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Humor, Horror, Mental Health, and Self-Love in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ 2024

Humor, Horror, Mental Health, and Self-Love in ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ 2024

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The Sandbox Collective is set to stage the horror-comedy rock musical Little Shop of Horrors, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics and a book by Howard Ashman, this July at the Globe Auditorium of the Maybank Performing Arts Theater, BGC.

Based on the 1960 film by Roger Corman, Little Shop of Horrors tells the tale of Seymour Krelborn, a down-on-his-luck floral assistant who discovers a mysterious plant with an insatiable appetite for human blood. As the plant, named Audrey II, grows and gains fame, Seymour finds himself tangled in a web of fame, love, and moral dilemmas. 

The Sandbox Collective’s Managing Director, Toff de Venecia, who directs the company’s upcoming production of Little Shop of Horrors, has a long-standing connection with this musical, dating back to his teenage years.

Origins with Absurdist Theater

With no idea what he was in for, de Venecia saw a production of the show on impulse, mounted by Repertory Philippines (REP) in 2004. By the show’s conclusion, he found himself deeply moved, profoundly inspired, and compelled to pursue a future in the industry.

In a personal anecdote, he shares that his love for absurdist theater material has its roots in painful memories from his past. A few weeks after seeing REP’s production, his house burned down and his sister died.

“I remember I was talking to a kabarkada of mine at the Ateneo Cafeteria, I was like, ‘Wow, my life is just so perfect right now. I couldn’t ask for anything more.’ And then a week later, my sister died, my house burned, and I lost everything. So it was there that I really pondered a lot about death, grief, and the absurdity of the world.” 

“I started thinking about the world that I live in, and that somehow wove its way to the kind of stuff that we choose for Sandbox and the kind of material that I gravitate to.”

In the very first year of its founding, The Sandbox Collective staged Imaginarium: Festival of the Absurd, a multi-arts festival that featured performances, presentations, and collaborations of various media, including film, fashion, dance, visual arts, improv, spoken word, music, food and beverage and theater. It was curated by de Venecia, PJ Rebullida, Ren Aguila, Don Jaucian, Raymond Ang, and David Ong.

He notes that over the past 10 years, with Every Brilliant Thing, Bawat Bonggang Bagay, Lungs, Dani Girl, and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, the company has likewise been able to mount productions that have explored themes on grief and mental health, and Little Shop of Horrors will be no exception.

Laying the Groundwork 

In 2011, de Venecia had the opportunity to direct a university-based production of the musical for Ateneo blueRepertory, with current musical director Ejay Yatco also serving as his musical director for that production.

It’s very special to me because while I was sort of familiar with it, I didn’t realize just how beautiful this musical was. I guess it was also there that I discovered my love for working with Ejay Yatco as our musical director. So this is really a dream of ours.”

Also returning from that production is Reb Atadero, who reprises his role as Seymour, and Abi Sulit, who returns as a member of The Street Urchins, from playing Chiffon, to now playing Crystal.

De Venecia credits that production for being the one that made him discover his voice as a theater director.

When he started to envision the 2024 staging, he says, “In this production, of course it’s a bigger scale, bigger venue, it’s leveled up Little Shop of Horrors but still maintaining the essence of that 2011 Little Shop.”

Mental Health, Self-Love, and Red Flags

De Venecia shares that in 2011, mental health as a theme in the show was not something that they talked about then. “There are actually lines in the show that say,  ‘Where depression’s just status quo.’ I mean, there are a lot of those
isms in the show, so we just have to lean into it a little bit more and affix its importance so that as we lean into it, we get the audience to lean in as well and make it into a communal experience of this Little Shop.”

Sue Ramirez, who plays the unlucky-in-love heroine Audrey, mentions that the show is a love story that also conveys a lot about self-love. “I think ang laki ng mare-realize niyo dito na, we’re always relying on other people to make us happy. We can make ourselves happy.”


Nyoy Volante, who alternates with Atadero as the lovelorn Seymour, says it’s also a show about choice. “Sometimes you’re caught in a situation where it’s a choice between, tama iyung gagawin mo, pero hindi masyado maganda for your career, or your love life, or sa buhay mo, against a choice na, medyo hindi makakaganda sa kapwa mo, pero ikaw aangat ka, yayaman ka, you’ll be praised, mga false victories na tinatawag.” 

Markki Stroem, portraying the abusive boyfriend and villainous dentist Orin, believes the show will resonate with Gen Z audiences, who are increasingly adept at recognizing and denouncing abusive behavior.

“If anyone needs help or is asking for help, this is a show that will showcase that yes, people are around, people will be there for you, just in case, someone like, God forbid, David Ezra or Markki Stroem playing the dentist does something bad or hurts or lays a finger on any woman, or man.”

Heart and Humor

At the heart of the production is the music of Alan Menken and lyrics of Howard Ashman. Apart from their work in both the stage musical and the 1986 film version of Little Shop of Horrors, the duo is known for their contributions to the Disney Renaissance, writing songs for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin.

It turns out, the same musical geniuses did all of these musicals. Ito pala iyung work nila prior to their big Disney success,” shares Karylle Tatlonghari, who shares that Little Shop of Horrors has been her favorite musical since she was a child. She alternates with Ramirez for the role of Audrey.


“And people are going back to the idea of retro. Everyone’s really into [the Netflix series] Stranger Things with the very dark fantasy, but it’s also funny!,” adds Atadero. “It’s like that, but you just put in the musical geniuses that wrote the music of those Golden Age Disney films.”

Yatco also happily announces that the production will be using a live band for all its performances, a stark contrast to the budget-constrained university production where they had to use a Minus One for all the tracks.


The cast features Reb Atadero and Nyoy Volante alternating as Seymour, Sue Ramirez and Karylle Tatlonghari alternating as Audrey, Markki Stroem and David Ezra alternating as Orin the dentist, OJ Mariano and Julia Serad alternating as the bloodthirsty plant Audrey II, Audie Gemora as the flower shop proprietor Mr. Mushnik, and Mikee Baskiñas, Abi Sulit, Paula Paguio, and Serad as The Street Urchins.

The Audrey II movement ensemble includes Franco Ramos, Francis Gatmaytan, Cheska Quimno, Kirby Dunnzell, and Jacqui Jacinto as the swing.

Little Shop of Horrors is directed by Toff de Venecia, with Ejay Yatco as musical director, Mio Infante as scenographer, Kayla Teodoro as puppet designer, Stephen Viñas as choreographer, Joseph Matheu as lighting designer, Joee Mejias as video designer, Philleep Masaquel as technical director, Elliza Aurelio as FOH, hair and makeup head, JV Rabano and Lorenzo Corro as photographers.

The show will run all weekends from July 6 to 28, 2024 at the Globe Auditorium, Maybank Performing Arts Theater, Bonifacio Global City. Shows will run at 3:00 PM and 7:30 PM on Saturdays & Sundays, and 8:00 PM on Fridays.

Tickets are available on Ticketworld.

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Founder and Managing Director of TheaterFansManila.com. Thinks about the performing arts scene 2/3 of the day, everyday. A firm believer in the Filipino artist.