Little Shop of Horrors opened on May 6, 1982 as a workshop production of the Players’ Art Theatre and on July 27th, it opened off-Broadway at the Orpheum Theatre in New York’s East Village. Despite offers to open in a Broadway theatre, director Howard Ashman, who was also the librettist and lyricist, felt that the show was better suited to an off-Broadway venue. The show ran off-Broadway for 2,209 performances and closed on November 1, 1987. At the time of its closing, Little Shop of Horrors was the third-longest running show, as well as the highest-grossing, in off-Broadway history. The original production starred Lee Wilkof, Ellen Greene, and Ron Taylor. Ellen Greene also reprised the role of Audrey in the West End premiere, and in the popular 1986 film adaptation.
Little Shop of Horrors is based on a 1960’s B-movie film of the same name, directed cult film favorite, Roger Corman. The doo-wop and early Motown style score was written by Alan Menken with lyrics and book by Howard Ashman. This was the duo’s second collaboration and they would go on to collaborate on the scores for Walt Disney classics such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. The original ending, in which Audrey and Mushnik survive to witness the plants destructive activities, was modified in the theatrical adaptation, in which the plant devours the entire cast.
The 1986 film featured a screenplay by Ashman and was directed by Frank Oz (The Muppets Take Manhattan, What About Bob?). A new song for the film, “Mean Green Mother from Outer Space,” by Ashman and Menken was nominated for an Academy Award. The movie starred Rick Moranis (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) as Seymour, Ellen Greene, who originated the role of Audrey onstage, and Steve Martin (The Jerk, Saturday Night Live) as the sadistic dentist. After mixed reviews, the film included a happy ending for Seymour and Audrey. Following his success with the film, director Frank Oz created a Saturday morning cartoon, which ran for one season in 1991.
A 2003 revival was planned for Broadway, which was slated to include many of the original cast members. After a pre-Broadway tryout received poor reviews, the production lost funding. However, director Jerry Zaks took over and the revival finally opened on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre on October 2, 2003, which ran for 372 performances.