|l. to r. Blake Pfeil and Susan Molloy in Little Shop of Horrors.|
Photo by Andrew Brilliant / Brilliant Pictures.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Three New Rep Theatre Artists Look Back at their First Involvement with LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
Three New Rep Theatre Artists Look Back at their First Involvement with
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS
LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS has seen lots of life. What we have come to know as the fun, cult musical debuted Off-Broadway in 1982, was based on the 1960 black comedy film The Little Shop Of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman. The musical, after five years Off-Broadway and 2,209 performances, and after earning both the Drama Critics Circle Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Musical, transferred to Broadway. In 1986 the musical was made into the 1986 film directed by Frank Oz.
Three theatre artists involved with New Rep’s current 2012 production share their thoughts on this beloved musical, and its longevity and place within the canon.
Director Russell Garrett saw the original Off-Broadway production at the Orpheum Theater in New York in 1982. “I loved it,” he says. “There really hadn’t been anything like it before, that I knew of. It was such a great mix of sci-fi, nostalgia, comedy, and great early 60s style music.”
At the time Garrett didn’t think LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS would last thirty years. “In the early 80s people weren’t turning odd, cult movies into musicals. The original film was a terrible, low-budget piece—so it’s amazing that Ashman and Menken had the vision, seeing the potential fun in making it a musical.” Since then, Garrett continues, “musicals have been made from other cult films like Reefer Madness, The Toxic Avenger, and The Evil Dead.”
Although New Rep’s production is the first Garrett’s worked on, he also saw productions in London and several times since. His favorite part of the play is when the plant first speaks to Seymour. “Not only is it very funny, but in the song ‘Feed Me,’ the plant pushes Seymour to commit the unthinkable. It’s a great Faustian moment, combined with great song and humor.” When asked to name his favorite song from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Garrett says “Well, I have three. ‘Somewhere That’s Green’ and ‘Suddenly Seymour’ are great book-based character songs with wonderful lyrics and melodies. But the one I never get tired of is the title song ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’ the three-part girl-group sound is so infectious.”
Costume Designer Frances McSherry was lucky enough to work on the original production. “I moved to New York in 1981 and started working at a little costume construction shop in the East Village,” she says. “My boss, Sally Lesser, asked me to be the Assistant Costume Designer. It started at the WPA and moved Off-Broadway to The Orpheum, a great little theatre around the corner from the costume shop. We maintained and refreshed costume items as they wore out. If there was a change in the cast, we’d build a new set of costumes.”
“I loved working on LITTLE SHOP,” she continues. “It was very unusual. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Once the show opened to great reviews, people started flocking to the East Village to see it. The area, at the time, was a bit like Skid Row. The show certainly helped clean up the area.”
“The campy quality of the piece was the best part,” she says. “The audience sat so close to the action, in such an intimate space. It was great to see the audience jump in their seats when the vines dropped at the end of the performance.”
McSherry is not surprised LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS lasted thirty years. “It’s extremely well written and the songs are great. It was fun to watch Howard and Alan become famous and move on to The Little Mermaid and other Disney productions.” She especially liked the use of the Urchins as a Greek chorus. “Their watchful eyes and knowing commentary make the show. And I love the romance between Audrey and Seymour. As such an unlikely couple, you cheer when they get together.”
At the time, McSherry shares “That one of the main characters was a puppet, made LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS unusual.”
McSherry’s favorite part of the play, from a costuming standpoint, is “‘The Meek Shall Inherit.’ It's such a well written, frenetic scene. Those lightning-fast changes from Bernstein to Mrs. Luce to Skip Snip are magical. Then the urchins become the Supremes...what can be better than that!”
New Rep Artistic Director Jim Petosa first saw LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS in Manhattan in the early 80s. “I was working with the New York Theatre Studio, one of the many off-off-Broadway companies of the time. WPA had come up with the remarkable little musical that was fun, irreverent, and appealing. At the time, this was juxtaposed with the early days of the AIDS epidemic.”
“People were frightened of what they didn't know of this strange disease killing people in increasing numbers each year,” he continues. “It was a bit like living in a horror movie. That this silly, giddy, and guilty pleasure of a musical could provide a lot of laughter during a time that looked at blood borne contagion as no laughing matter puts the musical in a slightly different context. Sometimes I think we forget the social context surrounding this musical when it came to life--from our 2012 vantage point.”
Petosa earned his Actors Equity Association card playing the voice of Audrey II, in 1986 in the Washington, D.C. area. “So I am forever thankful for the little shop of opportunity it provided me.”
Petosa’s favorite song from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is “Feed Me,” he says. “One day we were performing the second act seduction of Audrey. I was at my microphone singing when a sandbag hanging above my head developed a slow leak. There was nothing I could do but let the sand pour down on my head since the microphone was in a fixed position. The urchins, Tisha, Teshina and Michelle (who also played in the 1986 film) caught the sand with their hands over my head, while I continued to sing!”
When asked about the place the musical holds thirty years later, Petosa shares, “I think LITTLE SHOP is reflective of a particularly American brand of comedy that mixes deep satire with surprising sentimentality. It's the kind of mixture that you see in South Park or in that show's creators' Broadway hit The Book Of Mormon. It is scathing in its critique of our American society, but extremely sentimental at heart.”