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Two Seattle musicals appeal to the science fiction audience

The best part of live theater is being asked to suspend the disbelief at the door. In two oddball musicals currently playing in Seattle, the audiences should park their disbelief at home with the babysitter. Although both shows have Disney connections, there are no princesses and no traditional happy endings. Both musicals are aimed at thinking adults but would be perfect for older teens who love science fiction or fantasy.

As Shackleton's "unwashed, purple-haired muse" this composer keeps the hootenany going.
Valerie Vigoda, photo by Jeff Carpenter, used with permission of Balagan Theatre

"Little Shop of Horrors"
ACT’s Falls Theatre
Now through June 15
The ACT Theatre and 5th Ave Theatre's most recent co-production brings back the musical that launched the careers of composer Alan Mencken and lyricist Harold Ashman. Written before they started providing love songs for mermaids and beasts, this off-Broadway hit brought them to the attention of Disney with its clever lyrics and perfectly hummable tunes. But these songs also have a satirical bite that still stings some thirty years later and numbers like the bitter “Skid Row (Downtown)” sound like an anthem for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The stage musical hews closer to the Roger Corman original horror movie than the subsequent Frank Oz film adaptation. Giving it their terrific all is a stellar cast including Jessica Skerrit as the knocked-about and knockout blonde Audrey who dreams of some place that is green. She’s ably matched by Joshua Carter (Seymour), Ekello J. Harrid, Jr. (Audrey II among others), Jeff Steitzer (Mr. Mushnik), and David Anthony Lewis (too many roles to list). Three talented young ladies, Nicole Rashida Prothro, Alexandria Henderson, and Naomi Morgan provided the “doo wop” energy of the show’s Greek chorus.

Come for the laugh-a-minute evening of potted space aliens and demented dentists, but leave appreciating Mencken’s and Ashman’s sharp dissection of the American dream.

"Ernest Shackleton Loves Me"
Seattle Repertory’s Leo K. Theatre
Now through May 3
Another co-production, this show was scouted and recruited to Seattle by Balagan Theatre, with script development at ACT and design by Seattle Rep’s team. The tiny Leo K stage is filled with technology for a story that’s closer to magical realism than science fiction, but should appeal to fans of both. The creators plan to move this musical to New York for its own off-Broadway run after it closes in Seattle.

There’s more technical wizards backstage than actors on stage, but the tiny cast of two does more than double duty in the course of this show. "Shackleton" creator Valerie Vigoda plays Kat, a sleep-deprived single mother. Her video blog sparks an unexpected online flirtation with the optimistic Ernest Shackleton as he sets out on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914–17). Over the next three years of Shackleton’s brutal journey, he Skypes details to Kat and eventually arrives, via her frosted-over fridge, to sweep her into the adventure. As Shackleton and all the other speaking male characters, Wade McCollum proves that a hootenanny may be just what any woman needs to lift her spirits and solider on.

Vigoda and fellow “Shackleton” songwriter Brendan Milburn also created “Toy Story: The Musical” for Disney. Joined by Tony Award winner Joe DiPietro for this show’s book (script), they have honed a definitely modern musical with some memorable tunes and a nicely uplifting finale.

Vigoda’s genuine musical virtuosity on the electric violin and on-stage recording gear is a huge plus in this run, although it’s hard to see how the show could survive her leaving it or even having a sick day. That’s something that the creators will need to figure out if they hope to see a revival some thirty years from now.