What Makes Little Shop of Horrors Such a Fan Favorite?
I have always had an affinity for Little Shop of Horrors. Maybe it’s Alan Menken and Howard Ashman’s score. Maybe it’s because my birthday is on the 21st day of September. Whatever the reason, I’ve never attended as many productions of Little Shop as I did in the last year and a half: During that time, I went to five performances in four cities: Beverley, Massachusetts; New York City; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Paris, France. Each was charming in its own way, and each was very different.
Little Shop was the first musical I saw in New York after theaters had begun to reopen in 2021. I saw it on my birthday, and I cried watching Jeremy Jordan as Seymour and Tammy Blanchard as Audrey. I thought this production of Little Shop was close to perfect, and I figured it would be the last one I would attend for a while.
Then in 2022, I attended another production of Little Shop — again on my birthday — this time at Beverly’s North Shore Music Theatre, which has a circular rather than a proscenium stage. The show lost some of its magic in the round, because it’s not as easy to hide all the behind-the-scenes business needed to execute the puppetry. Audrey II was also cast with a female voice, which for me changed the relationship between Seymour and the plant and ultimately proved more of a distraction. To its credit, this production cast Ed Romanoff as Mushnick; he may be the best Mushnick I have ever seen.
Shortly after seeing Little Shop at North Shore Music Theatre, I was in New York with a free night so I revisited the off-Broadway production, which was then starring Lena Hall and Rob McClure. I only have one word for this production: perfection. The company understood the nuances of telling this story and balanced the comedy and reality of the show in a brilliant way. TheaterMania’s chief critic, Zachary Stewart, said it best in his review, which you can read here.
Later while in Florida, I went to see a former student of mine as Audrey at the Slow Burn Theatre company in Fort Lauderdale. This production presented a classic staging with some unevenness in the cast and an out-of-sync Audrey II: Think the yes-no scene in Singin’ in the Rain.
I finished 2022 with a French production, La Petite Boutique des Horreurs in Paris at the Opéra Comique. This truly original production approached the show as an opera and had an orchestra of 19. It was the largest Little Shop orchestra I’ve seen, and the lush orchestrations were what you would expect from one of Europe’s top-rated opera houses. Audrey Voug’s scenery was as far from the classic skid row as one can get, with inspiration taken from 1960s gas stations and diners accented by neon. The look was completed by Vanessa Sannino’s mod-inspired costumes, with Audrey in pink rather than black with leopard print. Overall the show lost its punch in the translation, but it was interesting to see something so American though new eyes.
So what is it that makes Little Shop of Horrors so universally loved and produced? Is it the book and score? Is it the Faustian tale re-told with B-horror tropes? Is it the universal love story of the underdog getting the girl? I think it’s the magic combination of all of the above as well as the fact that you constantly can find something new along with the familiar on the show’s trip down to Skid Row.