Audrey II has planted itself for the winter season at Hillbarn Theatre Foster City new flower shop through Feb 9th. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is the perfect pop 50’s score musical to get you ready for the 2020 Theatre season. LITTLE SHOP is a musical that will appeal to all tastes and delights. It is snarky and a dark comic subject matter with its infectious hip doo wop music score and nonstop energy. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman's gem of a tale is boy meets girl, and a blood thirsty plant. This is a fun musical with the beat of a lovable monster who will steal or eat your heart. After a successful Off-Broadway run, it was made into a film with Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene. LITTLE SHOP is a popular regional, since audiences love the Monster. After seeing the impressive Nicholas Olivero 2011 production at his Boxcar skid row theatre that was turned into an immersive flower shop, I did not think I could be won over by another Audrey II, but it has happened and I was ready to open my veins for this plant at the HILLBARN FLOWER SHOP.

Hillbarn Artistic Director Dan Demers says his company is about to celebrate their 80th season “so how does a musical about a carnivorous plant relate to current affairs? Under the new terms of California Bill AB5 we are facing our very own version of AUDREY II”. Skilled New York Director Tyler Christie was invited to work with this talented Foster City company and says “the cast in wonderful, an amazing group of professionals very well connected /they really turned it out, we are really looking at this in the year 2020 how to amplify campy what’s ridiculous and over the top about this production and we found a really fun way to do that with our Audrey II”. Christie brings a fresh take on the blood thirsty plant, that I have seen in AeJay Antonis Marquis production he staged in Hayward in 2019. The clever and talented Jad Bernardo steals the skidrow flower shop and brings the green menace to life.

The two-act musical is taken from the plot of a low-budget horror movie. It follows what happens when nerdy, Skid Row floral shop employee, Seymour, played by the marvelous Phil Wong, who has been rescued from an orphanage and exploited by the shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnik. Local favorite Jesse Caldwell is the flower shop boss and he is a lovable bully to his two assistants. He realizes his flower shop Gardner, Seymour, has a sure way to keep the doors open at the failing business. Seymour discovers a tiny plant with a snarky smile that he has created. Seymour names the plant Audrey II after his crush and fellow employee, Audrey, played by the lovely talented Jocelyn Pickett. She is in love with an abusive boyfriend, a sadistic, yet charming dentist played by the awesome Sam Nachison.

Nachison appears throughout the story as other characters but his evil “Dentist” number is a show stopper and Nachison shows off his impressive voice. Nachison who not only drills the best scene in the musical as Dr Orin, but plays various roles and is a stand out with an authentic sound. Cadwell is convincing as Mr. Mushnik and is excellent in “Mushnik and Son” choreographed by Randy O’Hara.

When blood thirsty Audrey II comes to life and begins demanding to be fed, Seymour comes up with a solution that solves some problems while creating some other fun issues. Fong is superb in his solo “Grow For Me” and his crush Audrey sings “Somewhere That's Green”. Pickett also shows off her terrific voice in “Call Back in the Morning alongside Wong.

Director Christie has assembled an excellent high energy cast to keep this Flower Shop rocking under Music Director Joe Murphy’s five member band built into the flower shop. The story opens with the three Greek subtext chorus members singing “Little Shop of Horrors” Chiffon, Crystal and Ronette are always on stage or in the wings keeping Ashman's songs lively and intense Rhythm and Blues.

Performed by three powerhouse singers Becky Alex, Melinda Campero, and Kylie Abucay. The three chorus members all have gifted voices and bring this romp its color and doo wops. They swing with Wong as he shows off his excellent tenor voice. Wong is wonderful in "Closed for Renovation," and, especially singing the classic, "Suddenly, Seymour." Pickett as Audrey has a likeable personality with her ditzy blonde appeal and a striking soprano voice that blows up the Hillbarn Flower shop.

Wong and Pickett are a sharp match for the pair of would be lovers, adorable Seymour in his sloppy garden clothes and his iconic nerd glasses and Audrey as the sweet and busty Audrey with her black eye from her boyfriend. Y, Sharron Peng’s costumes play up the caricature of the era and the down and out skidrow look. Audry II has a number of designers including Mike Bennew and prop masters Adria and Eric Oison. Peng’s design and standout Audry II brings the green queen the camp class for a bloodthirsty villain who charmed the sold out opening night crowd. Bernardo sings a brilliant version of “Feed Me” and Wong works his perfect timing with his plant friend.

Music Director Murphy’s beat keeps the cast on cue and popping with blues, R&B tunes, and swag. The set designed with two levels and is vintage skid row by award winning Kuo-Hao Lo. He created a dingy flower shop that easily expands as Audrey II needs more space for his feeding frenzy. The shop brightens with color and pop in the second Act and the Oison’s props glow with candy green and a bloom of flowers and of course a series of smaller Audrey II’s and sacks of potters soil.

The lighting by Pamela Grey is convincing, she used nice amounts of back light that spilled into the audience. Grey’s design and lighting becomes a part of this cast, it is outstanding and captures the monster as he grows and glows. The sound design by Brandie Larkin is roaring as we hear Audrey II gobble up most of the main cast. Peng also designed the wigs and makeup and Pickett’s perfect blond look was not overly camp. Stage manager Sarah Terman keeps the cast of eight moving on and off stage from all corners of the Hillbarn with the help of Maygen Valkanoff, Amy Jewel, and the busy Oison’s.

LITTLE OF SHOP OF HORRORS is a polished production, and director Christie draws keen performances out of his actors. The musical makes the characters fun and the Plant is killer gold. The sold out audience and loyal fans are all about this show, applauding and cheering even the dark moments of the final number “Don’t Feed the Plants” with the company. It is blissful in its metaphorical fun and gore. It is solid, straightforward, fun and entertaining. Hillbarn Theatre once again proves itself as one of the stand out talent companies in the Bay Area. Up next is LAUGHTER ON THE 23RD FLOOR opening on March 12th and LA CAGE opens on May 7th. In the meantime come feed the Audrey II at your own risk, tickets are going fast.

Hillbarn Theatre


Little Shop of Horrors

Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman

Music by Alan Menken

Directed by Tyler Christe

Music Director Joe Murphy

Choreographer Randy O’Hara

Must close Feb 9th

Hillbarn Theatre

1285 E Hillsdale Blvd, Foster City,

2 hours and 15 minutes with intermission

Tickets Facebook page

Photo’s by Tracy Martin

VMEDIAA ARTS Interviews the cast and Director

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