Little Shop of Horrors: All The Fine Young Cannibal Plants

Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through March 15

From the vibrant opening sequence to its last dark doo-wop, this campy, vampy musical about a man-eating plant takes root and won't let go. Meet Seymour (Christopher Barrett), a brainy botanist whose heart throbs for good deeds, plant life, and Audrey (Tara Battani), the dingbatty sales clerk whose sadistic boyfriend can't stop (literally) hitting her with love. These two lovable losers inhabit Mushnik's Skid Row flower shop, where business is wilting quicker than the merchandise. In fact, the place is ready to fold when Seymour happens across a curious, unidentifiable plant, which he names Audrey II (after his secret love, Audrey I). The good news is that this rare plant single-handedly saves the store from bankruptcy, brings our lovestruck pair together, and makes Seymour a mondo-stud. The bad news is that it thrives on human blood. Little Shop slippery slides all over the musical map, from fantasy to horror to tragedy to satire, all with tongue firmly planted in cheek. With doo-wop girls Ronnette (Dreamgirls' Judy R. Arnold), Chiffon (Alejandra Mendiola), and Crystal (Mandi LeBlanc) as our singing guides, we watch this unassuming story unfurl into something bizarre and monstrous. Directed by Susan Loughran, Mary Moody Northen Theatre's Little Shop is a frivolous romp into this deliciously twisted world. The talented cast has a blast, and their hip-swinging energy is infectious. Special recognition goes to the blossoming couple, Battani as Audrey and Barrett as that lovable twit Seymour, whose aw-shucks earnestness together make any scene sparkle. In fact, it is through the exhaustive efforts of the cast that the show does succeed. After all, Little Shop is really just a one-joke gag, and if you know the punchline, some of the build-up can grow a tad laborious. But that fault lies with Howard Ashman's script, not MMNT's production. What this Little Shop may lack in originality, it more than makes up for in elbow grease: Michael Massey's clever, playful set design (all green), Aziza Bey's Technicolor costumes, and Kevin P. Archambault's snappy, flirtatious choreography coalesce to make one bang-up show. With cannibalistic plants, singing dorks, murder, money, and mayhem, Little Shop is one stop you won't want to miss.

-- Sarah Hepola


Paramount Theatre, February 27

All too often, dance just doesn't give a who. That is, it stumbles in providing its audience with a strong sense of personality. Oh, it communicates character vividly -- the feelings and attitudes and drive of a dramatic figure -- but it does less well with personality, that singular sense of an individual that we read in his or her eyes and smile and carriage. In so many dances, that's submerged in choreography, in steps and turns and channeling expression through the movement of the bodies. When that happens, the dancers may be distinguished by their skill or artistry, but as people -- the who behind the moves -- they blur together.

I don't believe I'll ever be inclined to say that about the dancers in Tapestry ever again.

Through this multi-form dance company's most recent show, I've come to see its seven dancers not just as artists of varying abilities but as distinct individuals, men and women of diverse demeanors, temperaments, outlooks. There's the genial goof Vladislav, forever clowning, making everything a joke, even his shortcomings, which he acknowledges with a goodnatured shrug. There's Melissa, confident enough to be playful, luring men (usually hapless Vladislav) with a flirtacious flip of her skirt, only to slap them down when they get too near, smiling slyly all the while. There's tall, gangly Nicholas, his long limbs seemingly possessed by rhythms, flying about, frequently comical, always inspired. There's cool, crisp SethJohn, moving cleanly, precisely, his steps as much about craft as art. There's bright-eyed Shonna, her youthful vivacity putting a sharp spring in her step. There's steady, reliable Karen, easing into a dance unobtrusively, dependably; her moves you can count on. And leading them,

the master, the boss, the den mother, Acia, showing how it's done, naturally, with grace, the seeming effortlessness of her movements and shine of her smile revealing to all how dearly she loves her art and finds a home in it. I don't know how much these personalities onstage correspond to those belonging to the dancers offstage, but manufactured or not, they added individuality and dimension to these artists and made watching their work richer.

Much of the enhanced sense of personality pervading this concert came from the approach that artistic director Acia Gray took to her first full-length program. (Gray's longtime partner inTapestry, co-founder Deirdre Strand, is on leave from her post as co-artistic director.) Act One, "It Don't Mean a Thing," put the dancers in an era of jollity and jive, when jukeboxes blared out catchy, sexy, party-hearty R&B that got the feet moving and the blood racing. The setting forced the dancers to play out little comedies of courtship and revelry, which encouraged them to project full-blown attitudes and emotions. While Act Two, "Footworks," had no narrative tone -- it fused different forms such as modern dance and tap to an acid jazz soundtrack -- the dancers still managed to project elements of the personalities they'd established earlier. They gave us a clear sense that we were seeing the same people dance.

By giving us their 'whos,' Gray served her dancers well this time around. To a degree, she may have served them better than she served herself as choreographer. Some of her work here bordered on the busy, the steps looking like they had more to do with sustaining momentum than shaping art. Having seen Gray's work for years, I know she knows the value of stillness, of the space between steps, so I attribute this more to trying to make a big splash with her first full program than to some flaw in her choreographic sensibility. And given the way she and her dancers presented themselves, with such distinction and appeal, I'm keen to see more of them -- that's them the dancers and them the people. -- Robert Faires


Main Theatre, ACC Rio Grande March 7

Sketch comedy is a wily little beastie that is a bitch to corral. Look at Saturday Night Live, stuck with a series of casts that never gel, trying to make audiences laugh at material that isn't funny and skits that go on way too long. The writers and performers attempt to force said beastie into a corral at which it balks. The audience doesn't laugh and, in the worst case scenario, starts to get embarrassed for the performers, who are obviously trying to do their best in a bad situation. It makes you want to give up on the whole endeavor, which seems doomed to go out with a sad sigh.

Sketch comedy is also a bitch to write about. Nothing really happens; no great story is told and no great characters go through some inner search for a worthy goal. The skits either hit or miss. The performances make you laugh or they don't. It's an all-or-nothing game. You leave the theatre either embarrassed or relieved, and there are very few shades of gray.

The Latino Comedy Project is funny, hysterical enough that you leave the performance with your teeth hurting from an evening of chuckling and a gut aching from deep belly laughs. Granted, not all of the 20-odd sketches work, but the ones that do are wonderful examples of what you can do with snappy writing, immaculate timing, and an animated cast. It's almost enough to restore your faith in the concept of sketch comedy.

Writers Ruperto Reyes, Jr., who penned the successful comedy Petra's Pecado, Adrian Villegas, who was responsible for the amusing Six Mexicans Named Gonzalez, Erica Gonzalez, Mical Trejo, and Omar Gallaga provide the base for the production's success by honing their material to a fine point. From the Chicano Dating Game, in which a humorless feminist Chicana is forced to choose from three less-than-desirable Machos, to the Telenovela-skewering Amor Imposible, to an infomercial hawking the Pendejo Self-Defense Kit, the LCP kicks a few sacred cows and roasts a few more with a warm heart and a devilish grin. And while its Dennis Miller-esque newsbreaks get off to a rocky start, they finish with a rousing tribute to a fallen traffic reporter that shouldn't be missed.

A caveat: Like most Teatro Humanidad Cansada productions, the LCP is a bilingual affair, a mix of Spanish and English that may give monolinguals pause. Don't give it another thought, though, or you'll miss out. My Spanish-impaired date had a great time, enough so thatat intermission he mused that this is somethingAustin needs. Indeed. Hopefully, we'll get more. The LCP plans to continue refining the material they have and adding more, which should leave audiences simply gasping for mercy in September 1998, when they again attack the squirrely sketch comedy beast. -- Adrienne Martini

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