The production, directed by Jerry Zaks with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, stars Hunter Foster as the down-on-his-luck, plant-shop worker Seymour and Kerry Butler as Audrey, the ditzy, but pure-hearted woman of his dreams. The show began previews Aug. 29.
The company also features Douglas Sills as "semi-sadist" dentist Orin Scrivello and a host of other urban strivers; Michael Leon Wooley as the seducing Voice of Audrey II; Rob Bartlett as Mushnik, the Skid Row flower store owner who rescues Seymour from the gutter; with Carla J. Hargrove as Ronnette, Trisha Jeffrey as Crystal and Dequina Moore as Chiffonthe sassy, limber-limbed doo-wopping Greek chorus of street urchins.
The giant plant designed by the Jim Henson Workshop is puppeteered by Martin P. Robinson, Anthony Asbury, Bill Remington and Matt Vogel. Robinson designed the plant that was used during the musical's original Off-Broadway run. (The show can be viewed as prescient in its use of puppetry, in light of the success of recent puppet-fueled musicals like The Lion King and Avenue Q.)
The show—which draws on and spoofs the lurid "B" horror movies of the '50s and '60s, and mines the girl group singing styles of the same time period—was born in 1982 at the now defunct WPA Theatre. It transferred to the Orpheum Theatre, where it stayed for 2,209 performances. The show effetively launched the career of composer Menken as well as those of actors Lee Wilkof, who played Seymour, and Ellen Greene, who created Audrey.
A 1986 film starred Greene as Audrey, Rick Moranis as Seymour, Vincent Gardenia as Mushnik and Steve Martin as Orin. At a recent open press rehearsal, director Zaks said of the show, "Howard's recipe was so meticulous — and Alan's, of course — but to the extent that he wrote the words and he wrote the story, it would be madness not to use that as a springboard or a blueprint. That's the show, and all you need are people who can execute it as though their lives depended on it."
Zaks was brought in to overhaul the show after a failed tryout in Coral Gables, Florida, last May. The director completely recast the show, retaining only Foster from the former ensemble. Among his changes were a startling ending, which the producers have thus far succeeded in keeping a secret.
Composer Alan Menken fondly recalled original production at the open press rehearsal and explained, "At the WPA Theatre [Little Shop later transferred to the Orpheum], I played the show and musical directed it, which is something I don't normally do. It was Howard and me against the world at that point. I remember we even put in some of the money for the initial plant. It was just that little hole-in-the-wall theatre. I've never had an experience like the first public performance of Little Shop... the audience just laughing and crying and screaming. I just couldn't believe what I was feeling because it was this little machine that just took off and hasn't stopped since.
"Little Shop, in a way," Menken added, "was Howard and my most complete collaboration. This was a baby that we built from the ground up. And the idea of reviving it has always been a challenge — both exciting and daunting — because Howard's not here [and] we have to let our baby go and let Little Shop walk on her own with some great support, but I've got to step back from it."
The Virginia Theatre is located at 245 West 52nd Street. Tickets are available by calling (212) 239-6200 or by logging on to www.telecharge.com.