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Saturday, August 24, 2013

AN APPRECIATION OF LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (THE MUSICAL): an anaylsis from a playwriting perspective, Part 2

Yours Truly as Seymour Krelborn, and Cary Libby as Orin Scrivello, the Dentist, in a production of "Little Shop of Horrors" I directed and starred in for the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft

Greetings, everybody, and welcome to Theater is a Sport.  Today is Part 2 of my analysis of one of my favorite musicals, Little Shop of Horrors, from a playwriting perspective.  If you haven't read Part 1, feel free to CLICK HERE to read it. 

Please remember, in this in analysis of Little Shop of Horrors (with book and lyrics by Howard Ashman and music by Alan Menken), there will be "spoilers", so, if you're not familiar with the musical, and don't want it ruined for you, don't read any further. 

In yesterday's post, I talked about how LSOH was a nice modern example of Aristotle's rules for Tragedy, despite being a dark musical comedy.  I also talked about the rising action up through the end of Act I, where Seymour is feeding Orin Scrivello, the Dentist, to Audrey II, the hungry plant. 

Some might argue this is the major turning point in the play, or the climax, and that Act 2 is all falling action, catharsis and denouement (or, what would be Acts IV and V of a Tragedy).  I do not hold to this argument, and, most people I talk to agree with me.

You see, at this point, Seymour may literally have blood on his hands after feeding the dentist to his talking devil plant, but he didn't kill him.  He couldn't.  He wanted to, but his moral center is so strong, that he could not do it.  No matter how wicked and awful the dentist was as a human being, Seymour couldn't kill him.  Granted, Seymour could have done something to save Orin's life when he was in the midst of gassing himself to death, but, inactivity is not the same thing as murder. 

Act II begins with another thriving day of business at Skid Row's Florist, home of the ever-growing Audrey II.  After a frenzied bout of phone answering, Audrey and Seymour talk.  Audrey is racked with guilt over Orin's disappearance because deep inside, she wished for him to die.  Seymour comforts her, and they perform perhaps the most famous song in the show, "Suddenly Seymour", and effectively acknowledge their love for one another, and their intentions to spend their future together.  It is a beautiful moment, interrupted by Mr. Mushnik, who is acting very strange.  Once Audrey says goodnight, Mushnik informs Seymour of some evidence he has found linking his adopted son with Orin's disappearance.  At this point, Audrey II, unheard by Mushnik, lures Seymour into feeding him once more in the song "Suppertime".  Mushnik tells Seymour that he won't call the police if Seymour disappears.  Seymour, feeling trapped, especially now that he has the girl of his dreams, tells Mushnik that the day's cash deposit is inside of Audrey II.  Sure enough, Mushnik goes to get it and is eaten. 

It is at this point where I think the climax occurs.  Again, Seymour doesn't literally kill, but he must take responsibility for Mushnik's demise--- this is not a case of inactivity, but actually causing the death to happen.  And from this point, everything changes. 

In my opinion, the following number, called "The Meek Shall Inherit", is Act IV of a Tragedy in one long song.  Seymour is faced with all of these opportunities--- to be on the cover of life magazine, go on lecturing tours, have his own weekly TV show--- all of them presented to him by the actor who played Orin in Act I (although in the production I directed, only one of them was played by that same actor, so I could involve more people in the production).  These people, waving the contracts, are Seymour's Furies in a sense, leading him to his downfall.  You see, Seymour has a moment of conscience in the song, where he realizes that taking these offers would mean more killing, and he tells himself he can't do it.  But he changes his mind, because he's afraid Audrey won't love him anymore if he goes back to being poor and a nobody. 

So in this sense, Seymour, as a tragic flaw, has self-doubt and low self-confidence. 

Seymour signs the contracts with the Ronnettes, our street urchin Greek Chorus, egging him on. 

In the next scene, we see Seymour, almost mad with guilt and remorse, refusing to feed an angry Audrey II.  After Audrey comes to check on him, and assures him that she would still like him ("I'd still love you", she says) if he was poor, Seymour decides that after they pay him for the photo for the Life Magazine cover, he will take Audrey away from Skid Row, and buy her that house she always dreamed of.

Unfortunately, Audrey II is to smart for that.  After Seymour steps out to get Audrey II some ground beef from the butcher's, Audrey, who couldn't sleep comes back to the shop.  The plant lures Audrey, and Audrey is almost eaten.  Seymour rushes in, pulls her from the plant, but it is too late. 

Which leads us to "The Death of Audrey", a song, in my opinion, is the most poignant catharsis in musical theatre history.  Audrey implores Seymour to feed her to the plant, so that it will grow big and strong, and give him all the wonderful things he deserves.  And, if she's in the plant, she's part of the plant, so they will always be together, and she will, at last, be somewhere that's green. 

Just thinking of this scene brings tears to my eyes.  It is so sweet and intimate, so innocent yet sad. 

And here is where Seymour differs from Faust.  Seymour never cared about the money or the fame he was getting--- sure, he enjoyed it to some extent--- but all he wanted Audrey.  And when she is gone, there is nothing left for him.

In the final scene, a man named Skip Snip arrives, with a business proposal for Seymour, who is truly insane with grief.  Mr. Snip wants to take little cuttings of Audrey II, and develop little plants to be sold to every home in America.  It will be bigger than the hula hoop.  Seymour, realizing this has been Audrey  II's plan all along, world domination, climbs inside the plant with a machete, intent on destroying it from the inside--- although, maybe, to some extent, Seymour knows he is crawling into his own death... after all, what does he have left to live for?

In any case, Skip returns with the Ronnettes, and they begin to take their cuttings.  The Ronnettes tell us how Audrey II's plans have come to life all across America, and, in the final number, the cast warns the audience, "Don't Feed the Plant".    In this number, we see how Orin, Mushnik, Audrey and Seymour have all become part of Audrey II. 

What I find different about Seymour as a tragic hero as opposed to many classical ones, is that he really is somewhat passive in his downfall for the most part, and that every decision he makes is because he wants to impress the woman he loves.  He is so easily led and bamboozled.  He does not sell his soul to the devil consciously as Faust does.  He's a fella who gets in over his head.  Which means, when he loses everything, and goes to his death, in my mind, it makes the denouement all that much more effective. 

In any case, if you agree with my analysis that Little Shop of Horrors is a prime example of Aristotle's rules for Tragedy, feel free to comment below.  Feel free to comment even if you don't agree.  And if you have any questions, feel free to e-mail me at

Thanks for checking out this post.  I love talking Little Shop.  I love it. 

Until next time, please remember--- Don't feed the plant, and theater is a sport.