Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Little Shop of Horrors
Albuquerque Little Theatre
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Rob's recent review of Rock of Ages

Ron Gallegos
Photo by Emily Gehler
When Howard Ashman died of AIDS at age 40 in 1991, we lost one of the cleverest lyricists of the second half of the 20th century. He is remembered for the songs he wrote for three Disney animated features, but what put him on the map in the first place was writing the book and lyrics for Little Shop of Horrors in 1982. Take the lyrics for "Somewhere That's Green," Audrey's reverie of life in a generic suburb ("not as high-class as Levittown"): "A matchbox of our own/A fence of real chain link" or "There's plastic on the furniture/To keep it neat and clean/In the Pine-Sol scented air/Somewhere that's green." That "Pine-Sol scented air"—that's genius. (If I'm giving short shrift to the composer, Alan Menken, it's because I think the enjoyability of this show owes more to the book and lyrics than to the pastiche-y music.)

Ashman's starting point was the non-musical Roger Corman movie of 1960, but he changed the particulars so thoroughly that the musical could almost be considered an original work. In a nod to the alien invasion movies of the 1950s, he had the plant come from outer space instead of being a hybrid that Seymour developed. He had the guts to kill off all four lead characters and to let Audrey II, the carnivorous plant, metastasize all over the country. (If we were in the 1950s, it would be obvious that Audrey II is a metaphor for Communism and how, starting from a nidus in New York, it could take over the country.) Ashman's Little Shop probably invented the black comedy musical. The 1986 movie version tacked on a happy ending because preview audiences were appalled by Ashman's original ending, but I prefer the stage version.

Albuquerque Little Theatre's production is fine in almost all respects. The volume of the recorded music track sometimes makes it hard to understand all of the lyrics, but otherwise the technical aspects are very good. Billy Trabaudo is the technical director; the set (note the Corman Hotel) was designed by Larry Welz and Henry Avery, who also directed; Nina Dorrance did props and set decoration; Julian Corbin did an excellent job with the lighting; and Julia Harris provided period-appropriate costumes. The only thing I would suggest is putting some blood packets on Audrey's white dress, so that when she is chomped on, we know that she is not going to survive (I know it would be a lot of work to keep cleaning that dress, but it would be a lot less confusing to the audience.) And don't skimp on Band-Aids for Seymour's fingers.

Audrey II is brought to bloodthirsty life in all its various sizes by puppeteer Mickey Gammill and voiced amusingly by Moe Copeland; voice and movement are very well coordinated, which looks easy but isn't. Adrianne Valdez, Gigi Guajardo, and Kayla Fallick do a good job as Ronette, Crystal, and Chiffon (few audience members under age 30 will get the allusion to the girl groups of the '60s).

Ron Gallegos is shy and sympathetic and not too nerdy as Seymour—just right. Emily Melville is a little too glamorous for the part of Audrey, but she overcomes that and gives a wonderful performance. Her "Somewhere That's Green" is the high point of the show. Eddie Dethlefs looks and acts just as I would expect a Mr. Mushnik, the florist, to look and act. Nicholas Handley is a creature of the stage: Always uninhibited, he's over the top here, and steals the show whenever he's on. As Orin Scrivello DDS (one of the best character names ever) and six other characters, he seems to be having an even better time acting and singing than we are having watching him.

Henry Avery has done an excellent job putting this all together, the good cast and the complicated technical aspects. If all you've seen is the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, I'd recommend seeing the real thing, live on stage, especially in the month of Halloween.

Little Shop of Horrors, a musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, is being performed at Albuquerque Little Theatre, 224 San Pasquale SW in Albuquerque, through October 30, 2016. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30, Sundays at 2:00. Tickets $15 to $25. Info at or 505-242-4750.