Little Shop of Horrors: A Good Time Out of Joint

Local Arts Reviews

Little Shop of Horrors: A Good Time Out of Joint

Zachary Scott Theatre Center Kleberg Stage,

through November 4

Running Time: 2 hrs

Context may not be everything, but it can be one hell of a lot. So, in order to render this review of Zachary Scott Theatre Center's Little Shop of Horrors more useful, you've got to know that I saw the original Roger Corman movie about 18 years ago, and the Ashman & Menken remake (directed by Frank Oz) about 14 years ago. And that when I screened, as they say, the latter, I was really, really -- I mean really -- stoned.

Now, you likely realize that watching a movie under the influence of cannabis can allow for a greater appreciation of that movie -- beyond even what the movie may merit on its own. And you may also be aware that the Frank Oz LSOH was pretty damned meritorious to begin with. And you may also be familiar with the sensation of watching a staged version of something available in filmed form, now on video, and wanting to get the hell out of the theatre so you can enjoy a truly decent version of what you're seeing live.

Well, while I was at Zach Scott, I kept wanting to see the video version -- but not because I was disappointed with the scenario unfolding atop the Kleberg stage. No, I wanted to make sure the video was as good as I remembered ... because I was enjoying the live, Dave Steakley-helmed rendition so much that I knew I wanted to have a commensurate recording to enjoy after the show at Zach ended. That's saying a lot, especially considering that, as usual these days, I was under the influence of nothing stronger than a night of brisk Texas air. And why does the show succeed so, um, successfully?

Start with the eyes. They're pleased because all the characters look just like the types they're supposed to be. Gerard Lebeda's Seymour is a gawky nebbish; Meredith McCall's Audrey is a ditzy blonde; Scotty Roberts' Mr. Mushnik is a boss from the same mold that shaped The Jetsons' Mr. Spacely. And consider those Jetsons and how retro that future has become -- for Little Shop is all about retro, set as it is in the Googie 1950s of Brylcreem, B-movies, and Beehives. (And, ah, those Beehive Girls: Felicia Dinwiddie, Rebecca Schoolar, and Susanne Abbott. An absolutely delightful doo-wop of a Motowned Greek chorus.) This production's backdrop features, for instance, a Chock Full O' Nuts billboard -- the stylized percolator of which spouts actual steam throughout the show. Not just attention to detail, see, but attention-to-detail-that-takes-a-bunch-of-extra-work.

Move on to the ears. The pre-show audio is a collection of Fifties pop tunes and radio ads (Ajax, Dippity-do, etc.). And the company's voices in this macabrely silly spectacle? Oh happy day. How sweet for Austin that we have such talent available that we can find good actors with sufficient pipes to do what needs to be done with show tunes. All these performers are top-notch, especially vocally, and especially Lebeda -- if only because he's so convincing as a nerd that the old dulcet tones come as a surprise with each new song.

And we haven't forgotten -- eyes or ears -- about the wild cameos of Dan Sullivan. He portrays Orin, the sadistic dentist (and several other roles that add much comedic spice to the "The Meek Shall Inherit" number), with a nitrous-inspired madness that brings wider grins and laughs to an already smiling crowd.

But there seems to be something that Dave Steakley has forgotten, if only briefly: the context. Steakley is an exacting director who makes this freaky show work so near its highest potential that the glitches furrowed my brow in confusion. I mean, the choice of having a character appear in the guise of the Discovery Channel's Crocodile Hunter, and the invocation of game-show Regis: These are clever gambits, yes, but they jump the audience right out of the story's important temporal surround. It's almost as negatively jarring, albeit fleetingly, as the sight of the growing -- big, bigger, humongous -- man-eating plant Audrey II (built by Brian Gaston, voiced by Janis Stinson, animated by Susan Shelton) is positively jarring.

Those glitches are minor points, though, in this terrific staging of an endearingly weird musical. It's the sort of story you'd think someone would have to be high to imagine, but you can get a lot of kicks from this excellent version while viewing it stone-cold sober.

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Little Shop of Horrors, Roger Corman, Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Frank Oz, Dave Steakley, Gerard Lebeda, Meredith McCall, Scotty Roberts, Felicia Dinwiddie, Rebecca Schoolar, Susanne Abbott, Dan

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