Ronald James "Ron" Taylor (October 16, 1952 – January 16, 2002) was an American actor, singer and writer. He grew up in Galveston, Texas and later moved to New York City to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After graduating, Taylor began working in musical theater, appearing in The Wiz (1977), before getting his break with the 1982 off-Broadway production Little Shop of Horrors. Taylor voiced the killer plant Audrey II in the show, which ran for five years and over 2,000 performances.
Taylor created and starred in the musical revue It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues, which charted the history of blues music from its African origin to American success. Originally performed at high schools in Denver as a 45-minute piece, the revue was expanded to two hours, played around the country and opened on Broadway in 1999. It was met with critical acclaim, ran for eight months, and saw Taylor receive two Tony Award nominations.
He also had numerous television roles, appearing in The Simpsons, Twin Peaks, Ally McBeal and L.A. Law. His performance in the latter, as a singer who performed the American national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner" at baseball games, led him to perform the anthem at several real-life sporting events. Taylor was married and had one son. He died in January 2002 after suffering a heart attack.
Ronald James Taylor was born on October 16, 1952 in Galveston, Texas to Marian and Robert "Bruno" Taylor and had two sisters, Roberta and Frances. He attended O'Connell High School, and Wharton County Junior College, where he was a football player, and a participant in the school choir and theater. The choir teacher suggested he join after overhearing him singing The Temptations. He favoured music over football, and at the age of 19 attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, intending to become a singer.
Taylor, a "barrel-chested bass-baritone", had an extensive career in musical theater. Upon graduating from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, Taylor was unable to read sheet music and could "barely" play the piano, but found work as a singer. In 1977 he played the Cowardly Lion in a national touring production of The Wiz. Taylor subsequently played Great Big Baby in the 1978 Broadway production Eubie! and Caiaphas in a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar.
He voiced Audrey II, the "street-smart, funky, conniving" talking killer plant which is an "anthropomorphic cross between a Venus flytrap and an avocado", in the original off-Broadway production of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's "black-comedy musical" Little Shop of Horrors from 1982. Audrey II was played by four increasingly large puppets, operated by Martin P. Robinson, while Taylor sat in a box at the back of the stage to voice the role, standing to perform his musical numbers. The two kept in close proximity to ensure "that voice and action are always synchronized" and "developed a rapport" which was "the only thing that allow[ed] the character to really bloom." Taylor disliked sitting in the box as it left him feeling disconnected from the audience. The part was his break and was described by Jesse McKinley of The New York Times as "a role Mr. Taylor's booming voice was made for...[he] soon put his stamp on Audrey's signature line: 'Feed me, feed me!'" Members of the public often used the line when they saw Taylor. Little Shop of Horrors was performed over 2000 times before it closed in 1987. At the 1983 Drama Desk Awards, Taylor won the award for Outstanding Special Effects for his performance, which he shared with Robinson.
In the 1984 Broadway production of The Three Musketeers at The Broadway Theatre, Taylor played Porthos, one of the three title characters. After fifteen preview performances, the show ran just nine times before closing. Frank Rich wrote that the musketeers were "professionally played" by Taylor and his co-stars Brent Spiner and Chuck Wagner but felt the three had "little dialogue and often seem like interchangeable stand-ins for the Three Stooges." A similar view was held by William B. Collins of the Philadelphia Inquirer who said they "speak as in one voice and behave like comedians who have been stranded without good material."
Taylor met DeBorah Sharpe in 1977 during the production of The Wiz where she was the understudy for Dorothy.They married in 1980 and had a son, Adamah. In his spare time, Taylor often helped teach vulnerable young people through a variety of projects, including at the George Street Playhouse in New Jersey. He noted "things have come out of the air for me...I'm grateful; that's why I work with kids. I've had a blessing in my career, to have gone as far as I've gone." A 1995 piece in The Plain Dealer described Taylor as "A jolly giant of a man, he looks like a natural force – a mountain, perhaps, who can tell great stories." Taylor was a Christian.
Taylor suffered a small stroke in 1999; he was able to perform again in It Ain't Nothin' But the Blues 73 days later. He died of a heart attack aged 49, on January 16, 2002, at his home in Los Angeles, California. His funeral took place on January 28 at the New Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ.