By Russ Bickerstaff   Published Jul 02, 2005 at 5:20 AM

{image1}Wisconsin native Tari Kelly is traveling across the country, starring as Audrey in the visiting Broadway production of "The Little Shop of Horrors," which comes to the Marcus Center on July 5.

She doesn't often get much time to settle in before she's onto the next stop, but the frantic run of the schedule really doesn't affect her performance directly. The hardest part of traveling is adjusting to various local climates. Regional allergies welcome her quite often. This would be hard on anyone, but when you're performing with a traveling Broadway show, you can't afford to be in anything less than perfect health.

"Just traveling in and of itself is the hardest part about doing this show," she admits. All those little difficulties that people run into when they travel can get a little surreal when they involve a traveling show. Recently, Kelly was stopped by airport security after they detected traces of TNT in her bag. They detained her for what she calls, "quite a while," insisting that her passport wasn't valid enough ID. "I was wearing my 'Little Shop of Horrors,' baseball cap," Kelly says, "so maybe they thought I was evil."

Even when the journey is going smoothly, the sterile atmospheres of planes and hotel rooms can dry out the voice. For Kelly, there's only one way to stay completely hydrated: vodka.

"I'm kidding!" she says, "Actually drinking alcohol is something I stave off for the most part." This is understandable. Why deal with the difficulties of being under the influence of alcohol when you're dealing with the difficulties of being under the influence of Audrey?

"Audrey is a very sweet girl," Kelly says of her character, "but between you and me, and I guess your readers, her lack of self esteem does get a bit tiring. In fact, lately I've been distancing myself from her cause she was bringing me down."

But she really DOES love the character, she admits.

"She is fabulously fragile and naive and the way she worries about other's well being is really very touching. I think she really likes me playing her because I don't see her as a typical dumb blonde. She's just a child caught in the body of a sex pot, that's all."

The transformation, via full costume, allows Kelly to keep a safe distance from Audrey off-stage.

"It's wild being out on the road as her," she says, "'cause people don't recognize me when I come out of the stage door. I almost always have to tell them I'm Audrey and then the look of shock, confusion then realization is fun for me. I guess Orin and his semi sadist tendencies are rubbing off on me."

Kelly has been quite successful and this production joins a list of big-budget theater she's done over the years (you can see a complete listing of her performances along with audio clips and much more on her Web site at

From her humble beginnings in local places like the Fireside in Fort Atkinson, she's moved on to the much faster pace of living in New York.

"There's more work to audition for out there than in Wisconsin," she says, "and the majority of the gigs pay more. The lifestyle is a lot more hectic and you're constantly going, going, going: auditioning, leaving to do gigs, coming back, auditioning some more, hopefully getting a Broadway show. It's stressful and hard to have a normal existence sometimes. Wisconsin is a lot more serene and laid back, but there just isn't enough well-paying, professional theater for me to make my home there."

That said, the actual performance experience isn't all that different between Wisconsin and New York, Kelly says.

"You would imagine it's different, (but) it isn't. I've always said the only difference between Broadway and regional theater is the amount of money they have."

For now, with all its hectic movement and scheduling, Kelly seems to really enjoy the road.

"In some places they love the show so much that you feel like a rock star. They cheer, they laugh at everything, which makes you feel pretty good about what you doing. Then you get to cities doing the same show you've been doing and getting great responses from, and crickets. Nada. And it's hard to not start second-guessing everything you're doing. You just want to please everyone and you have to remember that in some cities they're just not going to be as enthusiastic or find the same things funny."

Tari Kelly stars in "The Little Shop of Horrors," July 5-10 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. Tickets range in price from $23 to $63 and can be purchased by calling the box office at (414) 276-4545.