Ever scrimped on your potted begonia’s plant food? Watch out then for Audrey II, the toothy star of the Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical hit Little Shop of Horrors, the stage spoof of Roger Corman’s 1960 cult flick. Bellowing “Feed me!,” Audrey II reigns as a carnivorous houseplant who hungers for human flesh. In the course of the two-hour play, she blossoms from a bud into a tentacled man-eater. By curtain call, she has hors-d’oeuvred most of the nine-member cast down her scarlet maw.
And the gentle soul doing all that dirty work is puppeteer Martin P. Robinson, 29, who guides the monster plant’s depredations (the voice belongs to singer Ron Taylor). Handling the nearly 70 pounds of Audrey II has, in fact, packed 12 pounds of muscle onto Robinson’s lithe 6’2″ 175-pound frame, even though working within the eight-foot-tall puppet with its 20-foot tentacles is “kind of like being in a sauna.”
Audrey II is Robinson’s design and creation. He built all three of the models in existence. (The first was for the 1982 off-off-Broadway production, another for the 1983 L.A. production, and a third for the upcoming London run.) Robinson created the original Audrey II with his aunt, an Indiana artist he lured to New York for two months to labor in his tiny apartment.
As a timid Wisconsin youngster, Robinson rediscovered his inspiration to become a performer each Halloween: “The little voice in the back of my head said, This is it, you’ve got to do this more than once a year.’ ” After his 1974 graduation from New York’s American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he knocked around as a mime, clown, puppeteer and actor, eventually joining Jim Henson’s Muppets. Robinson controls Mr. Snuffleupagas, the woolly behemoth.
Audrey II presents a chance for Robinson to work with his girlfriend, Ellen Greene, the play’s ingenue. As the heroine disappears down Audrey II’s gullet, puppeteer Robinson always sneaks a kiss.