In a candid interview for Entertainment Weekly, Ellen Greene reveals that she and Frank Oz, who directed Greene in the 1986 film version of Little Shop of Horrors, had been working on a script that would blend the original 1982 stage version and the aforementioned motion picture.
Greene, who memorably created the role of Audrey Off-Broadway, later preserving her work on film, tells EW, “We set out to make [the new script] darker [than the original]. We worked for two years. …We were so excited.”
Oz, who caught Greene and Jake Gyllenhaal in the critically acclaimed City Center Encores! performances of Little Shop in July 2015, adds, “Ellen and I felt that it would be great fun to bring it back with the heart that Ellen brings to it, and to also emphasize the powerful underlying intent that [late lyricist and librettist] Howard [Ashman] felt so strongly about and which happens to be very timely with what’s happening in the world today.”
It was the City Center experience that led to Greene's idea to approach the material in a new way. “Jake and I found so many new layers in the humor and the silliness,” Greene says. “[After those performances], I got this idea…. The plant talks about world conquest, and nobody even thought for a moment [that Donald Trump] would win the election [at the time], and the plant is kind of like Trump.”
“[With] the movie, Howard and I knew we wanted to be true to the Faustian bargain, which was the underpinning of the Off-Broadway show,” Oz explains. “That bargain, selling one’s soul for unlimited power, is what Howard wrote and what Ellen and I see as the focus of our version; we wanted to focus on the plant coming to earth—out of nowhere—and achieving power over the world.”
A rights issue, however, currently makes it unlikely that the new version will hit the stage anytime soon.
“The powers that be denied [us],” Greene says. “When we were denied the rights, it broke my heart because I really wanted [fans of the musical] to know that I really fought for trying to bring it to them.”
Oz adds that “maybe [the rights holders] only want to see it as fun and fluff instead of how Howard and Ellen and I saw it. I don’t know.…At the end of the day it’s the audience’s loss…It would have not only been funny and heartwarming, it also would have had the guts to it that Howard wrote in his script.”
As for the Howard Ashman Estate, which holds the majority of the rights to the popular musical comedy, a representative issued the following statement to EW: “Howard adored Ellen Greene’s iconic stage performance as Audrey, which is why he vigorously campaigned for her to be cast in Frank Oz’s film. When they approached us regarding a revival it was without a producer and we were already deeply involved in negotiations for a new revival with a major producer.” At present, no major New York production of Little Shop has been announced.
Greene told Playbill October 13, “It's possible the estate may have confused the timeline. When I first approached them over two years ago, there was no other production to our knowledge.” Oz added, “It was just odd to me that they never gave us the opportunity to have a meeting with them so I could express my vision of the show. I would have thought they’d welcome a version of Little Shop that was in the spirit that Howard wrote it. And Ellen would have knocked it out of the park again.”
Ashman and Alan Menken's Little Shop of Horrors is based on the 1960 cult movie of the same name. The musical version debuted Off-Broadway at WPA Theatre in 1982 starring Lee Wilkof and Greene in a role that would become her signature. The Oz-directed film featured Greene reprising her stage role opposite Rick Moranis as Seymour Krelborn. The late Ashman penned the screenplay.