ASF’s Rick Dildine on bringing ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ to life

“Little Shop of Horrors” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Photo courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

The origins of “Little Shop of Horrors” go back more than 60 years.

In 1960, Roger Corman’s “The Little Shop of Horrors” debuted on the big screen, telling the story of Seymour Krelborn, a florist’s assistant who discovers a plant that has an unusual appetite – for human blood. An off-Broadway musical, “Little Shop of Horrors,” came along in 1982, with songs from the team who would eventually bring us “Aladdin,” “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid.” A film version of the musical popped up in 1986.

Before and after the 1986 film, “Little Shop” became a staple of community and regional theaters, and it’s now at Montgomery’s Alabama Shakespeare Festival through April 3.

So what’s a musical about a killer plant doing in a place known more for its “Romeo and Juliets” and “Hamlets” than for pop-rock sci-fi musicals?

“It’s not as far from Shakespeare as it may seem,” says Rick Dildine, artistic director at ASF and director of “Little Shop.” “Every story we tell is about a conflict, and when you boil ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ down, it’s a parable. You can find comparisons in Shakespeare. It’s a story about what it means to make a deal with the devil. That’s what ‘Little Shop’ is all about, but it looks at it from a humorous perspective, a campy perspective.”

“Little Shop of Horrors” at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Photo courtesy of Alabama Shakespeare Festival.

“Campy” may be putting it mildly. One of the stars of “Little Shop” is a huge, man-eating plant, played by a puppeteer, Montgomery’s Scott Grinstead, and voiced in Montgomery by Michael Shepperd, who provided the voice of Audrey II (named after Seymour’s love, Audrey) during the show’s Broadway run that began in 2003.

 For those, like Dildine, who grew up on the 1986 film of “Little Shop,” the darker ending on stage may come as a surprise.

“It’s very different than how the movie ends,” Dildine says. “It ends in a much darker place.”

Several aspects of “Little Shop” are much darker than its campy elements, not the least of which is Audrey’s relationship with her drug-addicted and abusive dentist, Orin.

That relationship has become even more impactful as “Little Shop” has gotten older, Dildine says.

“Musicals certainly have different impacts as they evolve, and that’s not untrue with ‘Little Shop of Horrors,’” Dildine says. “The relationship at the center of this is a very abusive relationship, and I think folks will take from it that this has never been acceptable.”

But he also thinks people will find the musical – with songs such as “Somewhere That’s Green” and “Suddenly, Seymour” – enjoyable.

“This is my first time directing this show, and it has been an absolute blast,” Dildine says. “I have always been a fan of the music. It’s a perfect musical.”

“Little Shop of Horrors,” performances through April 3 at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, 1 Festival Drive, Montgomery. Buy tickets here.

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