"Little Shop": Staying true to the fantasy

by Simon de Carvalho '14

Little Shop of Horrors, which last week finished a six-show run on the Loeb Mainstage, is the definition of a camp musical. Its story centers on a nerdy florist, Seymour, who develops a man-eating plant and becomes rich off of his creation, winning fame, fortune and the lovely Audrey, his co-worker, along the way. Traditional productions (and the original script itself) portray all the characters almost as caricatures of themselves, and this adds to the campiness of the show.

But director Charlotte Alter ‘12 wanted something slightly different. The campiness is great, she said, but people want real characters, too.

"We moved away from the film version's depiction of Audrey, which was very ditzy and breathless and blonde," said Alter. "We thought that was kind of irritating, so we scrapped it. We decided that Audrey needed to be a believable love interest with more depth to her, so that Seymour's love for her reads as a serious devotion, not just infatuation. Our reasoning was this: Seymour must be a believable character, since he's the protagonist and the audience has to identify with him. And no real guy would commit two murders to get the attention of a bimbo like that, at least no real guy that would be appealing enough to carry a show like this. So we made her a little deeper, a little more serious, in order to make their love story work."

But fear not! While Alter and her team did change the characterizations slightly (she notes that a more realistic Audrey mandates a slightly more realistic and less openly sadistic dentist, her original love interest, as well), they are fully aware that the essence of the show is in its silliness.

"We tried to eliminate the campiness in some places, but also added new elements that were campy in a different way," Alter said.

For example, shop owner Mr. Mushnik in the original became Mrs. Mushnik here, played by Emily Hyman ’13, and "making Mushnik a woman changes the connotation of the ‘Mushnik and Son’ song, since a mother-son dance created new comic possibilities that weren't there in a father-son number," said Alter. "Think Oedipus," she added.

And the show is definitely still hilarious. Three girls—"urchins," they are called at one point in the show—serve as pseudo-narrators, commenting humorously on the events of the plot. When Seymour’s plant, which he calls Audrey II, begins to garner national attention, Ronette, played by Kyra Atekwana ’14, comments: "All the world used to screw him! / Biff-wham-pow! Now they interview him."

Moments like these, which happen quite frequently, remind you at once that, even though some of the characters have been made more realistic, at its heart the Mainstage’s Little Shop is still true to the original campiness of the real show.

"I just tried to make it as realistic as possible, while emphasizing the humor and staying true to the fantasy elements," said Alter. And she succeeded.

[Caption: The street urchins: Ronette (Kyra Atekwana '14), Crystal (Elise Baranouski '15), and Chiffon (Samantha Yu '12)"]