The other day, I posted here a quite-wonderful video from last year's Encores! production of Little Shop of Horrors, that had the show's original star Ellen Greene, as well as Jake Gyllenhaal. The song I posted was perhaps my favorite from the musical, by Alan Mencken and Howard Ashman, "Suddenly, Seymour."
I was going to post the Encores! version of what is probably the biggest "stand-alone" song from the show, the charming, "Somewhere That's Green," a solo performed by the appropriately-named Ms. Greene...but decided to do something different. I'm going to post three versions of the song. And each, I think, is worthy of being watched, for its own reason.
The first is the 2015 version from Encores! It includes all of the dialogue that leads up to the song, so you get the full perspective. You also get the audience reaction. Why the perspective is so important -- along with the performance -- is that it is surprisingly different from how the number was handled in the movie, performed by the very same singer.
In the movie, the song is largely done as a voice-over, as we see in the character of Audrey's mind what she's dreaming about, a 1950s version of A Perfect Home Life. The thing is, though Audrey dearly believes what she is singing about and how wonderful it would be, we the audience know from the perspective time how funny the song is. "A big, enormous 12-inch screen" for her dream TV is a major deal to her, but to us it gets a laugh. When you see it all on-screen, as the manifestation of her dream, with her waltzing around wide-eyed and beatific in her apron and Donna Reed gown, the song is lovely but especially funny, all tongue-in-cheek. And that's what I thought it was. All tongue-in-cheek. All funny.
On stage though, with the dialogue build-up, Audrey then goes off alone and sings the song. No images of what she's dreaming about. Just her by herself. And we see in her face how meaningful this is to her, and serious. The song isn't just about these "things," but her dreams of a better life, whether or not she has any of the objects.
I understand why they did it how they did in the movie. Movies are about action. And just sitting by herself singing a ballad probably wouldn't have been effective filmmaking. And the number works fine in the movie. But it works absolutely wonderfully on stage. It's extremely moving.
And Ellen Greene, who originated the role 33 years earlier from this performance, in 1982, and starred in the original London West End production, and then the film version, just know this character -- and every single nuance of this song -- and after all those years nails it out of the park.
Here it is.
This second version comes from only three years earlier, in 2012. It's at the New York Film Festival, honoring the movie version of Little Shop of Horrors, with the directors cut. That's director Frank Oz on Ellen Greene's right, and composer Alan Mencken on her left.
Here, Ellen Greene performs the song with Mencken accompanying her. What's so wonderful about this performance is that in many ways it's almost the exact same as the one above. Which is remarkable. She's not in costume, she doesn't have her "Audrey wig," she's not surrounded by sets, she hasn't been reacting to the other characters leading into the song -- she just gets up as herself, and rather than performing it as herself, which would have been completely understandable, instead immediately goes into Audrey, includes a lot of the preceding dialogue to set the mood and (30 years after originating the part)...well, you've heard this before...she gets every single nuance and nails it out of the park.
And it's a joy to see Alan Mencken's appreciation.
Here it is.
Finally, in some ways, this is the real treat.
This is Ellen Greene 32 years ago. In the midst of having just originated the role of Audrey, at perhaps the peak of her abilities (which is saying a whole lot...) performing the song in full costume, with full cast, and full set at the Standard Drama Awards.
So, it's not just that she's the actress who originated the role -- this is how the song was originally done. And remarkably, all three versions are nearly the same, and just as wonderful. Yet they each have subtle differences that are moving, and each have differences of perspective.
And yes, she she gets every single nuance and nails it out of the park.
And again, here it is.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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