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Don’t feed the plants! But do pay a visit to ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

April 19, 2022 by Diep Tran
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Conrad Ricamora in Little Shop of Horrors
Conrad Ricamora in Little Shop of Horrors. (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

Little Shop of Horrors is currently scaring and thrilling audiences at the intimate Westside Theatre off-Broadway. Night after night, the man-eating plant Audrey II opens its gaping maw to the audience, threatening to eat up everyone in sight. 

“You can feel the delight,” says How to Get Away With Murder star Conrad Ricamora. “I love when there’s kids in the audience, because there’s such delight around the puppet, even though there’s terror as well.”

Ricamora has loved Little Shop of Horrors ever since he saw the 1986 movie as a kid, when he and his brother would duet “Suddenly, Seymour” together. Now, Ricamora plays Seymour, a nerdy flower shop clerk who encounters a talking plant. Seymour strikes a deal with the plant, who promises him fame, fortune, and love in exchange for a steady diet of human flesh. 

This revival of Little Shop of Horrors is the first Off-Broadway revival of the hit musical by composer Alan Menken and writer/lyricist Howard Ashman. The production opened in 2019 with Jonathan Groff in the role of Seymour. Then Jeremy Jordan took over. Now Ricamora — whose stage credits include Soft Power, Here Lies Love, and the 2015 Broadway revival of The King and I — is putting his own spin on the classic song “Suddenly, Seymour.” Ricamora is starring in Little Shop of Horrors through May 15.

Below are some more reasons why you and your family should see Little Shop of Horrors. Don’t feed the plants — but do treat yourself with tickets to this darkly funny thrill of a show.

Get Little Shop of Horrors tickets on TodayTix.

Little Shop of Horrors was a cult film that is now a musical theatre classic.

Little Shop of Horrors is inspired by a 1960 horror film of the same name, directed by Roger Corman. The film was shot on a budget of just $28,000 (equivalent to $268,380 in 2022), and though it was not a commercial hit when it debuted, the movie soon developed a cult following.

Some of the film’s fans were musical theatre composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman. They were inspired to adapt the film into a low-budget Off-Off-Broadway musical. Little Shop was one of the first musicals the two created together; after that, they would go on to write Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid for Disney. (Quite a change from the Little Shop horror comedy!)

Little Shop is beloved for its memorable songs, like “Skid Row (Downtown),” “Somewhere That’s Green,” and “Suddenly, Seymour.” Menken and Ashman took inspiration from rock and roll and doo-wop when writing the musical’s tunes.

Little Shop of Horrors opened Off-Off-Broadway in 1982 starring Lee Wilkof as Seymour, Ellen Greene as Audrey, and Ron Taylor as the voice of Audrey II. The show was a hit; it transferred to the Off-Broadway Orpheum Theatre (the current home of Stomp), where it ran for five years. In 1986, Little Shop of Horrors was adapted into a musical film, directed by famed puppeteer Frank Oz and starring Greene alongside Rick Moranis, Steve Martin, Jim Belushi, and Bill Murray.

Since then, Little Shop of Horrors has become a popular fixture in regional theatres, community theatres, and high schools. 

Little Shop of Horrors was also produced on Broadway in 2003 and in the West End in 2007. The 2019 revival of Little Shop is notable for being star-studded, with Emmy-winning actor Tammy Blanchard as Audrey and two-time Tony-winning actor Christian Borle as Orin Scrivello. Much like Audrey II in the musical, Little Shop of Horrors came from humble beginnings but soon took over the world. 

This Little Shop may be new, but it takes inspiration from the original.

The Off-Broadway revival of Little Shop was the brainchild of Tony-winning director Michael Mayer (Spring Awakening, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and the 2022 Funny Girl revival). Mayer wanted to pay tribute to the musical’s low-budget, Off-Broadway roots. So like the original, this version of Little Shop is in an intimate theatre (the 2004 Broadway revival was criticized for losing the intimacy that made Little Shop so charming).

“Personally, I think if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Mayer told Bloomberg. This old-school aesthetic is even reflected in the design of one of the most well-known puppets ever: Audrey II. In Howard Ashman’s original notes for the musical, he described the man-eating plant as a “cross between a Venus flytrap and an avocado.” Most community productions of Little Shop have followed this direction so closely that they even rent Audrey II puppets from Music Theatre International, which licenses Little Shop.

The Audrey II in the current revival of Little Shop isn’t a rental, but it is created out of bits of older puppets. Nicholas Mahon, who designed puppets for the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, designed the new Audrey II (voiced by Aaron Arnell Harrington). Though it still looks like an avocado and a Venus flytrap, with the sharp teeth to match, Mahon described his Audrey II as “more nasty and gritty,” saying to Bloomberg, “We’re trying to be a bit more realistic than cartoony.”

Seymour is a favorite role for Broadway’s leading men.

Besides Audrey II, the other famous character in Little Shop is its leading man, Seymour. Seymour is usually described as a nerd, a flower shop clerk who keeps his head down and has a better relationship with plants than with people (though he does harbor feelings for his beautiful co-worker Audrey).

But since the premiere of Little Shop, this dweeb has become a favorite of Broadway’s leading men. Some of the actors who’ve played Seymour include Jonathan Groff, Jeremy Jordan, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Anthony Rapp — men so good-looking and decidedly not nerdy that it even inspired a Slate article that read, “Hunky actors have no business playing the bespectacled nebbish of Little Shop of Horrors.” (Jordan, who was about to assume the role at the time, responded by posting hilariously unflattering photos on Twitter.)

Ricamora doesn’t identify himself as a hunk, since he did play a computer whiz on all six seasons of How to Get Away With Murder on ABC. But he has played a dashing love interest in The King and I, where he romanced Ashley Park’s Tuptim; in Here Lies Love, where he wooed Ruthie Ann Miles’s Imelda Marcos, and most recently in Soft Power, where his character captured the heart of Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis).

But to Ricamora, his casting is momentous because he is one of the rare actors of color to play Seymour. “I’m grateful that I get to be one of the first people of color to take on this role,” he says. “Because I do think it adds another dimension to it.” 

Ricamora is an introspective actor who thinks deeply about the characters he plays. As Seymour, Ricamora saw echoes of today’s sociopolitical climate. “The poverty that Seymour is going through and that feeling of being beaten down by the world at large — I’ve definitely felt that as a Asian man, and it’s been highlighted for Asian-Americans, unfortunately, in the last few years,” says Ricamora, referring to the numerous headlines in the past two years of hate crimes against Asian Americans drastically increasing.

Conrad Ricamora and Tammy Blanchard in Little Shop of Horrors. (Photo credit: Emilio Madrid)

Ricamora has a personal connection to Seymour.

While Little Shop is billed as a comedy, Ricamora is bringing a little more angst and sadness to his portrayal of Seymour, especially when he sings, “​​someone show me a way to get outta here” in the song “Skid Row.” Ricamora only had two weeks to rehearse for the role before he was thrown into the gaping maw of Audrey II back in January. To understand the character of Seymour, Ricamora drew on his own background.

Ricamora’s father was in the Air Force, so Ricamora’s family moved around many times when he was growing up. Plus, Ricamora’s mother abandoned him when he was a baby. So he was able to channel Seymour’s fragility and the childhood wound that’s driving the character.

“The show is all about childhood trauma. Seymour is an orphan, and navigating the world without parents,” Ricamora explains. “Your first experiences of intimacy are usually with a parent who’s holding you and nurturing you. If you’ve never had that, how do you then try to find that and find confidence in that with another person? I think Seymour is just completely clueless about how to do that, because he’s never had that. And I love that he and Audrey find each other. Because I feel like they’ve both been abused and neglected.” Ricamora then adds, “It turns out tragically in the end but they still are really fighting to be together despite their upbringing, despite their circumstances.”

Ricamora’s having the time of his life and you will, too.

Yes, there’s trauma and terror, but that doesn’t mean this production of Little Shop is a bummer. Ricamora describes the show as, “​​honestly one of my favorite working experiences that I’ve ever had,” he says. Not only does he get to play with a giant puppet, but he also gets to witness Christian Borle making the audiences cackle with laughter in the song “Dentist,” and Tammy Blanchard breaking everyone’s hearts with her “Somewhere That’s Green.” 

“With Tammy and Christian, they’re so committed to what they’re doing on stage that it draws you in, and it draws you into this relationship. They’re counting on you to play with them. I’m just over the moon to be a part of it.”

One of Ricamora’s favorite parts about acting and singing in Little Shop is seeing younger audience members respond to it, and hearing shrieks and gasps of delight — in particular, he’s aware that younger Asian American audience members can now see themselves in Little Shop

“A few weeks ago, there was an Asian American guy who’s in high school, he was waiting outside [the stage door] with his parents. And he was just like, great job. And then his mom was like, ‘He’s playing Seymour in his high school.’ And then of course, the kid was like, ‘Mom stop,’” Ricamora recalls with a chuckle. “It made me feel so great that right before he’s going to do it at his high school, he could see someone who is an Asian American man doing it, as well.”

Get Little Shop of Horrors tickets on TodayTix.