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Little Shop of Horrors Digital Study Guide

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Study Guide written by Luisa Appolloni, Education Associate- Enrichment Focus, Education Department, Stratford Festival



Mushnik: "So how do you intend to better yourselves?"

Crystal: "Better ourselves? Mister, when you from Skid Row, ain't no such thing."

- Little Shop of Horrors, Act I, scene 1

The desire to be more than just what we are is an age-old story. How one achieves that and its moral consequences are at the heart of this musical. The unlikely hero, Seymour, seeks to better his life and dreams of one day rescuing the girl he loves from her abusive boyfriend. Unfortunately, this meek and mild-mannered hero attains fame, fortune and the girl at a tremendous cost. His inability to see the dangers of making the wrong choices becomes his downfall. This dark and witty musical offers students an opportunity to investigate the nature of human desires and foibles. The intentionally gritty themes are presented through a stark and often grotesque lens. This distortion will give the students a heightened awareness of the consequences of human folly. As it is in the style of "black comedy," this musical sheds light on serious issues, often employing cynicism and skepticism to reinforce the social criticisms being made.

Content Advisory for Students

Explores mature themes, including domestic abuse/violence against women. Includes coarse language.

Curriculum Connections

Suitable for students Grade 8+

  • Global Competencies:
    • Creativity
    • Learning to Learn/Self-Awareness
    • Communication
    • Collaboration
    • Critical Thinking
  • Grades 5-12:
    • Language Arts/English (listening to understand, speaking to communicate, reading for meaning),
    • Dance, Drama, Music, Visual Art
  • Grades 5-12:
    • Health and PE (warning signs, consequences, assessing situations for potential danger, impact of violent behaviours, relationships - skills and strategies, responding to bullying/harassment/abuse, conflict with oneself and with others, responding to challenges involving substance abuse or addiction, making safer choices)
  • Grade 11:
    • Introduction to Anthropology, Psychology and Sociology (explaining human mental processes and behaviour, socialization)
    • Gender Studies (power relations, sex, and gender, gender-based violence and its prevention)
    • Equity, Diversity and Social Justice (power relations, social awareness and individual action)
    • Dynamics of Human Relationships (personal well-being, self-concept, self-esteem, healthy relationships, making decisions)
  • Grade 12:
    • Challenge and Change in Society (social deviance)

Themes and Motifs

  • Morality and Idealism: Making Choices, Deciding What Is Good, Exploring Systems of Injustice , Navigating Greed, Pursuing One's Dreams
  • Power: Bullying, Predation, Abuse and Self-Worth
  • Love: Healthy Relationships, Desire and Belonging, Innocence, Sacrifice and Heroism
  • Exploring Genre: Comedy, Parody and Horror

A Perspective on the Piece from the Director and Choreographer

With Donna Feore

What excites you most about directing these two musicals?
By now you know that I love good book musicals. Billy Elliot the Musical and Little Shop of Horrors are both great shows, each with a strong message delivered with a whole lot of heart and humour. And the music! Elton John (Billy Elliot) and Alan Menken (Little Shop) are both exceptional storytellers. The songs "Electricity" from Billy Elliot and "Suddenly Seymour" from Little Shop, to name but two, pack such honest emotional force. With that music, together with lyrics by Lee Hall for Billy Elliot and by Howard Ashford for Little Shop, you cannot but be moved - and moved forward. No song is just a song. Each one moves the story and our understanding of the characters and their struggles with irresistible force.

I know it is still early days, but can you share a little bit about your vision for each production?
My vision is simple. For Billy Elliot the Musical, set in 1980s northeast England, it's going to be gritty, real, true to its place. At the same time, I'm free to reimagine everything, so I can be led by my Billy. Choreography is not only about steps - that's particularly important with Billy. His story is about a child, a family, a community in crisis. How does he discover his gift, his talent, himself? And how does he find the courage to go after it and become who he truly is under such difficult circumstances? That interests me a lot. Billy's story is universal, if the global success of the original movie is anything to go by. I hope our audiences will tap into that part of themselves that struggled to discover their best self and have that unique, special creature accepted as an equal member of their community, their country, their world.

Like The Rocky Horror Show, Little Shop of Horrors enjoys a kind of cult status because it touches something universally human that requires repeated retellings. Like children at bedtime, we never quite lose the ability to convince ourselves that we've never heard a story we've been told a thousand times. This is especially true when the story is one of overcoming adversity to become our true, fully realized self. As for the Little Shop of Horrors design - well, no one will be safe! At Stratford we are blessed with some of the greatest artisans on the planet. And they have promised that Audrey II (the fresh-meat-eating plant) will indeed take over the world!


Ask students:

  • This musical was written in the 1980s, a time when the disparity between rich and poor was growing. Have circumstances changed today? If so, how? If not, why do you think that is so?
  • What is black comedy? Do you think it is an effective form of entertainment? Why or why not?
  • Do you think comedy is an effective means of analyzing and critiquing difficult subject matter? Why or why not?
  • What is satire? How is it used today? Do you think it is an effective form of humour? Why or why not?
  • What are B-movies? What are common characteristics of these films?
  • What elements go into making a horror film? Are there common storytelling devices or conventions that are used?
  • What is a cliché? What are the differences between realistic characters and clichéd characters? What types of characters do you expect to see in this musical?
  • Is everyone prone to greed? Why or why not? What can make someone become greedy?
  • What are the qualities of a good relationship (of any type)?

WARM-UP EXERCISE: What's that musical style?


This exercise is designed to help students understand the variety of musical genres and styles they will hear in the show. Through research they will demonstrate an understanding of a variety of musical pieces from the past and their sociocultural and historical interconnectivity.


  • Computers, iPads
  • A space in which to present and discuss their findings


1. Inform the students that this rock musical uses a variety of styles: R&B, gospel, rock-and-roll, '50s doo-wop, '60s girl groups and Jewish klezmer music.

2. Individually cut up the names of the musical styles and place them in a hat.

3. Divide the class into six groups and have each group draw a style and do some research about their genre. Prompting questions to help the students begin their research:

  • a.What is the origin of this music?
  • b.What other styles may have influenced this genre?
  • c.What types of instruments are typically used for this music?
  • d.Who are some of the artists who have made this style of music so popular?
  • e.Why was this style of music so popular at the time?

4. Allow sufficient time for gathering the information and rehearsing each group's presentation.

5. Upon completion, have each group present their findings to the rest of the class, incorporating an audio or video example of that musical style.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you find the most interesting about these various musical styles?
  • What are the key characteristics of these musical genres that make them so popular and engaging?
  • Are there differences and similarities among these various musical genres?
  • How do you imagine all these styles will be incorporated into Little Shop of Horrors?
  • Why do you think the composer, Alan Menken, and the lyricist, Howard Ashman, chose these musical styles for a horror-comedy rock musical?

EXERCISE: A study in satire


Students will examine one of the songs from Little Shop of Horrors before seeing the musical. They will create their own poems and present them as choral spoken pieces with movement, with a focus on analysing and communicating the meaning of their work with a focus on how it reveals key satirical emotions and motivations to the audience.


  • YouTube link to "Skid Row"
  • Handout of the lyrics of "Skid Row" from Little Shop of Horrors
  • A space in which to move
  • Pen, pencils, paper


1. Discuss the nature of satire. How is it created? What are some common qualities? Examples might include exaggeration, understatement, parody, irony, criticism of institutions or systems, absurdity, etc.

2. Have students share what they listen to or watch that is satirical in nature. Examples might include The Daily Show, South Park, Get Out, 21 Jump Street, etc.

3. Hand out copies of "Skid Row" lyrics to each student.

4. Give students time to read through the lyrics themselves.

5. Then read the lyrics aloud together, with each person taking a different character's section.

6. Review all words and phrases and references that are unfamiliar and check for understanding.

7. Read the lyrics together several times while listening to the YouTube recording. How do students imagine this will be staged? Why is it considered satirical? What statement is it trying to make?

8. Next, divide the students into groups of four or five. The class will write their own parody songs about their day-to-day life at school. Each group will write its own poem (roughly one page), incorporating satirical elements into the piece if possible. Each group will write about how they feel about going to school.

9. Once the poems are written, encourage the students to get each one on its feet, incorporating various techniques (e.g., choral speaking, movement, etc.) to present it.

10. Have each group rehearse and perform their piece for the rest of the class.


11.Now ask the students to combine all four poems together. This may require diplomatic negotiation and consensus on what stays, what is omitted, repeated, placed differently, etc.

12.Once again, encourage the students to get the text on its feet, incorporating various techniques (e.g., choral speaking, movement, etc.) to present it.

13.Have the whole class rehearse and perform the new piece.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What is being communicated through the lyrics?
  • What is the tone of the piece (e.g., happy, sad, funny, etc.)?
  • What techniques do Howard Ashman and Alan Menken use to evoke some sort of emotion in the listener?
  • In what ways is satire different from other types of comedy?
  • What did you discover during the rehearsal process when you got your poem up on its feet?
  • What did you discover while watching and listening to other poems? What were the similarities and what were the differences?
  • If you combined the four poems, what did you discover about the process? What surprised you the most about this activity?


Ask students:

  • What character did you admire the most? What character did you least admire? What was it about these characters that made such an impact on you?
  • What was the function of the ancient Greek chorus? In what ways do Ronette, Crystal and Chiffon act like a Greek chorus in this musical? Why do you think the composer and book/lyricist chose to use this format?
  • What characteristics of B-movies can be found in this production?
  • Audrey dreams of a brighter future in the song "Somewhere That's Green." Have social values changed since the 1960s? If so, in what ways? If not, why do you think that is so?
  • Do you think Seymour was greedy? Why or why not?
  • Who was the most powerful character in the play? Why?
  • In what ways are gender role portrayals different today?
  • How did the use of puppetry enhance your experience of the musical?
  • How did the set, costumes and lighting reflect the mood and style of the production?
  • How did the music and lyrics contribute to the comedy?



Students will use the elements and conventions of writing and drama techniques, both individually and collaboratively, to create and develop an alternative ending for the musical.


  • Paper, pens, pencils, or iPads, computers
  • Open space in which to move around


1.Working in groups of four or five, the students will write or improvise their own alternative ending.

2.Working in these groups, encourage students to brainstorm how else the play might have ended (before Audrey is killed and Audrey II takes over).

3.Allow sufficient time for those students who may want to improvise their scene ending and for those who would prefer to write their ending.

4.Upon completion, have the improvisation groups perform their scenes for the rest of the class. Have those groups who wrote an ending have them read aloud/perform their script to the rest of the class.

Debriefing Questions:

  • What did you discover during the process of creating your alternative endings?
  • Why do you think that Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Alan Menken (music) chose to end the musical the way they did? What effect did it have on the audience?
  • Why do you think the 1986 movie adaptation ended with Seymour saving Audrey and destroying the plant?
  • Which ending do you prefer? Why?





Ashman, Howard (book and lyrics) and Menken, Alan. Little Shop of Horrors. (libretto and score) [Based on the film by Roger Corman, screenplay by Charles Griffith]



Ashman, Howard (book and lyrics) and Menken, Alan. Little Shop of Horrors.

Botto, Louis. "How Howard Ashman and Alan Menken Created the Iconic Little Shop of Horrors."

"Howard Ashman: Part of His World."

"Alan Menken."



1960 (USA) The Little Shop of Horrors (non-musical version). Directed by Roger Corman, Charles B. Griffith (uncredited); starring Jonathan Haze, Jackie Joseph and Mel Welles.

1986 (USA) Little Shop of Horrors (musical version). Directed by Frank Oz; starring Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Vincent Gardenia and Steve Martin.

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