Monday, June 6, 2011

"Somewhere That's Green" (from Little Shop of Horrors)

To keep myself entertained while working, I've been listening to the Showtunes station on Pandora a lot. While some of the songs that come up are puzzling (there has been LOTS of Moulin Rouge! and Mulan, with some Taylor Swift thrown in for good measure), I've been enjoying listening to the occasional song from Little Shop of Horrors. Based on the cult film, Little Shop features music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman (who, in my mind, was Mr. Menken's best collaborator).

While many of the songs are amazing (my favorite is "Skid Row," which manages to be catchy and incredibly depressing at the same time), one that's been on my mind a lot (due to Pandora) is "Somewhere That's Green." Performed by Audrey, the sweet but insecure girl who works in the titular shop, the song is just one of Menken's many "I want" songs. However, it is an "I want" song with a twist.

Wait - What's an "I Want" Song? An "I want" song is a song in a musical that expresses a character's innermost desires, which will serve as the main imputes for the show's events. For examples of an "I want" song, you only need to look at any Disney musical. Prime examples of this include "Reflections" from Mulan (stupid Pandora), "Belle" from Beauty and the Beast, and "Go the Distance" from Hercules (yes, guys have "I want" songs too). These songs are also a staple of non-Disney musicals. "If I Were a Rich Man" from Fiddler on the Roof, "Wouldn't It Be Loverly" from My Fair Lady, and "I Want to Be a Producer" from The Producers all fit the bill.

What sets "Somewhere That's Green" apart from most other "I want" songs is the lyrics, which make the song simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Unlike Belle, who longs for adventure and to get out of the little town where she lives, or Tevye, who longs for riches, Audrey's desires are much more pedestrian. Her "I want" centers around the 1950s ideal, with "a fence of real chain link/ a grill out on the patio/ disposal in the sink" featuring prominently in her dream.

The first time or two you hear the song, the mention of things like "Pine-Sol scented air" and the "big, enormous 12-inch screen" is funny, since these things are more than a little dated and are probably far from our ideal. However, upon closer inspection, this song really captures the bleakness of Audrey's life. She doesn't want adventure, she doesn't want to be rich, and she doesn't want to "go the distance." All she wants is security and a seemingly average life (I'd bet she'd be perfectly happy in Belle's provincial town). While most "I want" songs deal with wanting something much bigger, this song fits the character perfectly, because her life is so bleak that a toaster and and frozen dinners are as much as she can hope for (and are perhaps as great and as unobtainable to her as riches are to Tevye).


Anonymous said...

It's a beautiful song. It's on my playlist as I walk my cockers through my subdivision, or I mow and weed our backyard. There's nothing wrong with Audrey's dream. It's idyllic and beautiful - the american dream - once you know that you'll never be rich or famous or beautiful or as special as they promised you when you were young. Audrey and Seymour are as american as George and Martha, Ozzie and Harriet, and Homer and Marge.