Producing “Little Shop of Horrors”

Little Shop of Horrors Poster and Logo

Little Shop of Horrors Poster and Logo

Little Shop of Horrors Music by Alan Menken and book by Howard Ashman

Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission

ACTING: Medium

MUSIC: Medium

SET DESIGN: Hard

COSTUME DESIGN: Easy

GENRE: Musical

CAST POTENTIAL: This musical features unique, off-the-wall characters not to be found in any other show. It’s strange and dark sense of humor also lend the cast an opportunity to create a truly memorable performance.

CROWD REACTION: Part sci-fi, part horror, part parody, and part homage to the American musical, Little Shop of Horrors has been a cult-classic since its inception in the early 80s. It has had countless revivals both regionally and on Broadway and was made into a hit film directed by Frank Oz in 1986.

You can buy this artwork and use it for your own production of “Little Shop of Horrors” click here

SUMMARY: The hapless orphan Seymour and his dream girl, the beautiful yet emotionally battered Audrey, work at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists. While the two secretly love each other, Audrey is trapped in an abusive relationship with the sadistic Dentist Orin Scrivello, and Seymour believes he’ll never been good enough for her.

Their fortunes change when Seymour finds a mysterious plant during a solar eclipse, who Seymour names Audrey II. After many attempts to feed the plant, Seymour eventually discovers it thirsts for blood. After nursing it with a little of his own blood, the plant begins to grow wildly out of control. Eventually, Mushnik’s flower shop and Seymour become famous because of the growing plant. But the plant begins craving more and more blood and convinces Seymour to murder Audrey’s abusive boyfriend to satisfy its insatiable hunger. Reluctantly, Seymour follows through with Audrey II’s insidious plan (and get’s the girl) but becomes bound by the monster he has created.

CASTING CONSIDERATIONS: This musical features a small cast; the original Off-Broadway production features a cast of 8 actors (4M, 4W), with one of those actors lending their voice to the monstrous plant, Audrey II, and another performing multiple walk-on roles that could be shared by several actors.

Using Frank Oz’s film adaptation as an example, where he casts some of the leading comedians of the day (such as Rick Moranis, Bill Murray, Steve Martin, and Jim Belushi), this musical benefits from a cast of versatile and comedically savvy actors.  Furthermore, as evident in the film, while some of the music is challenging (requiring a booming voice found in someone like Ellen Greene), a lot of the songs can be carried by actors who may not sing well but can sing in character. Neither Martin nor Moranis have good voices, but their characterization of the songs is enough to execute them.

SCENIC CONSIDERATIONS: The plant is the biggest scenic consideration of this piece. Because it grows steadily throughout the show, your props manager needs to be able to design several puppets (each larger than the previous) that can be somehow manipulated by the actors. Audrey II gets so large that it eventually overwhelms the stage and reaches its fiendish tentacles into the audience (as was done in the critically acclaimed 2006 London revival). Since Audrey II eats several characters whole and entangles Audrey with its tentacles, the puppet needs to be a fully-functioning and mobile creature. Fortunately, MTI sends scenic designs for the puppets with any purchase of rental scripts. Good luck!

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: When Alan Menken and Howard Ashman first wrote the musical, they intended it to be performed in a small, intimate environment. In fact they went so far as to blocking any Broadway revival during the 80s. The recent 2006 London revival was originally performed in a small house, seating approximately 200 people. When it moved to larger venues, the show reportedly lost some of its flare. The sets became too large and engulfed the actors. The music, arranged for five pieces, could not adequately fill the venue. Plus, the mystique of this musical, much like Rocky Horror Picture Show, is that of a cult-classic, meant to be hidden in the fringe for a small, yet excited audience.  Keeping the production small is key.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS: Menken called the script a modern adaptation of Faust, filled with parody and irony for a postmodern generation. The piece smacks with humor, yet what is happening on stage is dark and nefarious. People are being eaten alive by this greedy plant, and the plant’s greed for blood is only echoed by our hero’s greed for the girl. Like Faust, it ends tragically, but while Faust was a cautionary tale on an individual level, Little Shop of Horrors stretches the tale outward. Audrey II thrives and eventually overtakes the globe. And, unlike the character Faust, Seymour and Audrey are not greedy, well-to-do individuals, but victims of a hard life, inflicted with an even harder punishment. Yet, the audience leaves delighted!  It’s this play’s ability to warp and disguise this disturbing story with humor and dynamic music that make it so compelling.

About Matthew McMahan

Matthew McMahan is an actor, writer, and dramaturg, who has worked both in New York and regionally for theatre companies such as the Wooster Group, the Atlantic Theatre Company, the Indiana Repertory Theatre, Young Playwrights, Inc., and the Living Newspaper. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Drama from Tufts University in Medford, MA.
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