“The little shop of horrors” at 40: the plant that conquered the world

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MARTIN P. ROBINSON (puppeteer) Howard later told me that when he presented the challenges of the script – the need for a factory that would start small and grow in increments, as well as talk, sing and take over the stage and then the world – the most people he talked to said, “Well, you’re going to have to give that up.” I was the only guy who said, “Yeah, sure, you can do all that.”

Rehearsals began in earnest, with Menken and Ashman continuing to carve out their project as the actors settled into their roles.

ELLEN GREENEAudrey Howard lived on Greenwich Avenue just around the corner from the Pink Tea Cup, and Alan sat at the piano, and Howard paced around screaming. He was a very strong – very brilliant director, with a dry sense of humor and a wonderful heart. Alan wanted to please Howard, and it was like a dance between them. It was wonderful to watch.

LUZ Ashman had that kind of intellect that goes 100 miles faster than everyone else. He would remember the lyrics and he knew every piece of music from the 60s and 70s.

MENKEN Howard could be impatient about the music because it was the one thing he couldn’t directly do himself! [Laughs]

For the score, Menken opted for a mix of pop, rock and Latin music.

MENKEN It’s the dark side of ‘Grease’, but there are also elements that nod to the late 50s and early 60s – beach horror films with people who dance on the beach while a monster has come out of the water to terrorize people – as well as Phil Spector’s rock, with its apocalyptic tone. And then our narrators were a girl group derived from the Ronettes and the Shirelles. It was a real cocktail of very dark themes and fun parody elements.

Thanks to his father, Menken had an idea for the musical that would become iconic.

MENKEN My father, who was a dentist, was actually president of the New York chapter of the American Analgesia Society, a society of dentists that promotes the use of nitrous oxide as safe. So I got the idea that Orin was obsessed with nitrous oxide and put on the mask to enjoy the sadomasochistic joy of drilling his teeth and then having the mask stick on. Howard thought that was hilarious. In fact, my dad provided the slides for the “Look, Seymour, this could happen to you” part!

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