In a first-ever, full-scale collaboration between the University of Houston's students and faculty from its Moores School of Music and the School of Theatre & Dance, the university presents the beloved musical Little Shop of Horrors. The show features UH students on stage, in the orchestra pit, and backstage.
The delightfully macabre and positively peppy tale of a giant, murderous plant runs May 27-May 29 at UH's Moores Opera House. Tickets are available now.
"Our priority is training students," Andrew Davis, dean of the Kathrine G. McGovern College of the Arts, which includes the Moores School of Music and the School of Theatre & Dance, tells CultureMap. "We have beautiful facilities, including the Moores Opera House, where the show will be staged. Everyone involved with the production — the actors, the singers, the designers, the musicians in the pit — are all UH students. This is an incredible effort for everyone involved. And it's a great opportunity for our students."
Little Shop, based on the 1960 cult film The Little Shop of Horrors, is the story of a hapless florist named Seymour, madly in love with shop girl Audrey and thoroughly mistreated by his boss.
One day, he engineers a plant that he names Audrey II. The sweet gesture turns gruesome: the plant feeds on flesh and blood...and the more it gets, the more it wants.
With a book and music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman — the dynamic duo behind a string of Disney mega-musical hits including The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast — the musical opened Off-Off Broadway in 1982. In the 40 years since, it's had runs Off-Broadway, on Broadway, on national tours, and all around the world.
Here in Houston, the theater kids from St. Thomas High School mounted a production last month, including students from Incarnate Word Academy and Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart in the cast. In 1986, it was adapted for the big screen with a cast featuring Steve Martin, Rick Moranis, and Bill Murray.
Among its catchy tunes are the instantly recognizable "Somewhere That's Green," "Suddenly Seymour," "Skid Row" and the doo-wop-infused title track "Little Shop of Horrors." In other words: the show's a crowd pleaser.
"We're excited to do it," says Davis. "We looked at many shows and decided that in size and scope, this was absolutely right for us. We didn't want something obscure and we did want something that offered the right roles for our students, and had a broad appeal."
But there's more in this for the Coogs than just putting on a show audiences will love. Little Shop marks the university's first stage musical in more than 30 years, according to Davis.
While the university has staged productions in the past, in recent decades, the school's focus as been on both classical music and classical drama training; think opera and Shakespeare. Somehow, Davis notes, Broadway musical training fell by the wayside.
Little Shop opens up not only a renewed sense of collaboration between Moores School of Music and the School of Theatre & Dance.
"Students come to us from here in Houston, from around the state, from around the country. We want to ensure they have a strong foundation across all of the performing arts," David adds. "And when you look at the arts in Houston, there are opportunities for actors and musicians and designers. We want our students to graduate from our program and be able to stay in Houston, knowing they can make a living doing what they love. All of us in Houston have a role to play in setting up and maintaining our arts ecosystem."
Davis' commitment to his school and its students is evident in his enthusiasm for the project. And while those involved in this production of Little Shop are delighted for the opportunities it presents to its students, they're also looking forward to what it means for audiences, and they're banking on the idea that theatergoers will see UH as a producer of incredible work.
"I think our audience is going to be surprised to see this type of show in the Moores Opera House," says director Nicole Kenley-Miller, of the Moores Opera House. "The space is typically used for concerts and operas, but we are going to test the boundaries of what the space can do in terms of scenery, lighting and sound design."
Essential to any design for Little Shop is Audrey II, that flesh-eating plant imploring Seymour to "feed me all night long." The plant, and several other puppets, feature prominently in the production. For UH's outing, Afsaneh Aayani, who earned her MFA in scenic design from UH, takes the lead, with the Alley Theatre's Tony Award-nominated Kevin Rigdon serving as advisor. Aayani has already an acclaimed young designer, with a 2020 USITT Scenic Design Award under her belt.
"The plant will provide a big surprise at the end!” Kenley-Miller exclaims.
Audiences can also look forward to seeing up-and-coming talent on the UH stage. The Cougars already have a long track record of producing great actors, native Houstonians Brent Spiner of Star Trek fame and Jim Parsons of Broadway and The Big Bang Theory among them. It's also an opportunity to see how collaboration happens across the university.
Fair to say, then, that audiences will be eating this up.
Little Shop of Horrors runs Friday, May 27 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 28 at 2 and 7:30 pm; and Sunday, May 29 at 2 pm. Tickets for the general public are $30 and $25 for UH alumni, students, faculty, and staff (and seniors). Buy tickets online.