TexARTS’ Little Shop of Horrors

This production of the horror comedy musical makes watching inept humans get devoured by an alien plant just a damn good time

Audrey II and Michael Wheeler as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors (Photo by April Paine Photography)

Suddenly, Little Shop of Horrors – the musical from writing team Howard Ashman and Alan Menken – is once again sprouting up. This fall, Jonathan Groff of Mindhunter and Frozen fame stars in the New York revival. On the opposite coast, Mj Rodriguez (Pose) performs as Audrey, the first trans woman cast in the lead role. And right here in Austin, the show has found its way to Lakeway, where you too can catch it on the TexARTS stage.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, Little Shop is a send-up of Sixties-style doo-wop, alien invasion stories, B-movies, and the end-of-the-Eisenhower-era culture that spawned them all. Nebbishy Seymour (Michael Wheeler) sweeps up at the flower shop of Mr. Mushnik (Ben Gibson) alongside down-on-her-luck Audrey (Leigh Sauvageau). They all live downtown on Skid Row, "where the guys are drips and relationships are no-go," and they all dream of bigger things: Mushnik, of a little cash; Audrey, of a home in Donna Reed's suburbia; and Seymour, of Audrey. In the meantime, Seymour entertains himself by raising exotic plants, one of which he nicknames Audrey II (Roderick Sanford). Fortunes shift when strange and unusual "Twoey" draws much-needed attention – and customers – to the little shop. There's only one problem: The plant requires human blood to grow.

Little Shop was a smash off-Broadway success in the early Eighties, running for five years, and while bigger hands tried to bring it to Broadway, Ashman and Menken declined, preferring to keep the show small and unique, an odd little gem. It fits perfectly in the intimate TexARTS house. The set is quaint and inviting, with a small storefront and alleyway where local urchins Chiffon (Paige Harvey), Ronnette (Makayla Perez), and Crystal (Caleigh Wilson) harmonize on the stoop.

Intimate, yes, but stellar all the same. A small space does not, in this case, equal small voices. The girl group sounds as sweet as any Phil Spector-backed trio. As the voice of bloodthirsty Twoey, Sanford provides a throaty, barrel-chested menace. When he intones, "Feed me, Seymour!" even I want to throw him a bone. And newcomer Sauvageau's Audrey may shudder at the hands of her abusive boyfriend (Andrew Cannata, as a dentist only the Marquis de Sade could love), but there is sheer, unadulterated power in her pipes. Every note she sings is worth the price of admission.

Besides the bright, likable cast, smart puppetry (Sebastian Garcia operates Twoey), and snappy numbers by a phenomenal team that went on to write some of Disney's biggest musical hits (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin), TexARTS' Little Shop is just a damn good time. Where else this Halloween season can you enjoy watching inept humans be devoured by alien plants? So, as the good dentist says, lean back and relax. You are in very good hands.

Just – whatever you do – don't feed the plant.

Little Shop of Horrors

Kam & James Morris Theatre, 2300 Lohmans Spur #160, Lakeway, 512/634-8589
Through Oct. 20
Running time: 2 hrs.

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TexARTS, Michael Wheeler, Leigh Sauvageau, Roderick Sanford, Andrew Cannata, Sebastian Garcia, Howard Ashman, Alan Menken, Paige Harvey, Makayla Perez, Caleigh Wilson, Ben Gibson

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