Every time Howard Ashman and Alan Menken told people they were making a musical out of Roger Corman’s 1960 The Little Shop of Horrors, they were looked at as if they had four heads. Their score was pure spoof and it wasn’t landing.
But then Ashman and Menken switched gears and drew from doo-wop and early ’60s rock n roll and “the world that those horror movies came from,” says Menken. The Little Shop we know today clicked when Ashman realized, “I think it’s the dark side of Grease.”
The duo began listening to music of the era. “Whether it was Phil Spector songs or something from Howling Wolf, we would draw on these influences to try and get in that world,” Menken recalls. (In fact, the Urchins—Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon—got their names from Phil Spector girl groups.)
The score morphed into the classic that audiences still clamor for today—as evidenced by the current, extended Off-Broadway production at the Westside Theatre.
One of the first songs Menken and Ashman wrote for the final score was, indeed, “The Prologue.” Starting off with a funeral dirge—foreshadowing our horror story’s bloody end—the song quickly shifts to the familiar staccato sock hop–esque chords.
Here, Menken describes how he and Ashman wrote the chart from top to bottom, and how you can see the evidence of their Little Shop collaboration in the Disney animated films that followed.