Video: Little Shop of Horrors' Darren Criss on How Howard Ashman Is His 'Roman Empire' | Playbill

Video Video: Little Shop of Horrors' Darren Criss on How Howard Ashman Is His 'Roman Empire'

The Emmy winner is just now playing Seymour Off-Broadway, but he's been singing Alan Menken-Howard Ashman's songs for years on YouTube.

Following his first week of performances as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors Off-Broadway, Darren Criss (sporting perfectly thematic lime green nail polish) took the time to chat with Playbill about his endless enthusiasm about the role—plus, his musings on the brilliance of the academic undertones of the show's story being set to a timelessly catchy score. 

"I'm just pleased as punch to be part of the legacy that is this show, not just this production, but the legacy that everybody [has] known since the 1980s," Criss shared in his interview with Playbill. 

Prior to his breakout role on the musical television series Glee, Criss was known by his fans not only for his part in pioneering the viral theatre company StarKid Productions, but his YouTube covers of Alan Menken-Howard Ashman standards. For nearly two decades, Criss' deep admiration for the Ashman-Menken theatrical canon has been evident. "It's a very special show because of Howard Ashman. His fingerprint is such a huge part of my own relationship to creativity and he's been a north star in my life for as long as I can remember. As the kids say, he's my Roman Empire," Criss says, referring to a viral TikTok trend where users share the historical event they contemplate at least once a day. And now Criss is singing Menken and Ashman's songs eight times a week at the Westside Theatre, opposite longtime friend Evan Rachel Wood as Audrey.

While the Emmy winner, in some ways, admits that this long-awaited opportunity feels surreal, he is also confident in his ability to handle the material. "As a lover and ravenous consumer of the Ashman-Menken legacy, I have put in the hours of absolutely loving and being invigorated by this stuff stuff that it stands to reason that I could be here. It is surreal, but it also makes perfect sense," he shares.

With such a long-established and beloved role, countless performers have had the opportunity to leave their mark on the role of Seymour, and each interpretation offers infinite possibilities within the larger mold of the character. For Criss, his take on the character is rooted in theatre history.

"In the past few years—I don't know if it's a coincidence, and I don't know what it says about me—I seem to have played a lot of guys that are willing to do anything for greatness," muses Criss. "This is an ancient tale. I think people forget that Little Shop, for all its fun and catchiness, is a Faustian tale. All that very academic stuff is baked into this cake and I think that's why Howard Ashman was a genius. He could really toe that line between academia and accessibility...It is very smart, as fun as it is."

To see Criss' full interview with Playbill's Jeffrey Vizcaíno, watch the video above.

Criss joined the hit Off-Broadway production of Little Shop of Horrors at the Westside Theatre January 30. Wood and Criss succeeds Constance Wu and Corbin Bleu, who played their final performances in the long-running revival January 28.

Criss came to global fame on the Ryan Murphy musical television series Glee, and since appeared on Broadway in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and most recently, American Buffalo. He is an Emmy winner and Golden Globe winner for portraying murderer Andrew Cunanan in The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.

Wood is a three-time Golden Globe nominee and a three-time Emmy nominee for her work in film and television. Some of her credits include Mildred Pierce, True Blood, Westworld, Across the Universe, The Wrestler, and Frozen 2. This is her New York stage debut, though she has sung on-screen in Across the Universe (the Beatles jukebox movie musical directed by Julie Taymor) and Frozen 2. She also is in a band with Zane Carney (the brother of Broadway star Reeve Carney), called Evan + Zane.

The current cast of Little Shop of Horrors features Tony nominees Bryce Pinkham (A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, The Heidi Chronicles) as Dr. Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. and Brad Oscar (The Producers) as Mr. Mushnik, alongside Aaron Arnell Harrington as The Voice of Audrey II, D’Kaylah Unique Whitley as Ronnette, Tiffany Renee Thompson as Crystal, Khadija Sankoh as Chiffon, as well as, Camryn Hampton, Najah Hetsberger, Michael Iannucci, Weston Chandler Long, Jeff Sears, Teddy Yudain, Zakiya Baptiste, Jonothon Lyons, Noel MacNeal, Johnny Newcomb, and Kevin Pariseau.

The Howard Ashman and Alan Menken revival opened at Westside Theatre October 17, 2019. Previous players in the roles of Seymour and Audrey have included Jonathan Groff, Tammy Blanchard, Jeremy Jordan, Lena Hall, Maude Apatow, Gideon Glick, Rob McClure, Skylar Astin, Conrad Ricamora, and Matt Doyle.

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