BWW Reviews: Zilker Theatre's LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is Big on Entertainment
Anyone who's seen any of the annual Zilker summer musicals in Austin's Zilker Park know that, though the productions are free to the public, the entertainment value and quality are always top-notch. Zilker's 55th annual production, Little Shop of Horrors, does not disappoint. This is a dazzling, colorful, and hysterically funny take on a staple of musical theater. The shop may be little, but the entertainment value is gigantic.
Director M. Scott Tatum keeps the show slightly campy and over-exaggerated, which serves the piece well. After all, this is a show with a ridiculous premise about how a man-eating plant turns a nerdy florist's assistant into a National celebrity. It's not exactly Shakespearian tragedy, and it shouldn't be treated as such. Everything is kept light and upbeat. Even the plant's chow times have a silly, unthreatening tone, presumably to keep the kiddies in the audience happy.
Choreographer Courtney Wissinger matches Tatum's humor, particularly with a riotous nod to the iconic bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof, but her beautiful, dreamlike pas de deux during "Somewhere That's Green" is even more memorable. Tatum's design team also gives us a happier, sunnier take on Skid Row. Aaron Stahlecker set may look like a dark and dirty alley, but Carl Booker's colorful and humorous costumes and Jason Amato's lively lighting design pop against the dark and bleak scenery.
The production also benefits from having an incredible cast. As the show's doo-wop trio, Coty Ross, Celeste Castillo, and Kelly Petlin are outstanding and deliver a strong, tight, girl group groove as they croon the classic Howard Ashman/Alan Menken tunes. Likewise, Roderick Sanford's voice is perfect for the voice of the plant, and he's able to give it a sassy, R&B vibe. Leslie Hethcox hams it up as the neurotic shop owner, Mr. Mushnick. As Orin, the abusive dentist/laughing gas addict, Tyler Jones plays up the comical bits and plays down the threatening, violent side of the character (once again, for the kiddies). He makes Orin less of a villain and more of an ignorant hick. While it may be an unconventional take on the character, it works.
The wonderful cast continues with the show's two charismatic leads. As Audrey, the young Taylor Bryant is excellent. Her voice is incredible, and in her hands, Audrey is much more than the dumb blonde that many actresses make her out to be. There's a sweetness and innocence to her. This Audrey is the girl next door, assuming you live next door to the railroad tracks. But the true star is Andrew Cannata as Seymour. I recall overhearing someone in the audience of another show refer to Cannata as "the strongest male singer in Austin theater," and I have to say I agree. While Seymour may not be designed as a singer's role, musical director John Vander Gheynst and vocal director Molly Wissinger has found many opportunities for Cannata to show off his money notes, and each moment gets howls and applause from the crowd. The fact that Cannata has superb comedic timing is just icing on the cake.
At the end of Little Shop of Horrors, we are told "Don't feed the plants." I'd suggest against feeding the plants but I do recommend telling your friends. When it comes to high-quality, family-friendly musicals, it doesn't get any better than this.
Running time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, produced by Zilker Theater Productions, plays the Beverly S. Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater inside Zilker Park now thru Saturday, August 17th. Performances are Thursday thru Sunday at 8:30pm. Admission is free. For more information, please visit www.zilker.org.