Review: Little Shop of Horrors by The Georgetown Palace Theatre
by Michael Meigs

The Georgetown Palace does its familiar high-gloss finish on this production with talented actors, a vigorous show orchestra, and an impressively atmospheric functional two-story set presenting Muschnik's shabby flower shop in the even shabbier surroundings of a NYC "Skid Row." The audience appeared to enjoy the goings-on and the six- and eight-year-olds sitting near me in Row B were fascinated by William Diamond's puppetry as Audry II, the extraterrestrial carnivorous plant out to conquer the world from those humble beginnings.

For me it was a Grade A production of a Grade D musical play.

This story started as the campy 1960s black humor movie shot in two days by Roger Corman, with Jack Nicholson in a minor role. The 1982 success in New York of the musical The Little Shop of Horrorsprompted puppeteer Frank Oz to produce a movie version in 1986. The show has made the rounds ever since, usually accompanied by the teeny and the massive versions of Audrey II provided by Character Translations in Pennsylvania, based on designs by Martin P. Robinson, a Jim Henson Master Puppeteer.

I enjoy camp and I enjoy black humor. But in order to appreciate camp, you have to know and relish the art form or the artwork that is being exaggerated to pieces. Relating to this show, one of my blind spots, not shared by the majority of the American public, was cinematic. I don't know much about horror films, alien invasion films or creature films, except for Godzilla and King Kong (in the 1928 version, please). And the other blind spot was Audrey II. When I settled in the front of the Georgetown Palace last Friday, I'd never seen the play or either of the movies. So I was a blank slate for Howard Ashman's book and lyrics, as well as for Alan Menken's music.

I found the music was loud, messy, muddy and unoriginal -- with the exception of the clever tango "Mushnik & Son" danced by the wild-haired seedy florist Michael Rhea with the newly adopted Seymour (Clifford Butler). Yes, the girl group of urchins played by Cyndi Ott, Rachael Hoovier and Rodnesha Green had the Motown moves, but the words and music couldn't match them. Giving Audrey II the voice of a loud, aggressive male R&B singer seemed in especially bad taste, even though Robert King delivered the script and lyrics with relish.

In general, the casting by director Mary Ellen Butler was spot on. That weekend, dancer Sara Burke was playing and singing precious, brainless little Audrey with a geisha shuffle on those teetering high heels, a good singing voice, and the speaking voice of a four-year-old. (Patty Rowell, alternating in the same role last weekend, got enthusiastic comments from ALT readers.) Clifford Butler, as the earnest, shambling 

Matthew Burnett (ALT photo)nebbish Seymour, concealed an intelligent interpretation with his deadpan solemnity. Michael Rhea as the penniless, scruple-free Mushnik both amused with his antics and satisfied us when he got gobbled head-first by Audrey II.

And of course, Matthew Burnett, one of the Austin area's finest clowns (pictured). Definitely way over the top as Orin the sadistic dentist, but Matthew has the electric comic appeal to carry it off. He did a series of other cameos, and part of the joke was that whether from science, broadcasting, or marketing, they were all variations of the same breezy, sleazy hustler done in different wigs.

Clifford Butler & Sara Burke (ALT photo)

Yes, it's black humor, and we're meant to exult when that evil plant sets itself up to take over the world. And yet, there was a moment of non-cheesy pathos when brave little Audrey I momentarily escaped the gape of Audrey II, just long enough to be noble to the stunned Seymour. For a moment there, I thought we might be getting a moment for empathy. But then it was chomp!  and we were back in the phantasmagoria.

So now I'm curious about the movie (the original, not the musical). But you know, I somehow just don't think it will be worth the rental fee or the time involved. I think I'll just cherish the boys' tango in this production and Audrey's death scene, and just let the rest of it go.



ALT readers' comments posted elsewhere:

May 8, posted to ALTcom's "Upcoming" announcement for Little Shop of Horrors:  

Mr. Meigs: I applaud your service to your country, and now to your community. I always check your site to read reviews of plays I plan to attend and some I have attended. Usually I agree with you. sometimes, not often, I don't. The blog views you printed for Little Shop of Horrors is totally accurate. It is a great show, different and well acted. I am certain you will agree with me when you personally critique it. What has been written about the Audrey actress, Patty Rowell is definitely spot on. She is amazing; her voice perfection. She can belt, do soprano and everything else in between. Check her entries on You Tube. All the actors in this play are exceptional.
jdalexander08 , May 08, 2009

May 6, posted to ALTcom's "Upcoming" announcement for Little Shop of Horrors:
The gal playing the lead, Patty Rowell, is wonderful. I have to wonder why she is not doing professional theater. Her voice is a God given gift. You cannot train someone to sing this well. You either have it or you don't. All the actors in this play are simply great with voices to go with their talented acting. And congrats to the director. Job very well done and casted.
musicmusicmusic , May 06, 2009

May 6, posted to ALTcom's "Upcoming" announcement for Little Shop of Horrors:
 I saw LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS last week. Patty Rowell who plays the role of Audrey is fantastic, Her rendition of Suddenly Seymour challenges anyone else who has ever sung this song. Her performance grade can only be given an A+. Everyone is above average in this play, and the play itself is not your usual boy gets girl. It is funny, musically entertaining and is definitely above average. One of the best plays I have seen in Austin and surroundings. Be warned that Patty Rowell has an alternate who I have not reviewed.
Somethingtosay , May 06, 2009

May 6, posted to the ALT blog's "Upcoming" announcement for Little Shop of Horrors: I just saw "Little Shop of Horrors" now playing at the Palace in Georgetown. Wow! One of the best shows playing in this area. The gal playing Audrey [Patty Rowell] is fabulous - her voice is beyond compare. She has been in a number of the Palace shows and has always impressed me with her talent, looks and professionalism. I always try to see everything she appears in. Actually, all the principals in this show are great - very talented. I recommend this to everyone in the Austin area. I saw the a professional production and really, this is better. It is hilarious, creative, and played out so well. I cannot understand why it is not being hyped in the entertainment press, radio and tv. It is worth the price and then some. 



Click for excerpts from the Georgetown Palace program of Little Shop of Horrors


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Little Shop of Horrors
by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
Georgetown Palace Theatre

May 01 - May 31, 2009
Georgetown Palace Theatre
810 South Austin Avenue
Georgetown, TX, 78626