Little Shop of Horrors has become so popular and is such a part of the fabric of the Broadway musical canon that people may well have just stopped listening to its message.
“It’s so clean and tight as a show,” says Mitchell Grecco, who’s directing the show for Stages Repertory Theatre. “I really think that even when people do it, they don’t give it a prolonged look, so it’s been fun for us to be able to do that.”
Sure, he sees a bouncy musical, but he’s hoping that audiences come to discover the same timely and twisted moral. “This is a show that asks, what would you do to achieve your desires? Not what kind of hard work or planning, but what deals with the devil do we make with ourselves, what principles would we compromise? And all of that is wrapped up in this show that has at its center a plant that’s a puppet.”
With music by Alan Menken and book and lyrics by Howard Ashman—the duo that also gave new life to the Disney animated movie musical in the late 1980s and ‘90s with The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast—Little Shop began its life off-off-Broadway in 1982. It would transfer Off-Broadway later that year, running until 1987. (A movie of the musical was made in 1986, directed by Frank Oz and with appearances by Rick Moranis, Bill Murray, and Steve Martin.) The rock score dips into doo-wop riffs and nods to Motown as it tells the story of the denizens of Skid Row, centering on a flower shop clerk named Seymour who raises a plant named Audrey II that feeds on human flesh and blood.
The show’s clever combination of bouncy, upbeat music and subversive plot made it an enduring hit. Its relatively small cast and orchestra have marked it a favorite among high school, community, and professional theater groups around the globe.
So, why do it now?
“Because it contains multitudes,” says Grecco, a challenge to anyone who thinks they might have seen the show before and therefore won’t be surprised or engaged. “I think the last time Stages produced it was back in 1990. And next season, we’ll be in the Gordy [Stages’ brand-new theater space, set to open just across the street from the current location in time for the 2019-2020 season]. So, there’s really something about doing this show that’s a little rough around the edges, a little grungy, in our current space. Our theater isn’t shiny and new, and I think that’s great for Skid Row.”
Grecco’s cast is on the younger side of their theater careers, and he says he’s loved being able to re-discover the show with them. And that idea of re-discovery has propelled him and the cast across the rehearsal process. Hopefully, he says, that energy will translate to the audience.
“Little Shop is funny, but it’s actually scary in places, too,” he says. “And sometimes I think it’s good for people to be scared. I’d love it if people left the show at the end of the night talking about the implications of what’s on stage. This is a full-blown story with a lot of twists and turns people might not remember.”
March 6–April 28. Tickets from $25. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Pkwy. 713-527-0123. More info and tickets at stagestheatre.com.