Metro Weekly

Tobias A. Young: Giving Voice to Audrey II

From behind the curtain, Tobias A. Young takes center stage as the voice of Audrey II in Ford's "Little Shop of Horrors."

Tobias A. Young with Jay Frisby and Ryan Sellers - Photo: Carolina Dulcey
Tobias A. Young with Jay Frisby and Ryan Sellers – Photo: Carolina Dulcey

“Voiceover work is difficult,” declares Tobias A. Young, with a knowing grin. The award-winning actor is currently giving his voice a fierce workout performing the role of the singing, extraterrestrial carnivorous plant Audrey II in Ford’s lively Little Shop of Horrors.

“I definitely went into this process thinking, ‘Oh baby, I’ll just be backstage singing a song, and it’ll be a good old time,'” says Young, who performs from a booth offstage. “And that’s not the case. It takes a lot of work.”

It also takes a lot of puppets to bring Audrey II to life onstage, as the plant grows to gigantic proportions throughout the show. While cast members Ryan Sellers and Jay Frisby manipulate Audrey II’s gaping trap and grasping tendrils, it’s Young’s voice that gives the monstrous plant, created by Monkey Boys Productions, its killer character.

A stage vet who’s been seen, to charming effect, in Signature’s recent Passing Strange and The Color Purple, and Off-Broadway in Fabulous! The Queen of Musical Comedies, Young says that voicing Audrey II poses a distinctly different challenge.

“This is the first time that I’ve ever been away from the stage in order to do my work,” he says, adding that projecting the character takes more than just a microphone.

“You don’t want it to come across as, ‘Oh, well, that’s someone offstage just saying the lines, or someone just singing the song,'” says the Maryland native. “It was important to me to make sure I was doing everything, in regards to how I was delivering the lines, as if you could physically see me onstage, because I wanted you to feel not just the presence of this puppet onstage, but feel my voice come to life through the puppet, out in the house.”

Led by the show’s director Kevin S. McAllister, Young and Audrey II collaborators Sellers and Frisby have also worked out a system to stay in sync. “We spent a lot of time in the rehearsal process, really trying to perfect everything,” Young recalls.

“It heavily relied on me being very consistent with everything that I was doing vocally so that they could trust that what I was going to do would always be the exact same. Which would also then give them the freedom to kind of do what they want to do from a physical aspect, without them having to be concerned about ‘What will Tobias sing today?'”

Sellers and Frisby also wear in-ear monitors so they can hear Young’s every note, word, even breath.

“I’ll try to make sure that I give a catch breath right before, so that they’ll always know just when I’m about to sing or say something, but not so noticeable that the audience will be able to tell. It’s a little secret weapon that we have going on between the three of us.”

In addition, Young — a chef who has garnered a huge social media following with his Simply Food by TY video series — has cooked up his own secret sauce for playing Audrey II. Eagle-eyed audience members might catch the performer onstage among the ensemble in the opening number.

The character he’s playing might appear a mild-mannered man of Skid Row, but only Young knows what’s really on their mind. “I envision myself in the movie The Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” he says, responding to a query about Audrey II’s pronouns by spilling the strange and unusual backstory.

“I go onstage and I take those few moments to look around at every single person onstage, and in my mind, I am taking on character traits from every single person that I’m looking at on that stage. They have no idea that I am already Audrey II. I’ve just taken on the form of a human being.”

And the real humans should beware. “That’s why I give that very sinister look at the beginning. That’s the reason I make sure that I clock all of the people that I’m going to be eating throughout the show, because I already know what I’m there to do. They have no idea. So the pronouns can be he, they, she, we. All I know is that I’m there to eat up everybody.”

Little Shop of Horrors runs through May 18 at Ford’s Theatre, 511 Tenth St. NW. Tickets are $55 to $95. Call 888-616-0270, or visit

Simply Food by TY is on YouTube at

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