Howard Ashman songs: Prologue from Little Shop of Horrors (lyrics by Howard Ashman, music by Alan Menken)
This is such a fitting introduction to this show. Not only does it set the scene with its brief establishment of plot information, but a far more meaningful goal is achieved in this one-minute monologue. In only two sentences it paints the landscape onto which the whole structure of the piece is projected - in essence, it establishes the vital tone of Little Shop of Horrors. It is essential; it is chilling and it is burning.
A low, disembodied voice addresses the audience, announcing prophetically above a dramatic drum roll and layers of “ooh ooh ahh”s the paramount prelude. The heightened reality of the stage is the perfect platform for Howard’s larger-than-life concept, perfectly preluded by, in Howard’s own words, the very voice of God himself. And of course, because what other self-aware entity could made this inspired and cynical opening commentary? On the original off-Broadway cast recording, it was spoken by Howard himself. The tone is set and the audience settles down in their seats in preparation for a wild, bloodied ride of horror.
In the theatre it is delivered as the curtain remains down, almost warning the audience of the dramatic turmoil and dark silliness that is to come. The alien voice from within the alternate reality behind the curtain penetrates through the curtain, or perhaps from above, enters our world before we are invited into theirs. The number is uniquely effective in how it reaches through that fourth wall, grabs us, sits us firmly in our seats, and propels us into the world behind the curtain in those last final moments, dark and mysterious and exciting, before they rise. A lot can be said of those precious, essential moments before a curtain rises. Prologue takes full advantage of it.
In film, the device is still effective. Although those precious few moments of Prologue is uniquely breathtaking in the grandiose yet intimate and personal atmosphere of the theatre, the film’s opening credits serve in a similar fashion to the backdrop of the theatrical curtain. The swirling visuals of outer-space nebulas reflects the same kind of mystery and possibility to that of the curtain wall; mysterious before its reveal, sly and living and knowing. The names of actors, real and recognisable, flash onto the screen, acknowledging the real world amongst an ethereally ominous chorus of merging voices and minor organ chords. Four bars later the voice of God introduces the tone of the piece in those precious moments between the opening credits and the beginning of the film’s action. In an ironic turn perfectly executed, the metaphorical curtain rises on the show when a bottle splashes into the nebula and introduces the world of Skid Row.
Seemingly trivial information is outlined in this sordid introduction. Why the twenty-first day of the month of September anyway? (And why the twenty-third in the movie?) But such quaint homage to the tacky elements of B-grade horror is at the core of the show’s concept. And this concept is quite brilliantly begun by Little Shop's prologue, before the sweeping chords turn into a fast piano, accelerating the theatre into the curious, B-grade sci-fi past. The voice of God hath spoken, and his three untouchable minions are ready to take on the iconic and thrilling ride that lies ahead. Hold on tight.