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Zilker Summer Musical, 'Little Shop of Horrors,' heads to Bee Cave's Hill Country Galleria

Michael Barnes
Austin 360

For the second time since 1959, the annual Zilker Summer Musical will not go up at Austin's Zilker Park. But don't worry: After last year's pandemic cancellation, they're not skipping a second summer in a row.

In order to more safely manage audiences and performers during a pandemic, Zilker Theatre Productions is moving this summer's musical, "Little Shop of Horrors," to the Hill Country Galleria's Central Plaza in Bee Cave.

The free show, which has appeared at the Beverly Sheffield Zilker Hillside Theatre in Central Austin for more than 60 years, will play Thursday-Sunday — starting July 9 and running through Aug. 14 — on the plaza's great lawn.

The Hill Country Galleria's Central Plaza lawn will be the site for this year's Zilker Summer Musical.

In June, the troupe announced that its planned 2020 summer show, "Mamma Mia," was moving to 2021 because of COVID-19 concerns. While Austin's city parks have since opened up, venues in those parks, such as the new Moody Amphitheater in Waterloo Park, have been waiting for approval to open. The Waterloo Conservancy recently announced that events will begin there in August.

The summer musicals usually employ large numbers of players, musicians and crew members, which proved untenable given social distancing protocols.

"The cast size was another consideration," says Andrew Cannata, executive artistic director of Zilker Theatre Productions. "'Mamma Mia' had a cast of 30 people. 'Little Shop' will only have 14. If we were required to socially distance our actors and crew, we felt it was easier to do with a smaller-scale production." 

The free annual musicals — and hillside Zilker hootenannies going back to the 1930s — have always attracted a wide cross section of Austin's communities. Will those fans follow the musical out west?

"Ultimately the decision was made to guarantee we were able to have a free show this summer over risking not having a venue for the second year in a row," Cannata says. "With that said, we are doing everything we can to help open up access to the community we serve. I have applied for several grants with Lyft to offer free ride share rides to the Galleria.

Visitors to the park catch a dress rehearsal of the musical "All Shook Up" at Zilker Hillside Theatre on July 2, 2018. The hillside at Zilker Park has hosted annual summer theater shows since 1959.

"I have reached out to Cap Metro to see if a new route can be added," he continues. "We are looking at partnering with another organization to offer shuttle services from the Hillside Theatre to the Galleria and back. All of these are being actively worked on and as soon as we have more information we will be making big announcements for it. "

The summer musical depended on donations from the audience, but also city of Austin funding, which is not guaranteed once the show moves to another town.

"Thankfully, the Cultural Arts Division has extended the eligibility of those funds granted to 2022," Cannata says. "This means that if our production does not satisfy the requirements for this year, we can move those funds to next year when we are back on the Hillside."  

Ticket reservations and additional information will be announced at a later date. For more info, go to zilker.org.

Michael Barnes writes about the people, places, culture and history of Austin and Texas. He can be reached at mbarnes@statesman.com.