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Fuck yeah Little Shop of Horrors
Fuck Yeah Little Shop of Horrors!
"We never stop the terror!"


Spare a thought today for Howard Ashman (May 17, 1950 - March 14, 1991)

Howard may have suffered in silence, but he did have a voice. No doubt he was secretive and tortured, but he is all to easily pigeon-holed as a tragic martyr. I implore you - please, please do not condense him down to something so simple. Howard was brilliant. A funny, complex, warm, strong-willed, loving, sensitive, intensely bright man; often sarcastic and moody, but always caring, and a wonderful friend. Do not remember him the way most choose to. He once was a child, who put on plays with the children in his neighbourhood. He was once a young man, who fell in and out of love. He once laughed, loudly and fully, losing control with happiness. He had a rare true artistic vision. Do not misremember. He was a man, he was whole, he was loved.

I was very lucky from the beginning.

Nobody can deny that Howard’s work was so uniquely funny, and clever, and entertaining. Yet at his most poignant, Howard wrote about the unifying existence of beauty and pain, of secrets and understanding, of darkness and love. Drawn in by the cleverness of his lyrics and then struck by his work’s truth, we are all represented in Howard’s often simple but ever-effective verse as we are confronted with the parallel need for home and purpose in a world full of cynicism and greed. Through song he gently fanned the sparks that ignite the human soul, turning them into burning flames, illuminating even the most mysterious corners of the human existence. Howard’s distinctive voice that remains so alive in his work, triggers a remembrance of the most instinctual and elemental emotions that drive us, at times seemingly evoking an older than ancient feeling of what it means to love and be loved. We are sarcastic, cynical, and troubled, but in those seldom-illuminated dark corners of ourselves, we are basic, we are children. 

Beneath the puppetry and games beats the heart of a romantic idealist longing for a world that doesn’t and never did exist.  

The true tragedy of arguably Howard’s greatest and most heartbreaking song, Disneyland, is not at all that Doria believes in the fakery of the titular idyllic fantasy world. Not at all. The greatest tragedy of that song is that she knows the magic world she craves isn’t real, but she wants to live there anyway. What happened to Howard makes it painfully clear how cruel and unjust the world can be. But, and perhaps this is the greatest tragedy of all, against all reason we still believe in the beauty of our own wants, desires, and dreams. Against our better judgement, we still get lost in those safe imaginative realms of possibility. Because of Howard, there is still somewhere to which we can for a time escape, just like children - children who are acutely and disturbingly aware of the dark cruelty of our world. 

“This is a magical land,” Howard said, “you may now make a wish”

Vintage style Little Shop posters, click for full size.

(Source: oskarschells)


Howard Ashman songsPrologue 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.

Take a breath and look around, a lot of folks deserve to die!

Take a breath and look around, a lot of folks deserve to die!

(Source: roryomalley)



I first met Howard when he came to my apartment to meet about collaborating on Rosewater. My first impression was that he seemed edgy and guarded. He wore torn jeans and a bomber jacket. He talked with a tight, intense energy, chain-smoking the entire time. And he was clearly very smart.

When Howard worked it was a total commitment. And every fiber in his being was brought to bear.

I wanted to throttle him on a regular basis. When we were working he could be controlling, impatient, demanding, cutting, arrogant and condescending. And yet, he was actually the most considerate, thoughtful, smart, compassionate, wise, generous and supportive friend I’ve ever had.

-Alan Menken

Howard was a brilliant, complicated artist.  I was not as close to him as some, but I saw him happy and I saw him mad.  I saw him frustrated, and I saw him howl with laughter. I saw him caustic, and I saw him be disarmingly vulnerable. And Howard was a wonderful actor.

We learned a great deal from him.  Ron [Clements] and I felt that songs should advance the story, but Howard’s ways of doing that were revelatory.  He liked his songs to have information and to carry essential plot material. To take the key story beats and through the use of music to underline them and drive them home. From Howard, I learned the importance of grounding your writing in the specific, rather than the general.  I watched Howard’s zealous defence of his material and ideas, anchored by their relationship to the story being told. All ideas are not created equal.  There are definite reasons why some support the story more strongly, and we learned from Howard that those ideas must be defended.  We saw inventiveness and passion from Howard in equal measure, qualities that produced art that has stood the test of time.  We learned lessons of showmanship, of staging and characters, of using subtext to put ideas over more powerfully.  We saw how Howard could tap into his own vulnerabilities and humanity and empathetically invest those in characters and songs that revealed those emotions. And dammit, Howard was funny.  And he had a gift for effortlessly weaving comedy and vulnerability in a seamless way that made his creations (and ours and others) live.

He has touched me, and far countless others. He was a leader, a mentor, a collaborator, a musical genius, and a friend.

-John Musker

The reason he could [perform] so believably wasn’t only that he was a great mimic – he was also empathetic.  He really did “feel your pain” and it didn’t matter if your pain was that of a Mermaid who longs for legs, or, back when we were young, the pain of a kid sister who thinks she is friendless and alone.  I think that was maybe his best trait, the one I appreciated and miss the most.

Howard didn’t often wear his heart on his sleeve, he could be tough and prickly as the best and worst of them, his humor could sting while it sent you rolling in the aisles.  No, he didn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but those of us who knew and loved him and felt the warmth of that heart never had to look far to find it.

-Sarah Ashman Gillespie