "If you didn't have a household growing up, the idea of home is something that you crave so much more, because you've never had it. And I definitely identify with that."

He's doing the musical while developing his own television show, No Rice, about dating as a gay Asian man. He also has a new film, Fire Island, coming out in June on Hulu, starring Bowen Yang and Margaret Cho, which is a gay take on Pride and Prejudice (Ricamora plays the film's version of Mr. Darcy). 

Below, Ricamora talks about how he found himself "suddenly, Seymour."

Get Little Shop of Horrors tickets now.

How did you personally find your way to Seymour?

The show is all about childhood trauma. Seymour is an orphan and navigating the world without parents. Without learning all of those secure attachments that you learn with parents that are loving, and with an environment that's loving — how do you navigate the world and how do you see the world, and how do you provide for yourself without that? That's something that I've had to reckon with in my own personal life. So that was my "in" with Seymour. 

And your first experiences of intimacy are usually with a parent who's holding you and nurturing you. If you've never had that, how do you then try to find that and find confidence in that with another person? I think Seymour is just completely clueless about how to do that because he's never had that. And I love that he and Audrey find each other because I feel like they've both been abused and neglected. And yet, they find each other. It turns out tragically in the end, but they still are really fighting to be together despite their upbringing, despite their circumstances.

Seymour has usually been played by a white actor. What additional depth do you think a person of color adds to the role?

I am aware of the impact that it has within the larger context: our cultural context and our society now, because of the specific situations that we are all in as people of color. I do feel like it deepens it and it makes it more layered. The poverty that Seymour is going through and that feeling of being beaten down by the world at large — I've definitely felt that as a Asian man, and it's been highlighted for Asian Americans, unfortunately, in the last few years. I'm grateful that I get to be one of the first people of color to take on this role because I do think it adds another dimension to it.

When I saw the show, you almost broke a couple of times when you were acting opposite Christian Borle. How do you keep yourself from laughing?

There's undeniably clown parts with Christian's track. He's begging you to play with him. He's begging you to be open. And so I try to stay open, but at the same time, if I start feeling that tickle inside, I go back immediately to: What do I want here? What am I doing here? What am I trying to get? 

I remember seeing him in Peter and the Starcatcher and just dying laughing. There was one bit where he was just so absurd. And he broke Celia [Keenan-Bolger] and Adam [Chanler-Berat]. There's something so delightful and playful and hilarious about what he's able to tap into that it would be wrong for me, and I think for any actor, to just completely shut down in order to not break and completely be closed off to what's happening. So you kind of just have to figure out how to ride this tidal wave that he creates in that moment. It's something that you just figure out every single night when you're on stage with him because it's like acting with a wild animal.

How did you build chemistry with the cast, particularly with Tammy Blanchard?

I don't think it's hard to develop chemistry with actors who are ready and open and just dying to play with you on stage. I feel that every single night. This is honestly one of my favorite working experiences that I've ever had. Because of Tammy and Christian, and everyone else that's in the cast and crew — there's such positivity and joy to be going to work every day. It really just makes it a pleasure to show up. Specifically with Tammy and Christian, they're so committed to what they're doing on stage that it draws you in, and it draws you into this relationship. They're counting on you to play with them. I'm just over the moon to be a part of it.

Get Little Shop of Horrors tickets now.

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