From its left of center beginnings as an unlikely off-Broadway hit, “Little Shop” has become one of the Great American Musicals, with some of the cleverest songs of any score.
The show is based on Roger Corman’s 1960 cult classic film about a lowly florist shop worker who inadvertently discovers that the mysterious plant he’s brought to the shop to help drum up business requires a diet of human blood.
Howard Ashman (book/lyrics) and Alan Menken (music), moved the setting from Los Angeles to New York, and added an undercurrent of morality. The hapless Seymour (the first to nurture the unusual plant) readily enables the plant’s carnivoristic tendencies in order to acquire money, fame, and the girl of his dreams. Selling his soul, in other words, making “Little Shop” a B-movie take on the story of “Faust.”
The actors have great fun with the cheesy dialogue (though David Anthony Lewis, as the sadistic dentist Orin, tends to overplay the part), but it’s the songs that make this show extra special. The title track has the audacity to rhyme “shang-a-lang” with “Sturm und Drang.” “Downtown” is a sharp parody of the Crystals’ girl group song “Uptown” (and the trio who sing it, who serve as something of a Greek chorus, are even given girl group names: Crystal, Chiffon, and Ronnette). Seymour’s sweetheart, Audrey, dreams of an all-American paradise in “Somewhere That’s Green” (“I cook like Betty Crocker/and I look like Donna Reed”).
It’s a terrific set of songs filled with wit and style; no wonder Disney later picked up Ashman and Menken and had them write songs for the films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.”
Overall, it’s a terrifically entertaining show. It’s been almost 30 years since ACT first presented “Little Shop,” and it’s proved to be a revival well worth mounting.