A Fence of Real Chain Link

First it was a low, low, low-budget 1960 Roger Corman black comedy that had been filmed in a record two days (and it showed). It sank like a stone when it was released, but achieved cult status decades later.

In 1982 it became an Off-Broadway musical (score by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman, the team who did the music for Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin), and was a real smash.

The film of the musical came in 1986. It was a modest success when it was released, faded fairly quickly, then became a cult classic. How quickly fortunes change!

I have a certain affection (though not love) for Little Shop of Horrors, and I have seen all three versions. About the Corman original, the less said the better. Even the cameo by Jack Nicholson as a masochistic dental patient couldn’t redeem it.

But the two musical versions were decidedly fun.

They completely nailed the do-wop era, and there was a cheesy romanticism that overlay the Skid Row bleakness. One of the songs in the Off-Broadway original that was carried over to the film was “Somewhere That’s Green,” sung by Ellen Greene, who originated the role of Audrey on stage.

(Greene won a Tony Award for her performance as Jenny Towler in the 1977 Joseph Papp Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival revival of The Threepenny Opera. See how cleverly I forged a link between yesterday’s song and today’s?)

“Somewhere that’s Green” is an ode to a 1950s vision of domestic bliss that never really was. From her depressingly dark apartment on the poor side of town, Audrey wistfully dreams of

A matchbox of our own
A fence of real chain link
A grill out on the patio
Disposal in the sink
A washer and a dryer
And an ironing machine
In a tract house that we share
Somewhere that’s green

He rakes and trims the grass
He loves to mow and weed
I cook like Betty Crocker
And I look like Donna Reed
There’s plastic on the furniture
To keep it neat and clean
In the Pine-Sol scented air
Somewhere that’s green

Here’s Ellen Greene’s heartbreaking rendition of it from the film:

Now for the kicker: Family Guy’s delicious parody of it, with Audrey’s part being played by extremely pervy Mr. Herbert, a geriatric invalid neighbor who has a serious crush on Chris, his teenaged paperboy. (Turn your volume down for this one, the recording is quite loud!)


~ by Craig R. Smith on 3 September 2007.

2 Responses to “A Fence of Real Chain Link”

  1. First, yes, you are very clever!

    I’ve actually seen this show a couple of times in the last few years, as I had a friend who appeared in it in Middlebury and another who was in it in Dorset. (I did see the 1986 film years ago but barely remember it.) And both times I found “Somewhere That’s Green” heartbreaking, as you say. Maybe I need the context of the whole thing to feel that, because I’m just not getting that from the Ellen Greene clip. (Or perhaps I’ve hardened over the years…)

  2. For me the touching part of the Ellen Greene performance was having these pink-and-plastic dreams in a skid row flat so dreary it could be filmed in black-and-white, with an arm broken by her violent boyfriend. The images of domestic bliss were so over-the-top, so hopelessly perfect, as dreams of escape usually are. And the I Love Lucy clip is one where Lucy gets messy with the chocolate: all muss and fuss is kept carefully sequestered to the black-and-white life of the television where it can’t hurt anyone. She even has a community of friends, the ladies for whom she can play hostess at the Tupperware party, when in real life she has no one. It’s those kinds of contrasts that get me.

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