My Favourite Musical Songs: #17
17. Skid Row (Downtown) from Little Shop of Horrors (version included: 1986 movie performed by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene, Tichina Arnold, Michelle Weeks, Tisha Campbell-Martin and an awesome ensemble)
I will let you guess which of the three wise ass girls (Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette, often shortened to The Ronettes) did NOT go on to accrue any further TV/film credits. That’s right. The chubby one.
Depressing facts of Hollywood aside, we are back to the great ensemble song. The number builds wonderfully as the residents of Skid Row lament their luck and dream of escape even as they seem to realise they are not the main characters so therefore will probably not get to. Blue collar heroes making being poor look entertaining has been a calling card in musicals for years (is it a coincidence there are TWO incredibly successful musicals about orphans? I say: No!) and it is on great display here, Hell, why don’t they just form a choir and get out of the gutter that way? I am sure BBC 3 would make a documentary about it and everyone would cry.
My first brush with the Shop was when my childhood parter in musical crime, Erika, acquired the film on VHS and we watched it during a sleepover. As I recall we put it on again as soon as it was over. I thoroughly enjoyed the opening title track but it was this soulfully sad number that made me fall in love with this wonderful musical. Several years later I went to see an amateur production and nearly had a heart attack when I got to Act 2 and discovered that the film adaptation had taken some artistic liberties with the material. As it turns out the stage version has a very dark conclusion that is all but absent from the movie. Frank Oz, who directed the film, tried to make his vision faithful but test audiences were stunned into unhappy silence by the last 10-15 minutes so Oz had to hastily edit together a happy ending and a ‘silly’ song. Fans of the macabre and sticking to the script were not impressed but the masses were suitably appeased. I am being careful not to spoil either ending for those of you interested but…Let’s just say I was shocked by just how different they are. Brilliantly the original ending has been released in a special edition of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ and I look forward to sampling it in good quality to see the film as it absolutely should have been.
Back to Skid Row. Kicking off with Alley Lady at 00:34 (actually voiced by the talented Ronette who wasn’t permitted to keep making films on the grounds that she is the size of a real person, fact fans) who immediately catches your attention. Then come the depressed tuneful zombies at 1:57, as everyone gets more and more angry about their lot with bonus points going to guy at 2.29 who wins my first annual Making the Most of Three Words Award. Then we have the lovely Seymour (another orphan! Do all orphans get singing lessons to make up for their lack of parents?!) who delivers some fine musical exposition before stumbling aimlessly down a scary alley at 3:54 in a moment that hints at the darkness behind the catchy score. I love the moment when he bashes into someone at 4.12 who doesn’t even notice as we build to the long note. Gosh I love a long note. The camera pans up to reveal the poor and angry zombies and our clueless leads (even worse than Danny and Sandy at spacial awareness…he’s right there!) and then they all carry on with their day. Musical magic.
OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: Not that I have heard to be honest. I like this one. Rick Moranis isn’t a technically wonderful singer but he is a perfect casting choice for Seymour and I actually enjoy his vocal most of the time. It would have been wrong to have anyone other than Ellen Greene as Audrey. It was the role she was born to play, she originated it Off-Broadway and in the West End, and I couldn’t imagine anyone doing it as well as her. Her distinctive voice can be a little polarising but it is both powerful and fragile and I have grown to adore it over the years. Her rendition of the song ‘Morning has Broken’ is one of the most magical things I have ever heard and I am so glad she continues to exist.
BEST BIT: Sorry to be obvious but it’s going to have to be from 3.50 to the end. I love a build up and a long note. Well done Team Shop of Horrors.