Don’t hate Tari Kelly because she’s beautiful. Hate her because she’s never struggled with her dreams to be an actress.
In fact, she never had the kind of fervent passion for dramatic arts that fuel most young actresses through crummy restaurant jobs and throwaway ensemble roles on the way to professional status.
“I call it blind naiveté,” Kelly, 35, says from the road, performing as Audrey in the Broadway touring production of “Little Shop of Horrors.”
“I had danced a bit when I was young, had watched musicals, and finally was in a community theater show when I was 13. I thought, ‘Oh, I’ll just do this.’ I’ve been lucky. Once I started doing this as a living, I haven’t had to do anything else, which is great.”
Great for her, maybe. But not for her cast mates, most of whom would rather not hear about her frictionless rise. Or her kudos from Broadway great Elaine Stritch. Or her stint performing with Hugh Jackman in “The Boy From Oz.”
“I don’t blame them,” Kelly says. “It’s disgusting.”
ROLE ‘A GOOD FIT’
But if Kelly’s acting career has been so smooth, it’s hard to imagine her connecting with her character. In a crazy comic show about a nerd (played by Jonathan Rayson) with a man-eating alien plant, Kelly plays the love interest, Audrey — a hard-luck gal with a squeaky New Yawk accent whose romantic life is mired in abusive jerks and impossible dreams of a quiet suburban life.
“I don’t know, it’s just one of those times as an actress when you know something would be a good fit,” Kelly says. “I get to perform some great songs” — like the power ballad “Somewhere That’s Green” — “without having to do any choreography or anything like that.
‘‘It’s so rare that you sit and sing the lyrics. These days, they have you flying around the room with stuff exploding.”
Of course, there is one hurdle to performing Audrey that has to be overcome: It’s role made famous both off-Broadway and on the big screen (in the 1986 film starring Rick Moranis) by the inimitable Ellen Greene, who played her with a pinched helium voice and a lot of bleach-blond bounce and wiggle.
“I didn’t want to mimic Ellen, but what she did was right, so I took her basic idea of Audrey as more of a naive child than a bimbo, and I went from there.”
DEATH BECOMES HER
The role comes with certain other obstacles, too, like the potential for being upstaged by your co-star — namely, a “plant the size of a VW Beetle that eats people,” Kelly says, laughing.
But she’s quick to note: “I guarantee some people are looking at me. I get eaten in a nightie.”
Is it spoiling anything to mention that she dies in the end? Maybe, but it’s a moment in the show that Kelly adores.
“I get the most glorious death scene,” she says. “There’s music, there’s lights. That’s not going to happen in my real life.”
Then again, considering Kelly’s good luck, anything’s possible.
‘Little Shop of Horrors’
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Aug. 11 and 12; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13, 2 and 7 p.m. Aug. 14
Where: ASU Gammage Auditorium, 1200 S. Forest Ave., Tempe How much: $19.50-$65
Info: (480) 784-4444