How did a B-movie shot in two days on a $30,000 budget spawn one of America’s most popular musicals? In Attack of the Monster Musical: A Cultural History of Little Shop of Horrors (Bloomsbury/Methuen Drama, September 8, 2022, US$24.95, paperback), Adam Abraham chronicles this unlikely phenomenon: how an obscure 1960 Roger Corman film inspired the mega-hit Little Shop of Horrors, which became a global hit.

Released to mark the show’s 40th anniversary, Attack of the Monster Musical is a timely and comprehensive look at the creation of Little Shop and its place in contemporary musical theatre. Examining the show in a broader cultural context, the book asks why this unlikely combination of blood, destruction and catchy melodies has resonated with audiences from the 1980s to today. Lyricist Howard Ashmanfan of Corman’s film in his youth, teamed up with the composer Alain Menken to turn a throwaway thriller into an iconic musical. The book recounts character and lyrical creation, dead ends and brilliant breakthroughs – how Ashman and Menken synthesized their source material with the DNA of classic American musicals and early 1960s doo-wop records. The resulting career launched the collaborators, who went on to revive Disney’s animated musical with The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin.

Dozens of Little Shop alumni bring the musical’s creative process to life, revealing never-before-seen details. Through interviews and primary documents, the book examines the show’s creative development, its busy rehearsal process, and the triumphant opening in 1982. Readers hear from Cameron Mackintoshproducing his first New York hit; Lee Wilkoff, playing Seymour and wrestling in the lead role; his co-star Ellen Green, already a diva, who often consumed all the oxygen in the room; and Martin P.Robinsonof sesame streettasked with building man-eating puppets on a shoestring budget.

Attack of the Monster Musical deftly explores the cultural impact of Little Shop of Horrors. In the early 1980s, Ashman and Menken recognized that nostalgia was in vogue. The aging baby boomers wanted to look back (see: American Graffiti, Happy Days, Grease, The Wonder Years and Back to the Future). In the era of Watergate and Ronald Reagan, the supposed innocence of the Eisenhower era has become more appealing. In addition, Little Shop has tapped into the spirit of the times with its mixture of genres: it is a romantic comedy, a monster movie and a musical. Over the next few years, Hollywood filmmakers made crossovers to break down the categories: Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. In 1986, Little Shop joined them on the big screen in a lavish Hollywood remake, starring Rick Moranis, Steve Martinand Bill Murray. But Little Shop also preempted the trend with its fusion of high and low, comedy and tragedy – a melodious composition of hope and horror.

Told through archival research and eyewitness accounts, Attack of the Monster Musical will fascinate readers interested in music, the arts and show business by providing a window into the past sixty years of popular culture, from the heyday from the Cold War to the rise of social media. Through the creative struggles of its authors, the triumph on opening night, and the enduring relevance of this strange little musical, the book reminds readers of the power of art to captivate audiences and express their dreams and their nightmares.

Pre-order the book HERE!

adam abraham

Adam Abraham is the author of When Magoo Flew: The Rise and Fall of Animation Studio UPA and Plagiarizing the Victorian Novel: Imitation, Parody, Aftertext. He has also written for film, television and theatre. Now a postdoctoral fellow at Auburn University, he previously taught at Virginia Commonwealth University, New York University and Oxford.

Laura J. Boyer