A funny thing happened at my 6-month dental check-up. Sitting in the dentist’s chair a lightbulb came on and the idea for this post hit me square in the mouth, “The Little Shop of Horrors”(1960)!
People are probably more familiar with the 1986 musical version directed by Frank Oz and starring Steve Martin (demented dentist), Rick Moranis, (Seymour) Ellen Greene (Audrey), Tichina Arnold, and Tisha Campbell (as the urchins).
The 1986 film is a remake of the hit Broadway stage production which was a remake of the 1960 movie. (Phew, that took the long way around)
I had the fantastic experience of performing in a stage production as one of the street urchins. Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronette are fashioned after girl groups from the 1960’s. It was one of my favorite shows and roles in my community theater career.
The original 1960 film was a black comedy horror film directed by Detroit-born (my hometown) and celebrated B-movie legend, Roger Corman and written by Charles B. Griffith. The film is a farce about an inadequate florist’s assistant (Jonathan Haze) who cultivates a plant that feeds on human flesh and blood.
The film stars Jonathan Haze (Seymour), Jackie Joseph (Audrey), Mel Welles (Mr. Mushnick), and Dick Miller, all of whom had worked for Corman on previous films. Produced under the title “The Passionate People Eater”. It was a lot creepier and darker than either the 1986 film or Broadway production.
The film’s concept is thought to be based on a 1932 story called “Green Thoughts”, by John Collier, about a man-eating plant. However, author Dennis McDougal in Jack Nicholson‘s biography suggests that Griffith may have been influenced by Arthur C. Clarke’s sci-fi short story ‘The Reluctant Orchid’. (Wikipedia)
The film became the basis for the horror comedy and Off-Broadway rock musical, Little Shop of Horrors (1982). By composer Alan Menken and writer Howard Ashman, the production was notably made into the 1986 feature film.
The film also garnered attention as a movie that was made into a Broadway production; it’s usually the other way around.
Writer, Charles B. Griffith, was the voice of Audrey 2 in 1960 film.
Levi Stubbs (lead singer of The Four Tops-Motown group) was the voice of Audrey II in 1986 movie.
Ellen Greene played Audrey in the Off-Broadway Production.
The gleefully masochistic dental patient, originally played by Jack Nicholson, is not in the musical but is in the 1986 film, played by Bill Murray.
A young Jack Nicholson‘s small role as the masochistic dental patient in the 1960 film was a hysterical standout. At the time of filming, Jack Nicholson had appeared in two films and had worked with Roger Corman as the lead in “The Cry Baby Killer”.
According to Nicholson, “I went into the shoot knowing I had to be very quirky because Roger originally hadn’t wanted me. In other words, I couldn’t play it straight. So I just did a lot of weird shit that I thought would make it funny.”
Even though this was only his third film you could see that his talent was something quite special.
Because I’m a big-time musical theater lover, my affinity is for the 1986 film. The musical numbers were fabulous, the performances outstanding, and the memories lasting.
I loved performing the opening “Urchin” musical number “Little Shop of Horrors” which was also from the Off-Broadway stage production:
The film, directed by Frank Oz (Muppets), differs only slightly from the stage play. The title song is expanded to include an additional verse to allow for more opening credits. The song “Ya Never Know” was re-written into a calypso-style song called “Some Fun Now”, although some of the lyrics were retained.
Four other songs (“Closed for Renovation”, “Mushnik and Son”, “Now (It’s Just the Gas)”, as well as “Call Back in the Morning”) were cut from the original production score. An original song was written by Ashman and Menken, “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space”, was created for the film.
For a fun and dark Halloween double feature, I highly recommend checking out “The Little Shop of Horrors” (1960) and the remake, “Little Shop of Horrors” (1986). A little something for everyone.