‘Little Shop of Horrors’: Is Billy Porter the Right Choice to Voice Audrey II?
It’s true, folks: a new Little Shop of Horrors is on the way. Taron Egerton and Scarlett Johansson are currently attached to lead the new film adaptation of the stage musical. Everyone’s talking about Chris Evans’ sadistic dentist character, but few reports are covering the most interesting casting of all.
The human characters of Little Shop of Horrors are certainly fun. But the story revolves around Audrey II, the man-eating plant with an eye on world domination. To play the role this time around, director Greg Berlanti brought on Emmy-winning Pose star Billy Porter.
But is the actor right for the critical role of cinema’s most ravenous villain?
A famous soul singer voiced Audrey II in the 1986 movie
To assess whether Porter has what it takes to play Audrey II, let’s first take a quick look at the first film adaptation of the Little Shop of Horrors musical. In director Frank Oz’s 1986 film, singer Levi Stubbs provided the voice of Audrey II. Although Stubbs’ name might not be instantly familiar, his voice should be.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Stubbs was the lead vocalist for iconic Motown group The Four Tops. His deep baritone was a key element of hits such as “It’s the Same Old Song” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” This proven musical talent — and spirited vocal performance — contribute to how he makes Audrey II an unforgettable on-screen presence.
Moreover, bringing Stubbs on for the project was a stroke of genius. Little Shop of Horrors already features a Motown-inspired score and a 1960s setting. So Stubbs’ voice couldn’t be a better fit for Audrey II. Likewise, Stubbs was 50 years old at the time of the film’s release. This fact lends his performance a raspier gravitas than if Oz had cast a younger performer.
Billy Porter has experience with ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
Judging by Stubbs as a model for who fits the role, where then does Porter fall? If our conclusion is that Audrey II requires a middle-aged performer capable of tackling classic soul, then Berlanti might have hit the jackpot with the 50-year-old Porter.
The actor even has direct experience with Little Shop of Horrors itself. He was a replacement as Audrey II during the show’s 2004 Broadway run. A veteran of the stage, Porter won a Tony Award for playing the lead role of Lola in the 2013 Broadway production of Kinky Boots.
Given his combination of music and acting experience, Porter appears to have everything the new Little Shop of Horrors needs. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that his star is on the rise right now. Casting him instantly lends Berlanti’s movie the kind of musical credibility it simply wouldn’t have without him.
Why Billy Porter is perfect for the new ‘Little Shop of Horrors’
Yet, for all the many reasons Porter is a great fit for Audrey II, one of the most interesting is the gender fluidity he brings to the role. Although Porter identifies as a man, his performances and personal fashion sense are constantly pushing the boundaries of gender identity.
Although fans might not realize it, this kind of gender-nonconforming approach is ideal for Audrey II. After all, the character is a plant with a female name but who is traditionally voiced by a man. In the 1986 film, the character even received a new song, in which it refers to itself as a “mother.” So Audrey II already exists outside of gender and has little regard for it.
Blurring traditional gender lines, it seems, has been an integral part of Audrey II all along. In his performance, Porter has the chance to highlight this even moreso. In our eyes, he is much more than a worthy successor to Stubbs. His casting could conceivably elevate the role and recontextualize it for modern audiences.