Little Shop Goes Back to Its Roots
September 21, 2019
Sarah Ashman GIllespie
The lower east side in 1982 was not a place frequented by media moguls or movie stars. It was an “interesting” neighborhood. Like all of New York City in those days, it was wisest to keep your wallet in a front pocket, your handbag clasped and your eyes sharp when out and about.
It was also home to a great many wonderful people. Many of them immigrants from Ukraine and other Eastern European parts of the world. It was a terrific place to buy pirogues and borscht and hear Slavic languages that gave new meaning to the word guttural.
When Little Shop opened in the 299 seat Orpheum on Second Avenue, it was into an area that was fun and funky and felt a little like it was maybe three blocks away from Skid Row.
The theater lobby was nothing to speak of. And the theater itself was what in show biz is lovingly called intimate. But the magic started the minute the vamp began. Then the voice over, then the girls and then you were there - on Skid Row, at Mushnik’s Skid Row Florists – transported.
I had a similar feeing entering the 270 seat Westside Theater on 43rd and Tenth Avenue on September 17 for the first off-Broadway production of Little Shop since the show closed in 1987. Passing under the arch with a Little Shop logo dripping blood, and heading up the stairs, I couldn’t help but think of Howard and the magical cast and production at the Orpheum.
Bill Lauch and I took a leap of faith teaming up with director Michael Mayer and producer Tom Kirdahy. Trusting their promises that they would stay true to Howard’s aesthetic and to his script while avoiding the pitfalls of imitation (all imitations are pale). That they would work with Alan Menken and us to make this a Little Shop that would give audiences the emotional frisson of the original while avoiding clichés and allowing a new generation to have the same sense of discovery we enjoyed over 30 years ago.
Both they and the cast and crew have made good on their promises and then some.
I am so excited and so hopeful. Previews are a nerve-wracking time for all involved but boy oh boy, what fun this is.