Saturday, May 13, 2017
Comparing the 1982 live musical to the 1960 original movie and the 1986 movie remake that was based mostly on the musical, the basic plot and Skid Row setting is the same for all three but the tone and some major plot points differ between them. Shot in black and white and not being a musical, the original 1960 film plays more like a mix between a Film Noir with dark shadows and a reluctant hero that doesn't get the girl, and a schlocky horror flick. In this version, Seymour accidentally causes the death of a railway man and a call girl, and kills the sadistic dentist in self-defense, feeding each of the bodies to the plant. The only moment played for true comic relief comes in the role of a masochistic patient who wants pain inflicted upon him. The cameo is especially memorable since it is played by a young and then unknown Jack Nicholson in one of his first movie roles.
The two musical versions are both more lighthearted, irreverent and goofy. The off-Broadway musical cut out many of the extraneous characters from the original movie and limited the "plant-food" victims to core cast members. It turned the sadistic dentist into Audrey's abusive boyfriend to give Seymour a stronger motivation for killing him. It also made Mr. Musnik more sinister and threatening to justify his being fed to Audrey II as well. Finally a trio of street urchins double as a "Greek Chorus", providing background information and commenting on the gruesome situations that they witness from the sidelines. While the Off-Broadway show cut out the cameo by the masochistic patient, the 1986 movie played up the camp even more by casting Bill Murray in the role opposite Steve Martin's dentist.
As expected, the 1986 movie cut out multiple transitional songs from the Broadway musical score, handling the plot points via dialogue instead. But it was in the endings where the starkest differences between the two versions could be found. The musical is much darker, with Audrey II consuming all the principal characters and then achieving world domination when clippings of its floral buds are spread across the planet. While the movie originally filmed a similar ending that played out like a Godzilla movie, it did not test well during trial screenings and the director was forced to tack on a happy ending where Seymour and Audrey defeat the plant and get married. Since this latter ending was the only one that I knew about, it was a bit shocking to watch the musical's denouement, although there was a lighter, wacky sequence at the end where the principal characters show up dressed like newly flowered plants, singing the finale song "Don't Feed the Plants".
I am really happy to have now watched all three versions of Little Shop of Horrors and have appreciated each one in its own right. But witnessing the Audrey II plant grown before my eyes was really special and made me enjoy the live version most of all. After watching this musical, I have newly gained respect for the productions presented at the Lower Ossington Theatre and look forward to watching more shows at this venue in the future.