Produced by: Hillbarn Theatre
Directed by: Tyler Christe
Choreographed by: Randy O’Hara
Music direction by: Joe Murphy
Featuring: Phil Wong, Jesse Caldwell, Jocelyn Pickett, Jad Bernardo, Melinda Campero, Kylie Abucay, Becky Alex, Sam Nachison
When: January 23–February 9, 2020
Where: 1285 East Hillsdale Boulevard, Foster City
Tickets: $30-$60. Call 650-349-6411, extension 2, or visit https://www.hillbarntheatre.org/little-shop-of-horrors-tickets/
in 'Little Shop of Horrors'
I always used to enjoy construction road signs in the UK that read “Heavy plant crossing.” They were referring, of course, to large pieces of machinery on a construction site, but the double entendre was too good to resist.
The central character in Hillbarn Theatre’s “Little Shop of Horrors” is also a large plant, but in this case it is the plant itself that is difficult to resist, being as how it feeds on humans and wants to take over the world.
Little Seymour (Phil Wong) looks after the plants at Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop down on Skid Row somewhere in the poor area of town. Mr. Mushnik (Jesse Caldwell) has taken Seymour in as an orphan and given him a job and a place to stay. Seymour has a crush on shop assistant Audrey (Jocelyn Pickett), but sadly the flower business on Skid Row is not exactly blooming, and Mr Mushnik may have to let them both go.
In “Skid Row (Downtown)” Mr. Mushnik, Seymour, Audrey and the Skid Row girls (played by Kylie Abucay, Becky Alex and Melinda Campero) sing about how bad it is living on Skid Row “Where the folks are broke, where your life’s a joke.”
They all sing well, but Abucay’s voice is a standout.
But one day, after an eclipse, Seymour finds a rather strange plant that he can’t identify in any catalog. He starts nurturing it and names it “Audrey II,” and when he brings it out from the back to show Mr. Mushnik, a customer appears and buys $100 worth of roses – more money than they’ve taken in a while.
The plant is a little sickly but responds rather well to a drop of blood where Seymour has pricked his finger. And as he pricks his fingers to give the little flower more of his personal red stuff, he begins to realize that he is cultivating a carnivorous chrysanthemum rather than a shrinking violet.
However, the more he feeds it the more success comes his way. The local newspaper, a radio station, offers of this and that. Suddenly Mr. Mushnik’s flower shop is indeed blossoming.
Audrey (we should really call her Audrey I, the shop assistant) comes in to work one day with a black eye and an arm in a sling, and it becomes obvious that her boyfriend Orin is beating her up. She thinks about Seymour and sings about having “a matchbox of our own.” Orin (Sam Nachison) is a biker in leathers and a mean SOB. He is also, strangely, a dentist: “the leader of the plaque.” Nachison’s voice is deep and sonorous and Orin’s character is a real menace in his hands. I wouldn’t want them in my mouth.
Audrey II, the blood-sucking begonia, has now grown rather large and with a voice deeper and louder than any plant-based life form known to man, demands “Feed Me!!” And then he/she/it appears. But rather than a stationary tree-like plant, this man-eating magnolia is a drag queen dogwood straight out of Beach Blanket Babylon. Kudos to actor Jad Bernado and director Tyler Christie for coming up with the idea of a mobile, and rather mouthy plant with more camp than Granada. Bernado as Audrey II takes over the stage and is just so much fun.
But Audrey II needs more human flesh and Seymour knows just where to get it. He visits Dr. Orin (D.D.S. he reminds us) and is a little surprised to see the dentist strapping on a personal supply of nitrous oxide. So rather than having to shoot Orin (his original plan) Seymour allows the gas to do its work as Orin ODs on NO. At least he is laughing all the way to his end.
Now Seymour has solved two problems – he’s gotten rid of his rival for Audrey I’s affection and he has more foxglove fertilizer for his voracious vegetable. Now that Audrey is free from Orin romance can blossom with Seymour and they sing the lovely duet “Suddenly Seymour.” Both Wong’s and Pickett’s voices do more than justice to Alan Menken (“Beauty and the Beast,” “Sister Act,” etc.) and Howard Ashman’s music and lyrics.
But Audrey II has a plan to take over the world and, like a floral Bank of America, she wants a branch in every city. After consuming first Mr. Mushkin then Audrey I, and lastly Seymour himself, a man comes to take cuttings to sell to “every home in America.”
California Bill AB5 is designed to upgrade freelance workers to full employees, but this could have a devastating effect on community theaters like Hillbarn, where nearly all the performers, directors and designers are part-time. If there is a moral to the story, it’s “be careful what you wish for.”
On the other hand, who needs a moral? Hillbarn Theatre, shortly announcing itd 80th season, has put on a fun show with talented performers. But please, don’t feed the plants.