It's an epidemic of human-eating plants.

Look at a map of licensed productions of "Little Shop of Horrors" from now through next season and you might get comically scared. The 1982 Howard Ashman-Alan Menken musical about a carnivorous plant bent on world domination is slotted for nearly 100 stages in North America and another 20 in the United Kingdom.

The Guthrie Theater, where "Little Shop" is in previews before opening Friday, hopes to write a new, even the definitive chapter in the show's history.

"If you think you've seen 'Little Shop,' you haven't until you see our version," said director Marcia Milgrom Dodge, who directed "Ragtime" on Broadway. "Structurally, it's so smartly put together. And there's a reason it's being produced everywhere."

The Guthrie production is headlined by siblings China and Time Brickey, the Donny and Marie Osmond of the American stage. Powerhouse Twin Cities singer and actor China depicts Audrey, the love interest of Seymour Krelborn — the timid floral assistant who discovers the blood-hungry plant and names it after his crush. A Chicago-based tap dance and puppetry phenom, Time Brickey plays a Skid Row denizen who helps to manipulate the plant.

"This show is fun, loud and rock 'n' roll hilarious," said China Brickey. "But it's heavy, too, because Audrey is in a physically and emotionally abusive relationship and Seymour is an orphan who grew up in the floral shop."

Broadway actor Will Roland, who originated roles in "Dear Evan Hansen" and "Be More Chill," plays Seymour in what is one of his favorite shows.

"In my own work, I'm drawn to misfits and weirdos and oddballs and outsiders," Roland said. "Everybody in this show fits into these categories. At the same time, they're never parodied — but are given honest, human journeys."

Both Roland and Dodge sought out the Guthrie production. For Roland, who has family in West St. Paul, Rosemount and Cottage Grove, his interest was piqued last fall after dinner at Owamni. He walked by the Guthrie and immediately called his New York agent.

"I really chased these folks down," Roland said. "I saw this show as an opportunity to infiltrate this community."

For Dodge, directing the Guthrie's big summer musical checks off one of the last items on her bucket list as she wraps up a 46-year career that began with her choreographing "Little Shop" at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis .

"Are you kidding me, I get to work here?" Dodge said before a recent rehearsal, nodding to the company's 1963 founding that sparked the nation's regional theater movement. The Guthrie also charted another revolution in the field in 1983 when it became the first regional company to stage a musical: "Guys and Dolls."

"The Guthrie is a dream place for almost everyone in the American theater," she said.

"Little Shop" began life as "The Passionate People Eater," a 1960 B-movie by Roger Corman that featured a young Jack Nicholson. Shot in two days, it used leftover set pieces and stage blood. It was then turned into the cult musical in a grungy, 99-seat New York theater where it ran for decades. That was all before Ashman and Menken became big, Disney-certified hitmakers of "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

Dodge is reaching back to honor what Ashman and Menken birthed.

"Roger Corman was the king of schlock, so I thought, hey, let's lean into the B-movie, sci-fi origins of this," she said, "and see how we can bring out kernels of the story and exploit them a little."

The themes she's teasing out are serious, almost making "Little Shop" sound like a tragedy.

"We talk about the play like it's 'Death of a Salesman' but at the same time, the sci-fi lens, the B-movie lens and the stylized nature of the show and the quirks of these little weirdos provide a great deal of comedy that is disarming to the audience," Roland said. "I worked on a very sad musical in 'Dear Evan Hansen,' which tugged at your heartstrings and made you cry. But don't forget it was also a laugh-a-minute book.

"And what was my job then is my job now — which is to deliver that comedy that keeps people disarmed for when the realness drops on you."

Dodge said that when working on a production, she often makes a Venn diagram of when the source material was written, when the play or musical was written and what's happening today.

For "Little Shop," the '60s were a time of widespread fear of nuclear annihilation but also tumult as female, Black, LGBTQ people and others sought fuller freedoms. By 1982, when the film was turned into a musical, and then 1986, when the musical was made into a film, a cloud of nuclear armageddon hung over a world reeling from the crack and AIDS epidemics. (HIV/AIDS claimed Ashman's life in 1991.)

When "Little Shop" was revived in 2003, the dominant themes centered on celebrity and the price of fame. Seymour, after all, makes a Faustian bargain with the plant.

Today, the show brings out themes redolent in our political life.

"The appeal of fascism is that there are set of rules, and as long as you fit into those rules, you will be in god's light," said Roland. "This show is a beautiful reminder that it's never so simple. And when you just do what you're told, you rarely ever get what you were promised."

Brickey sees Seymour and Audrey as partners who need each other to become fully realized.

"She's got the dreams but no way to reach them, and so she writes herself off," Brickey said. "And he's got the privilege but not the drive or motivation."

Still, their relationship is fraught.

"I don't think we should run away from the fact that Audrey's a Black, mixed-race woman and she's going to be hit by a white man," Brickey said. That abuse is "heavy, but it makes the stakes that much higher."

Dodge is quick to point out that we don't have to get too deep or heady into these latent elements. After all, "Little Shop" lives in a world of total make-believe. It's Ashman and Menken's first fairytale musical.

"George C. Wolfe says theater is people sitting in the dark, watching people in the light navigate and discover how horrible and wonderful being human is," Dodge said. "We're going to grab you like an eTicket at Disneyland and take you on a ride."

'Little Shop of Horrors'

Who: Book and lyrics by Howard Ashman; music by Alan Menken; directed and choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.

Where: Guthrie Theater, 818 S. 2nd St., Mpls.

When: Through Aug. 18.

Tickets: $34 to $95, (612) 377-2224,