THE FLOWER SHOP IS OPEN AT BERKELEY PLAYHOUSE CLEVER PRODUCTION OF GORE, BLOOD AND A KILLER PLANT
‘LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS’ IS EATING UP BERKELEY, AND YOU NEED TO GET IN LINE TO FEED AUDREY II - THIS IS THE PERFECT SUMMER GARDEN
Reviewed by Vince Mediaa
Audrey II has planted itself for the summer season at Julia Morgan Stage in Berkeley. This skid row flower shop is now open through July 3rd. LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS is the perfect pop 50’s score musical to get you excited for the 2022 Summer Theatre season. LITTLE SHOP It is snarky and a darkly comic fun that jumps with its 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 superb musical with the beat of a loveable monster who will steal and 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 show to do, since audiences love Aubrey II. After seeing the impressive Nicholas Olivero 2011 production at his Boxcar skid row theatre that was turned into the 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 BERKELEY PLAYHOUSE Flower shop.
BPH Executive Artistic Director Kim Dooley says this company is about to celebrate their 15th season “I couldn’t be prouder of this cast, crew, creative team and staff here for bringing this musical to life.” Skilled Bay Area director Ryan Weible has staged LITTLE SHOP four times and says “It's safe to say that the last two years felt like an eternity. Our return to normal can only be equated to the feeling I have after a nap; utter disorientation. It's been an honor to create this piece with everyone involved.” Weible brings a fresh take to the blood thirsty plant that I have seen in AeJay Antonis Marquis' production he staged in Hayward in 2019. The terrific and talented B Noel Thomas steals the skid row flower shop and brings the green meness 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 power house Romelo Urbi, who has been rescued from an orphanage and exploited by the shop’s owner, Mr. Mushnik. Local favorite Billy Raphael 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.
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 accomplished singers Lucca Troutman, Jennifer Marie Frazier, and Kennedy Joy Fullard. They swing in “Da-Doo” with Urbi as he shows off his excellent tenor voice. Seymour discovers a tiny plant with a snarky smile that he discovered on a stormy night. He names the plant Audrey II after his crush and fellow employee, Audrey played by the lovely, pitch perfect Chanel Tilghman. She shines in the song “Somewhere That's Green” that foreshadows her fate later in the story.
Urbi is wonderful in "Closed for Renovation," and, especially singing the show stopper "Suddenly, Seymour." Both Urbi and Tilghman prove their gifted voices and their likable personality with Audrey’s ditzy blonde appeal and a striking soprano voice that blows up the BPH Flower shop. Tilghman and Urbi 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 simple sweet heart with her black eye from her boyfriend.
Audrey is in love with an abusive boyfriend, a sadistic, yet charming dentist played by the dynamite Jordan Smith. He appears throughout the story as other characters but his evil “Dentist” number is a highlight and he shows off his impressive voice. The delightful Rapheal is convincing as Mr. Mushnik is excellent in “Mushnik and Son” choreographed by Allison Paraiso. The dance numbers are increased for this version and Paraiso designed a fun dance bit for Urbi with an air guitar solo for the song “Feed Me”. Urbi is superb as he sings “Grow For Me” and his crush Audrey sings “Closed for Renovation”. Tilghman also shows off her terrific voice in “Call Back in the Morning” alongside Urbi.
Director Weible has assembled an excellent high energy cast to keep this Flower Shop rocking under Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles five member band featuring Danny Cozart, David V Kelly, Sonja Lindsay, Larry De La Cruz and Jessica Igarashi. Sharron Peng has costumed this show in the past but her colors and style for this cast play up and capture the ’50s and bring colors to the down and out skid row look. Audrey II has a number of designers including Simon Trumble and prop master Peet Cocke. Peng’s design and standout Audrey II brings the green queen the camp class for a bloodthirsty villain who charmed the sold out opening night crowd. Thomas sings a brilliant version of “Feed Me” and Urbi works his perfect timing with his plant villain.
Assistant Director No’eau Kahalekulu kept the cast groomed and streamlined under Audrey II's bloody shadow. The lighting by John Digiorgio becomes another character in this show he uses nice amounts of back light that spilled into the audience and Audrey II has its own light design. Digiorgio’s lighting becomes a part of this cast, it is outstanding and captures the monster as it grows and conquers. As each character lands in the jaws of the plant Digiorgio’s light show is in full effect. The sound design by Lyle Barrere is his 5th amazing season with the BPH is roaring as we hear Audrey II gobble up most of the main cast. The clever Jennifer Marie Frazier designed the wigs and makeup and Audrey’s perfect blond look was not overly camp. Stage manager Shannon Reilly and her crew Natalia Kazimi and Grace Bradley keep the cast of ten moving on and off stage from all corners of the Julia Morgan Arts Center .
LITTLE OF SHOP OF HORRORS is a full throttle production, and director Weible draws keen performances out of his actors. The musical makes the characters fun and the Plant is killer green. The sold out opening night 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 cast in this blissful metaphorical fun and gore as they all become the Plant. It is solid, straightforward, fun and entertaining. BPH once again proves itself as one of the stand out talent companies in the Bay Area. Up next is SCHOOL OF ROCK opening July 16th. In the meantime come feed Audrey II at your own risk, and as Audrey says "I dream we'll go
somewhere that's green"
The Berkeley Playhouse Presents
Little Shop of Horrors
Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman
Music by Alan Menken
Directed by Ryan Weible
Music Director Michael Patrick Wiles
Choreographer Allison Paraiso
Assistant Director No’eau Kahalekulu
Must close July 3rd
Berkeley Playhouse - Julia Morgan Theatre
2640 College Ave Berkeley Ca,
2 hours with intermission
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.
INTERVIEWS WITH CAST OPENING NIGHT - with Ethan Le
THE CAST: Romelo Urbi as SEYMOUR, Chanel Tilghman as AUDREY, Billy Raphael as MR. MUSHNIK, Jordan Smith as ORIN SCRIVELLO, D.D.S / ENSEMBLE, *B Noel Thomas as AUDREY II, Lucca Troutman as RONNETTE, Jennifer Marie Frazier as CRYSTAL, Kennedy Joy Fullard as CHIFFON, Miles Meckling as ENSEMBLE, and Alyssa Fredzess as ENSEMBLE.
PAY WHAT YOU CAN
“Pay What You Can'' performance set for
Thursday, June 16, at 7 pm.
Purchase tickets for Pay What You Can Night in advance by reserving at Berkeleyplayhouse.org.
Seating is general admission.