Guest Blogger Marty Robinson (aka - the Audrey II puppeteer)

edited August 2011 in Theater
If you have questions for Marty, here's the place to ask them. If you haven't checked out his guest blog, yet, here's a link: http://howardashman.com/blog/marty-robinson-guest-blogger/. Or you could just go to the Feed Me section of the site.


  • Did anything wind up being removed or added to the show because of the plausibility of actually doing it onstage with the puppets?
  • Heya... The whole process of coming up with the plants for the original production back in 1982 was a bit trial and error... although there was not enough time or resources (my Aunt and I did most of the building) to go too far down any blind alleys. We trashed some elements during the move from the WPA to the Orpheum...the one most fondly made fun of in later years was the "root booties": horrible things that I had the cast wear as they were shuffling forward during the finale singing the "Don't Feed the Plants" song and operating the dead rubber heads. We also cut two backstage puppet operators, and made better use of the two remaining
    Basically my job was to bring Howard's vision to life on the stage. Removing anything from the show based on the unworkability of the puppets was not an option for me. I would like to think that as the plants developed and matured into the fabric of the show during rehearsal, that Howard found more things for them to do....that they never held him back.
    We got really lucky, for instance, with the #2 fake arm plant that Lee Wilkoff operated. It turned out that he had been an aspiring ventriloquist when he was a kid, and really was able to split his mind into Seymour and Plant. His expert manipulation really made that simple gag work. (my uncle, an astrophysicist, couldn't figure out how we did it).
    How's that?...I'm happy to go into any of this in greater detail if you like.
  • Mr. Robinson, from reading your blog (especially from reading how you thought of the fake hand trick during the 'ya never know' song) I have to wonder, how many other scenes did you suggest and helped with i.e. suggesting not only how the plant should look and move during certain scenes, but also the tone of songs involving Audry II, the way the people controlling the plant should make the puppet behave, ect. Also, how old were you when you saw the Roger Corman film, and what got you interested in puppetry in the first place?
  • Lee WIlkoff had been an aspiring ventriloquist? My new fact of the day.
  • Heya "toonmate"...
    That's a boatload of questions... let's see...
    Again, my job was to bring Howard's vision to the stage... he knew what he wanted, and my job was to make sure he got it. I checked every aspect of the plants with Howard, and coordinated the dimensions and color scheme with Edward Gianfrancesco, the set designer. That being said, there are alot of things that puppets do well, especially in the realm of movement that are best discovered in the course of rehearsal. When the plant would do some move that cracked everybody up; if it was appropriate to the scene, it stayed in. The big plant, (#4/ 2nd act), had the most limitations as far as speed and mobility goes...we worked within her parameters. Ron Taylor (the voice of the plant) and I worked well together, eventually forging one Audrey mind between us, to the point where we could riff with each other (he audio, me physical), without ever leaving each other behind.
    The original Corman film was released in 1960...I probably saw it when I was 10 years old or so...loved it! After the LA opening I became a longtime friend of Mel Welles, the original Mr. Mushnik in the film, until his passing several years ago...a great man.
    In a nutshell, what got me interested in puppetry was the realization of the freedom to play any kind of role, that was not limited to my physical 6' 2" body. Animals, vegetables, minerals...I've played them all... My love of acting was for the more extreme characterizations...not much interested in playing myself.
    ...thanks for tooning in...MPRobinson
  • Thank you so much for the answers, Mr. Robinson! :)
  • Exactly. Thank you for those answers. And sorry if I ask so much. Sometimes I like to make a list of things to ask. But just out of some more curiosity, what other aspects of this version of Little Shop did you like i.e. some of the changes to the characters (Mr. Mushnik from being Jewish to a New York sounding person) enhancements to the plot, ect.? And have you seen any community theatre/high school productions of Little shop? If so, what do you think of them?
  • Heya Tooner... Are you asking about changes from the original Corman version of "Little Shop" to Howard's...? ...because there were alot of changes between them. Mr. Mushnik was always Jewish... Corman's was shot in LA, but doesn't seem particularly LA-centric to me, though all the exterior locations are. Howard's version does not identify what city it takes place in... just skid row, anybigtown plant earth. That being said; New York Jewish accents are fairly easy to come by in actors....(though I'm not sure about the Scandinavian production...)
    I have seen MANY productions of "Little Shop"...one at a middle school in upstate NY that had a cast of 84 kids...(someone told me of a production with 120). Some productions are wonderful, and some are dreadful....some do plant stuff that I wish I had thought of and some go in very unfortunate directions. My favorites are the ones that play it straight, as Howard recommends at the beginning of the actor's edition, and my least favorites are the ones that camp it up.
  • Hey, I puppeted Audrey II in my high school's production of "Little Shop" (which still ranks as my favorite role I've ever played). We rented the puppets from MTI, and I was curious as to how closely those puppet designs were to your original 1982 designs?

    Also, do you have any favorite moments from working on the original production/which puppet did you enjoy performing the most. For me it was the 3rd puppet, as I got to use my full body, including the roots/legs, and Feed Me was such a grooving song to channel Audrey II to.

    Thanks for helping to bring one of the greatest shows ever to life. If I can could perform one role for the rest of my life it would be Audrey II!
  • Hey Andrew....
    The term is "puppeteered"...not puppeted, but I won't hold it against you...and YES; Audrey Two is a joy to perform!
    The MTI puppets have made some not entirely successful changes in the look, performance and balance of the plant puppets...(understand I'm being very politic here...) I am in the process of trying to work with them, and the builders of the plants to perhaps institute some of the great improvements we made on the plants when designing and building the Broadway version.
    Yah... that 3rd puppet is definitely most fun!...that great song, with an incredible build-up to the ending...all the moves...yup. #4 plant needs must give up a certain mobility for size and power...but then, the script calls for her to be more majestic and massive...at that point in her evolution, she doesn't NEED to work that hard.
    ...Performing Audrey Two for the rest of your life.....? A few years is plenty; then move on to the next cool deal.
    puppeteeredly yours...MPRobinson
  • Hey Sarah...
    Two weeks ago we showed the twins (2 1/2) their first feature film; "Beauty and the Beast". All their dollies became Belle, and all their stuffed animals are Beasts... So we picked up an actual Belle doll who in Ripley's hands is starting to sing the lyrics from the opening song..."Little town, just a quiet village, every day, like the one before..."
    This past Sunday, they saw their second film; "Little Mermaid"...now the poster signed by Howard that has been up in their room since before they were born has taken on a whole new meaning.
    I laughed and cried all through both films.
  • I know for sure that Howard would be thrilled to know your kids are watching those movies. As am I.
  • I'm not sure if you're still answering questions, and this question isn't actually about the puppetry, but you were involved in the original production, and I'm curious, anyways. At what point, chronologically, was We'll Have Tomorrow removed? IE, when did they decide to cut it? I understand it was close to opening but I don't know the specifics.
  • Hey Omega....
    Yup, I'm still answering...and will continue till Sarah tells me to shut up.
    Good question about "We'll Have Tomorrow"...I was there when it was cut (or heard about it the next day)... I don't actually remember if that song made it into the rehearsal process. I loved that song; it was basically my favorite of the whole show, and as I repeatedly listened to the soundtrack recorded by Howard and Allan while I was building the plants, never tired of it's heart wrenching drama and soaring harmonies.
    When Howard came in and announced the song was out, I couldn't believe it..."...can't have two power love ballads in the second act, and "Suddenly Seymour" was it..."
    I have no recollection of Ellen and Lee ever singing that beautiful song, I could easily be wrong...but I am sure it didn't make it anywhere near opening.
    Connie Grappo (asst. directer), Ellen Greene or Lee Wilkoff may remember better...
  • Thank you for the response! :) Very insightful.
  • To MPR - I will never tell you to shut up. Promise.
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