The Sound of Musicals: Little Shop of Horrors
Musicals are by nature meant to be larger than life, bombastic stories that are shrunken and distilled to the music and characters. When those two elements are in place, you have all the workings of a powerful musical, and that doesn’t ring more true to me than Frank Oz’s 1986 adaptation of the classic Off Broadway show, Little Shop of Horrors. From its opening number to the altered ending, the film oozes with energy, charisma and charm thanks in no small part to the cast. Just look at it; Rick Moranis, Ellen Green (who originated the role of Audrey on the stage),and Steve Martin radiate. Also of note are the insanely funny cameos from Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, and John Candy. The film is expertly made in virtually every way.
In more ways than one, Little Shop uses insecurity as the core emotional centerpiece of the film. Every character in the film is motivated by insecurity in some capacity, between Seymour’s self-loathing to Audrey’s struggle with abuse and disrespect. Not to downplay the brilliance and catchiness of the opening number “Little Shop of Horrors”, it’s hard to disagree that the film doesn’t really start until“Skid Row (Downtown)”, which plays into the audience’s financial insecurity as an entry point to the emotional context of the film. Everyone is insecure, scared, and anxious about simply making it through the day, and with that comes a post-modern lens of the 1960s that, at least at the time, was rarely seen. Most movies wish they could establish every character’s motivations and thematic elements with some of the catchiest, powerful lyrics in the genre.
It comes as a relief that the stage show's ending was changed. Though it’s clear that the intention behind the original finale was to reinforce the ironic undertones of the original stage production, the altered upbeat ending highlights the positive, cheery elements, and that makes them shines all the more. Insecurity doesn't always mean standing firm, it can also mean changing for the better. So it’s fitting that a movie about insecurity and shedding old habits and behaviors changes its ending to highlight a brighter, better version of itself.