Little Shop of Horrors

This year's Zilker Summer Musical swaps the Swiss Alps for Skid Row, but it's as hugely entertaining as ever

Love in the time of killer flora: Andrew Cannata as Seymour and Taylor Bryant as Audrey
Love in the time of killer flora: Andrew Cannata as Seymour and Taylor Bryant as Audrey
Photo courtesy of Amitava Sarkar/ZTP

Little Shop of Horrors

Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theater, 2206 William Barton Dr., 512/479-9491
Through Aug. 18
Running time: 2 hr.

I love watching Austinites flock to Zilker Park, laden with colorful lawn chairs and coolers full of beer and organic picnic snacks, with kids and dogs following just behind. No matter what's going on – Kite Festival, Blues on the Green, or the annual Zilker Summer Musical – we're drawn to that majestic buckle on the greenbelt anytime we have an excuse. It was a joy, but not a surprise, to see the hillside completely packed an hour before showtime on opening night of this year's green, gory spectacle, Little Shop of Horrors.

The show stands at the opposite end of the musical spectrum from last year's pick, The Sound of Music. There are no children in outfits made out of curtains. The ingenue dreams of a suburban tract house rather than singing Swiss hills. The evil army takes over the world in spite of the handsome lead actor's best efforts. Little Shop is a grinworthy riff on B-movies and a grisly yet family-friendly reminder that, even onstage, things don't always end happily ever after. (For you conscientious parents out there, I'd rate it PG for cartoonish violence, mild crude language, and themes of doom and destruction.) A peeling gray set from Aaron Stahlecker, eerie shadows from Jason Amato and Patrick W. Anthony's eye-boggling lighting, and giant menacing Audrey II plant puppets by Monkey Boys Productions make even Zilker's idyllic knoll feel like an inner-city slum.

But behind the man-eating plant's tendrils, Little Shop of Horrors is a love story. There's nothing that Seymour Krelborn (Andrew Cannata) wouldn't do for Audrey (Taylor Bryant), his co-worker at Mushnik's Skid Row Florists (helmed by an overwrought and funny Leslie Hethcox as Mr. Mushnik). As Seymour, Cannata is positively delightful; he's big and bright and gregarious enough to fill the park and then some. Bryant makes a lovely Audrey, something of a Skid Row Barbie (complete with black eye and arm sling action!). But it's the badass trio of doo-wop goddesses – Celeste Castillo, Kelly Petlin, and Coty Ross – who carry the show on their fabulous shoulders, with help from Carl Booker's excellent costumes. Kudos also to Tyler Jones as a delicious Orin Scrivello (Audrey's masochistic dentist lover) and Roderick Sanford as the most soulful Audrey II I've heard.

Director M. Scott Tatum and the rest of the Zilker Theatre Productions leadership have again assembled a superb cast, crew (special shout-out to the spot operators), and volunteers to bring the hillside to life. As the full-to-bursting opening night crowd suggests, these folks ensure that Zilker's summer musical is always hugely entertaining, high-quality theatre, and Little Shop of Horrors is no exception.

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